First-time culprit: France blocks TikTok in New Caledonia

First-time culprit: France blocks TikTok in New Caledonia

On May 15, 2024, the French government blocked access to TikTok in the territory of New Caledonia in an attempt to quell protests alongside a state-of-emergency order and curfew. The blocking of a popular social media platform like TikTok is considered a shutdown under the definition of an internet shutdown by the #KeepItOn coalition. The event is a shameful first-time action by French authorities and demonstrates the continued regression of democratic institutions. Access Now unequivocally condemns the shutdown, which lasted for two weeks, from May 15-29.

Below we answer commonly asked questions, exploring the context for the block, how civil society has responded, and what this means for the trend of shutdowns in democracies.


On May 13, widespread protests erupted in New Caledonia over a new set of controversial voting reforms French authorities introduced to allow more people of European and Polynesian descent to vote in elections. New Caledonia is recognized as a non-self-governing territory by the UN Special Committee on Decolonization, but has been in a formal process of transition and decolonization with France since the signing of the Nouméa Accord in 1998. The process of independence has been subject to referendums which took place in 2018, 2020, and 2021, the last of which was forced by France at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, there was a boycott by pro-independence groups, and the legitimacy of the vote is highly contested. Independence activists fear that recent reforms will dilute the political representation of the indigenous Kanak people, who make up 41% of New Caledonia’s population.

The TikTok block was implemented by the state-run Post and Telecommunication Service, the single internet service provider for New Caledonia, impacting mobile services managed by operator Mobilis across the entire territory. Direct testimonies from people in the area stated that the app was accessible, but that feeds were empty and there was no content available. Neither French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal nor New Caledonian High Commissioner Louis Le Franc gave an explanation for why TikTok was chosen. According to the former president of New Caledonia, Phillipe Gomes, the TikTok block was aimed at stopping protesters from “organizing reunions and protests.” With seven people killed and hundreds injured since May 13, it’s clear that blocking TikTok did not stop protests, nor did it ease tensions or prevent violence. After visiting New Caledonia on May 21, French President Emmanuel Macron ultimately delayed the voting reforms but insisted that they would eventually move forward.


No. Macron considered a ban of TikTok and Snapchat last summer in France during heightened protests, an idea that was widely condemned. This time, authorities followed through by imposing a TikTok block in New Caledonia amid a declaration of a state of emergency — a temporary measure that allows authorities to restrict access to online platforms used to “[provoke] the commission of acts of terrorism.” However, blocking people’s access to information during a crisis is disproportionate and a flagrant violation of their fundamental rights to expression and access to information, which are guaranteed by both national and international frameworks.

This block is the first recorded shutdown imposed by France, a member of the Freedom Online Coalition, a partnership of 39 countries that promotes democracy and human rights online and speaks out against internet shutdowns. France is also the first country currently in the European Union (EU) to impose a shutdown in our records, as documented in the Shutdown Tracker Optimization Project (STOP) dataset. (We previously recorded a localized shutdown in London, United Kingdom in 2019, when the UK was still part of the EU. Local police shut down public WiFi on the London Underground during climate change protests.)


French human rights groups Ligue des droits de l’Homme and La Quadrature du Net, alongside the Kanak Movement and local residents of New Caledonia, swiftly brought the issue in front of the top administrative court and obtained a speed hearing. On May 21, the Council of State, France’s top administrative court, asked the government to justify its decision. On May 23, the Council of State ultimately rejected the request to lift the block. However, the legal action highlighted crucial questions about the legitimacy of the blocking, particularly in a territory outside of mainland France, including the questionable application of an emergency order written to stop the incitement of terrorism.


Since we began tracking and reporting on internet shutdowns in 2016, people in at least 86 countries have experienced a shutdown. Actors within authoritarian regimes as well as liberal democracies have used the kill switch in a variety of contexts to exert control over a population. When comparing the countries in our STOP dataset with the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) 2024 report, which classifies countries by a “Regimes of the World” metric, we see countries that have imposed shutdowns of all four regime types (Liberal Democracy, Electoral Democracy, Electoral Autocracy, Closed Autocracy).

2023 Regime type (V-Dem)Number of countries that imposed a shutdown in 2023 (STOP)
Liberal DemocracyOne out of 39 (2.6%)
Electoral DemocracySix out of 39 (15.4%)
[Brazil, Indonesia, Israel,* Kenya, Nepal, Senegal]
Electoral Autocracy18 out of 39 (46.1%)
Closed Autocracy14 out of 39 (35.9%)
*Israel imposed 16 shutdowns on Palestine

Although the majority of countries imposing shutdowns are some level of autocratic (82%), the rise of more democratic countries regressing toward shutdowns is alarming. Three out of the four new offenders we documented in 2023 are broadly classified as democracies (Kenya, Nepal, Suriname), with Kenya and Nepal both imposing platform blocks as their first shutdowns (Telegram and TikTok, respectively). And France is not alone in blocking platforms this year: Malaysia is already blocking Grindr. With the United States threatening a TikTok ban, a harmful pattern is emerging. Democracies must refrain from continuing down the path of imposing internet shutdowns and must uphold human rights on the global stage.


French authorities must cease imposing shutdowns and adhere to democratic values. Internet shutdowns are dangerous and interfere with people’s ability to exercise their human rights including access to information, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly. They also fail to curb violence during moments of tension and are likely to do the opposite, increasing the risk of harm. 

If you or your community are  at risk of an internet shutdown, we encourage you to follow our digital safety tips, which include information about the different types of shutdowns, and how to mitigate them using tools like virtual private networks (VPNs).