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Africa continues to try to censor social media

A study by private protection company Surfshark shows that cutting off social media access is a common practice in African countries, especially during elections, protests, demonstrations, or exams.

The research reveals that over the past six years, a total of 28 (out of 54) African countries have employed some form of a social media ban or a heavy disruption, while 15 of these cases were election-related.

Surfshark shows that Senegal became the 63rd country globally to have restricted social media access since 2015.

In early March 2021, ITWeb Africa reported on a response by digital rights advocacy group Paradigm Initiative in which the organisation expressed “deep concern” over the situation in Senegal.

The organisation added that disruptions were aimed at suppressing demonstrations and the expression of online freedom of opinion in the West African country.

“Paradigm Initiative urges and requests the Senegalese government on its responsibilities and calls for respect for international human rights obligations, and to make a lasting contribution to actions to protect digital rights in the country, in accordance with the resolution of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) adopted in 2016 on the right to freedom of information and expression for the internet in Africa, ACHPR / Res.362 (LIX),” Paradigm Initiative stated.

Surfshark said in 2020 alone, there were nine political cases of social media restriction across the continent in Tanzania, Togo, Mali, Malawi, Guinea, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

“These governments usually go after communication apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Viber, and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Most internet censorship and social media restriction cases in Africa have to do with riots, protests, elections, and other events of political nature,” Surfshark stated.

The company says according to a recent report, the overall economic loss experienced worldwide due to internet shutdown totals up to US$4.01-billion.

Surfshark definition of social media

Social media was conceptualised as social networking sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, etc.) and communication apps, including VoIP apps (i.e., Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram, Viber). Both local and national social media blockings have been taken into account in the study.

Surfshark says based on data collected through open-source information from Freedom House, Netblocks and news reports over the last six years, social media restrictions has been a rising trend.

“… with a total of 63 countries worldwide recording cases after the first time the Egyptian government enforced an internet blackout back in 2011. Since then, internet censorship has seen prominent growth worldwide, especially in Asian and African regions, and even more so recently during elections and other political events. In 2021 alone, there were five political cases of internet disruption across the world in Uganda, Russia, Myanmar, Senegal, and Chad,” the private protection company added.

In January 2020, internet research firm Top10VPN released a report which said globally, more than 18 000 hours of Internet shutdowns around the world cost more than US$8-billion in the same year.

It identified in Africa, Algeria, Chad, DRC, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe were among the worst offenders in terms of the amount of time the internet was disrupted.

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