France Bans TikTok in Overseas Island Amid Protests

Social media app TikTok has been banned on the New Caledonia island by the French government as an effort to tackle riots that are raging in the Pacific island overseas territory.

Gabriel Attal, the prime minister of France, said TikTok would be completely shut down as part of an overarching state of emergency the government announced recently. The French government will also be deploying the army and setting a curfew for all 270,000 people who live on the island.

Earlier in the week, protests exploded after lawmakers in France passed a draft law that would allow any citizen who has lived on the island for at least 10 years to vote in the island’s local elections.

Pro-independence movements on the island have said such a move would weaken how the island’s indigenous people, the Kanaks, are represented in government.

According to Gerald Darmanin, the interior minister of France, hundreds of people have been injured during the protests, and four people have died.

The measure to restrict access to one of the world’s most popular social media platforms in an entire territory is really unprecedented for western countries. The announcement of the move also came on the same day that the organization NGO Access Now warned that in 2023, there were a record number of internet shutdowns across the world.

While Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, floated an idea to shut down social media platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat in 2023 to try to control riots that were happening in metropolitan France after a police officer killed a teenager.

When he brought that idea forward, though, it was met with significant criticism that it would be very similar to approaches that authoritarian regimes such as Iran, Myanmar and China do to stifle their people’s free speech.

The site TechRadar subsequently reported that after the ban was announced, residents of the island turned to VPN services so they could continue to access TikTok. In fact, usage of VPNs on New Caledonia spiked 2,500% above normal levels there, the site reported.

For its story, TechRadar spoke to officials from Proton VPN, one of the leading VPN services in the world. They reported that there was an increase of 150% in signups for their service above the baseline from the island. That happened not long after the TikTok ban went into place.

A spokesperson for Proton VPN told TechRadar:

“People turn to VPNs during turbulent times to ensure they can access the free and fair internet in the face of blocks.”

A VPN, or virtual private network, is essentially software that’s used for security purposes. By spoofing the location of your IP address, the software can make it look as if you’re in an entirely different part of the world — in just a matter of seconds.

People who live in New Caledonia use a VPN, for instance, to make it look like they’re from a place where TikTok is allowed, which then allows them to access the app.