Effect of the Twitter Ban in Nigeria

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Effect of the Twitter Ban in Nigeria

Nigeria’s decision to suspend Twitter indefinitely could backfire for the government and cost the country
economically in terms of new investments into its technology sector. The Nigerian government suspended
Twitter on June 4. The official press release gave only a vague justification, citing threats to “Nigeria’s
corporate existence.”
While only a minority of Nigerians use Twitter, they form part of the most vocal and politically active
segment of the population. Many young people have used Twitter and other social media recently to
organize anti-government protests. And Nigeria has been among the best-performing African countries in
attracting investments for technology start-up business. The ban could threaten that status.
The government made little effort to hide the likely main reason for the ban: the social media giant’s
decision to delete a tweet by president Muhammadu Buhari just days before. In the tweet, Buhari seemed
to threaten violent retaliation against a southeastern secessionist group’s alleged recent attacks on
government facilities and personnel. Twitter claimed the message had violated its rules against “abusive
behavior.”
The move angered many in the Nigerian government. Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed
criticized “double standards” and complained that Twitter had not deleted missives from a separatist
leader. He also alleged that it supported the 2020 #EndSARS movement against police brutality. The
potential that social media could help mobilize such a large, youth-driven protest movement sent shudders
throughout the ruling establishment. Officials might hope a ban squelches a growing protest movement
against rising insecurity.
The social media shutdown challenge
Shortly after the ban went into effect, traffic to the site was blocked on leading local mobile networks like
MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile, though access was still possible through some internet service
providers.
Nigeria’s attorney general, Abubakar Malami, promised to prosecute those violating the ban.
But the extent to which the ban will stop Nigerians who want to use the platform from doing so is open to
question. Targeting users for punishment would be a gargantuan and costly task.
It might also not be technologically feasible. Within hours, internet searches for “VPNs”—virtual private
networks, which allow users to disguise their online identity and evade country-specific limits—surged
across the country. Multiple videos appeared on YouTube, explaining the ins and outs of VPNs to
Twitter-hungry Nigerians.
Nigerians also have plenty of other digital options to share opinions and information, from the popular
WhatsApp to the Indian microblogging service Koo, which quickly announced plans to expand into the
country.
Not-so-hidden costs
The widespread use of VPNs would come at significant costs. Poorer Nigerians are likely turn to free
VPNs instead of fee-based ones that are more secure. This will expose them to data theft and other forms
of hacking.
And the use of VPNs can slow internet connectivity.
Beyond being an annoyance, this could significantly hamper economic productivity. Nigeria’s economy
and even government have become increasingly reliant on digital media. Some noted the irony that the
government announced its ban on Twitter with a tweet. NetBlocks, which tracks internet governance,
estimated that each day of the Twitter shutdown will cost the Nigerian economy over 2 billion naira ($6
million).
Digital media are essential for information exchange, marketing, customer service, and remote work,
especially during public health and safety emergencies. Shutdowns can slow commerce, cut productivity
and ultimately cost jobs.
In the longer term, the ban—even if only brief—could seriously harm Nigeria’s ability to attract
investment to its otherwise-promising digital economy. Investors may turn to markets without the threat
of sudden regulatory disruptions to the digital economy. In other words, Twitter’s choice of Ghana would
only be the beginning.

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Tobi Softwork

Author Since: April 30, 2021

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