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Former 'gilets jaunes' Facebook page administrator tells her story

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Former 'gilets jaunes' Facebook page administrator tells her story
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French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the nation on Monday amid widespread unrest as the gilets jaunes protesters took to the streets yet again over the weekend.

Euronews' Emmanuelle Saliba spoke to 32-year-old Leila, who until recently, was an administrator of the Facebook group 'Gilet Jaune' with more than 160,000 followers.

When the movement garnered significant attraction online, Leila decided to take a step back and stop moderating the group.

How did the movement begin?

"French people, in the countryside, have to use their car every day," Leila said. "People are getting so poor, they arrive at a certain point that they have to make a choice between putting oil in their car or filling the fridge."

The Carbon tax, which was initiated under the Francois Hollande government aimed to curb one's greenhouse emissions and was to rise from €39 in 2018 to €47.50 in 2019. French President Macron further aimed to increase diesel and petrol taxes, which rose by 7.60 and 3.90 cents per litre respectively in 2018.

Although the movement was triggered in response to rising fuel costs, the decision by the French government to revoke fuel taxes has done little to stop anger among protesters, with many seeking social reforms.

"I felt that I needed to help and needed to be in this movement"

"I joined the group because I just wanted to help," Leila said, citing that the page would gather information from followers all over the country.

For a week, Leila monitored incoming posts from followers and publish them on the page. She ran into some difficulty due to the vast volume of posts saying that at times, they would get over 1000 posts in one hour. As the page gathered followers quickly, it became much more difficult to control, monitor and verify information.

The administrators of the group decided that they would only filter out posts that incited hatred, violence, or 'fake news' posts allowing all others to remain on their platform. "Every day I was working and in my spare time, checking, checking, checking the publications and helping."

She noticed the discourse change. People grew angrier and the posts became more violent. "I realised I didn't have any overview of the situation," she told Euronews, leading her to take a step back from social to make sure she understood what was happening in her country.

Facebook algorithms that fuel group interactions

It may be no coincidence that Leila's group, and similar alternatives, gained momentum in such a short period of time. In January 2018, Facebook made a number of algorithmic changes to boost local and group interactions. In a statement by Adam Mosseri, the company's former Head of News Feed, the tech giant announced that it would "prioritise posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people."

The algorithm change boosted posts that "inspire back-and-forth discussion" and put emphasis on metrics such as comments and shares. The gilets jaunes has simply proved to be an example of how such a move can ignite an online movement.

Although the social media platform has become flooded with minor, decentralised and local gilet jaunes pages, others have soared with one such group, 'Compteur Officiel de Gilet Jaunes' attracting 2.7 million followers.

Click on the player to watch the full interview and find out why Leila decided to join the movement, her thoughts on why it has gained traction and why she decided to quit her role in its online faction.