French security services failed to appreciate the gravity of the defamatory campaign on social media against the teacher Samuel Paty before his murder, an inspectors’ report has found.
Despite the school’s headteacher reporting concerns about increasingly incendiary posts targeting the history and geography teacher on Facebook and Twitter, intelligence officials underestimated the risk.
School inspectors said Paty, 47, who was killed in an Islamist attack in a Paris suburb in October, was given the full support of the school director and the national education authorities, but officials were “unable to assess the danger”.
“Inspectors noted that the alert to the presence of ‘posts’ or ‘videos’ on social networks was given by parents or by a teacher,” they said.
According to French media who have seen the report, it praises the “reactivity of the head of the Bois d’Aulne secondary school and the education authorities and says Paty had their full support, but not that of all his colleagues. It states that Paty was justified in showing his class of 13- and 14-year-olds the controversial caricatures of the prophet Muhammad from the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, during a moral and civic education class discussion on the subject titled: “A dilemma: to be or not to be Charlie”.
Paty was, however, reprimanded – and he had recognised – that he should have shown them to the entire class, instead of suggesting those who may be “shocked” could leave the room for their own protection.
“The fact of having shown the caricatures is not in question; however, having invited pupils to leave to save them from seeing the caricatures, even with the best of intentions and within the framework of a constructed pedagogical approach, is a mistake,” inspectors wrote.
In the 11 days that followed, a campaign to discredit Paty and persuade the school to dismiss him took on terrifying proportions.
It started the evening after the class, when the father of a girl who had not been in Paty’s lesson, and who was temporarily suspended for a different reason, claimed on social media that the teacher had asked all Muslim pupils to raise their hands and leave the class so he could show remaining students a picture of the “prophet naked”. The father called on other parents to join him in demanding Paty be sacked, and later repeated the false allegation on radio.
The claim, sent to the local mosque and the national Muslim organisation the Collectif Contre l’islamophobie en France – disbanded by the French government earlier this week – spread on social media, and the girl’s father was allegedly contacted by Paty’s killer, Abdoullakh Anzorov.
The headteacher and a colleague, alarmed by the false claims and threats circulating on the internet, visited Paty at home and advised him not to walk to school but to make the short journey by car. The school head contacted the police and the regional intelligence services who “greatly underestimated the problem”, the report says.
On Friday 16 October, after allegedly paying several pupils at the school, in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, in the suburbs of Paris, to identify Paty, Anzorov beheaded the teacher. The Chechen-born terrorist was shot dead by police as he fled the scene, having taken a photo of his victim and posted it on social media.
The school inspectors’ 22-page report said nobody could have foreseen the “tragic conclusion” of the snowballing effect of the fake news that spread on the internet. They advised that “given the stakes involved in the presence of school-related content on social networks today, it seems necessary to establish or increase the power of social network monitoring units”.