“The French government is policing cyberspace as well as rundown suburbs in the battle to end two weeks of rioting.
Young rioters are using blog messages to incite violence and cell phones to organize attacks in guerrilla-like tactics they have copied from anti-globalization protesters, security experts say.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has diverted resources to monitoring blogs in an effort to anticipate the movement of the protesters, who have set fire to thousands of cars since the unrest began on Oct. 27 following the deaths of two youths apparently fleeing police.
On Wednesday, France imposed emergency measures in 38 suburbs, towns and cities including Paris, and police said a wave of riots was waning despite a 13th straight night of firebombs and torched cars.
de Villepin published a decree invoking a 50-year-old law that gives regional government officials the power to impose nightly curfews against the rioters, who are mainly protesting against unemployment and racism.
Also on Wednesday, two youths were placed under official investigation, one step short of pressing charges under French law, on suspicion of inciting violence over the Internet after urging people to riot in blogs, a judicial source said.
But tracking rioters’ blogs is a big task for the security services, already stretched by the violence on the ground.
“This is a new dimension to take into consideration,” said Internet security expert Solange Ghernaouti-Helie. “To do the tracking on the Internet to identify the people involved is without doubt possible. But it requires considerable surveillance and analysis resources.”
The blogs allegedly posted by the two youths under investigation were made in online diaries hosted by Skyblog, a Web site belonging to popular youth radio station Skyrock.
Skyblog’s site says it hosts more than 3 million blogs, with thousands added each day. One of those urging people to riot–since deactivated by Skyrock–read: “Unite, burn the cops.”
Some bloggers have urged people not to incite violence.
The host of bouna93.skyblog.com, a memorial blog for the two youths whose deaths sparked the riots, urged contributors to respect the dead boys, adding: “It would be preferable not to make racist, fascist comments or to give rendezvous spots.”
Youths are also using cell phones to coordinate the violence, mainly blamed on frustration over racism, poor police treatment and unemployment, and to evade the police once the riots are underway.
“Text messages and mobile phones…help small groups of rioters,” said criminologist Alain Bauer. “They can connect easily. It’s not only a way to avoid the police, it’s a way to organize the fires.”
The rioters have learned from anti-globalization protesters, some of whom have used cell phones to coordinate riots at meetings of the Group of Eight industrial nations and the World Trade Organization in recent years, Bauer said.
“I think they learned from what they saw on television. I think anti-globalization movements and rioters have the same way to organize–or to disorganize–the police,” he said. “It’s old guerrilla tactics with modern technology.” ”