When State Security Minister David Mahlobo announced that government is proposing to regulate social media, tweeps got #HandsOffSocialMedia trending.
â€” TweetGuru (@JustKholii_) March 6, 2017
Mahlobo made this statement at a press conference over the weekend, seemingly out of the blue. His reasons? Foreign forces have laid siege on South Africa and that they are somehow using the courts, civil society and the media to cause â€œinstabilityâ€. Not cool.
While state security hasnâ€
The Daily Vox rounds up five African countries that have used internet shutdown to silence citizen dissent and free speech.
The Chadian government has shut down the countryâ€
The first blackout happened on 15 February 2016 after news of the gang rape of a 17-year-old girl by five rapists – two being the sons of a Chadian army general – spread across social media. This sparked protests across the country. These protests then turned political, as Chad was holding an election in the following month. Citizens were not only protesting against the long-standing President Idriss DÃ©by, but also the other 13 candidates running against him. Facebook, Whatsapp, and Twitter were shut down entirely.
Four internet providers and mobile phone services were simultaneously shut down. But hackers and activists had a counter-move: the ingenuity of activists from We Rebuild turned to old-fashioned technology to get messages out. They used landline phones, fax machines, old fashioned dial-up, and radios to get messages out. Protesters on the street used pamphlets to communicate their messages.
They also made use of Tor, software that reroutes user traffic through a network of volunteersâ€
On 18 January 2017, Cameroonâ€
Before the blackout, protesters were using Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp to communicate with each other. The shutdown came just two hours after the government had banned the activities of the two English activist groups – Southern Cameroonâ€
It was very easy for the Cameroonian government to shut down the countryâ€
Citizens in unaffected regions stood in solidarity with their English community, creating the #BringBackOurInternet campaign.
â€” FSouthernCameroons (@Ambaexit) March 7, 2017
Before the shutdown, government sent warning messages to all phone users in the country.
4. Democratic Republic of Congo
In December 2016, outgoing president Joseph Kabila ordered that all social media platforms be shut down. ENCA reported that Kabila had given a very long list, with no reason for the order, to the DRCâ€
According to the Digital Rights in Africa report, the DRC shut down its internet and text message services during a protest that left 42 dead and about a thousand injured.
In October 2012, the Ethiopian government blacked out its internet for two months. This was a clear move by Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn to stifle protests in the country that were advocating for social justice and democratic transitions.
The prime minister is clearly against social media. He even spoke out against it in his speech at the United Nations, calling it a tool that it used to â€œspread messages of hate and bigotry without any inhibitionâ€.
A report by Amnesty International and the Open Observatory Network Interference found that â€œthe Ethiopian government had used Deep Packet Inspection technology to censor and block news outlets, websites related to opposition groups, and circumvention tools like Torâ€.
Back In South Africa, the Right2Know campaign issued a statement calling the comments by Minister Mahlobo â€œa clear move by state securocrats to try clamp down on freedom of expression and increase their powers to censor the internetâ€. It comes on the back of a range of existing, deeply problematic censorship policies, including the Film and Publication Boardâ€
State Security is still drafting the proposal to regulate social media. We really hope that the constitutional validity of this attempt at ensuring â€œpublic safety and stabilityâ€ will be, not only thoroughly investigated, but taken very seriously. Moves to regulate the internet are the first moves authoritarian governments pulls when they want to control information and communication.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons