France bans Facebook and Twitter

Friday, 10 June 2011 22:23
facebooktwitter061011_optBY PAM LOBLEY

Sacre bleu! The French government has banned the use of the words “Twitter” and “Facebook” on TV and radio, unless those specific words are a part of a news story. As I understand it, a radio broadcaster could say “Facebook shares are up three dollars today” but could not sign off with “Thanks for listening – please like us on Facebook!”

So it’s illegal for a newscaster to say “Follow us on Twitter” but it is still perfectly legal to tweet a beefcake shot to your mistress. C’est la vie!

This ruling continues a trend that began in 2003 when the French outlawed the word “email”. In that year the Culture Ministry banned the use of “email” in all government ministries, documents, publications or websites. It was aimed as a step to stem the tide of English words coming into the French vocabulary. The official word was to be “courriel", with email outlawed.

The French reason that mentioning the companies by name gives unfair “advertising” to giant social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. Their logic: why give a leg up to Facebook, already worth millions, when there are dozens of smaller sites struggling to survive. So, to be extra fair, when signing off, the newscasters can suggest that their viewers follow them on a social media platform in which transmission is limited to 140 characters. Bon chance!

I’ll admit, there is a sad quality to the positively desperate way that broadcasters implore us to “follow me on Twitter” or “friend us on Facebook”. It’s not enough to do a good news hour these days; you have to have “hits” to show you are a success. I don’t think, however, that banning the words Twitter and Facebook is going to bring much dignity back to TV journalism.

An irony here is that the French are just as crazy for Facebook and Twitter as the rest of the world. Nicholas Sarkozy has a Facebook page (oh, yes he does!) and an aide to the President reports that he regularly checks his page for people’s reactions to his posts. Christine Legarde, the French Finance Minister, has been tweeting like mad in an effort to boost her chance of succeeding Dominique Strauss-Kahn as head of the International Monetary Fund. If she gets that job, and she starts talking to countries about investments, will she be allowed to say Google? IBM? Volvo? Citibank?

To celebrate this new ban, this weekend I will host, at my house on a charming dead-end street, an evening party where I will serve small, heated appetizers on a tray and where, after a few drinks, my neighbor may commit a social mistake by admitting he had a three way relationship with some old college friends. If you can identify the French words eliminated here, you have enjoyed a true show of strength.

Pam Lobley writes the “Now That’s Funny” column. Sign up for her mailing list at


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