Photo: Etienne De Malglaive/Getty Images

In the days since protesters wearing yellow vests (gilets jaunes) began taking to the streets of France in the hundreds of thousands to voice their opposition to a proposed gas tax hike — and, more broadly, to the deeply unpopular administration of President Macron — English-language media has begun circling around a particular story of causation: This is Facebook’s fault. In Bloomberg, Leonid Bershidsky writes that “Street riots in Paris are less about a tiny fuel tax hike than the power of social networks to radicalize their users”; on Medium, Frederic Filloux argues that Facebook is “fueling the French populist rage.” Most widely circulated is a lengthy and detailed Buzzfeed article headlined “The ‘Yellow Jackets’ Riots In France Are What Happens When Facebook Gets Involved With Local News.”

The general story goes something like this: Earlier this year, Facebook changed the way it sorts its news feed in the hopes of reducing partisan squabbles and links to “fake news” and began promoting posts from friends and family and semi-private Facebook groups over posts that link off the website. Unwittingly, however, the company was promoting mass unrest, by pushing into users’ feeds memes and rants from the semi-political populist groups that would become the core organizational structure of the gilets jaunes.



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