Twitter Ban: The Ripple Effect
When the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration first announced that it was placing a temporary ban on Twitter on June 4, it was the subject of ‘cruise and light banter’ for many Nigerian tweeps (Twitter users).
However, the reality that the government was standing by its decision dawned on Nigerian when by midnight of June 5, the estimated 40 million Nigerian users of Twitter (The NOI Polls stated that 2 out of 10 internet users in Nigeria (over 39 million have a Twitter account) could not access their accounts. The ban came shortly three hours after the government issued the announcement.
The official Twitter handle of the Ministry of Information and Culture had cited unspecified activities on the social media platform that were deemed “capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” Many tweeps were quick to relate the ban as not being unconnected to the platform’s decision to take down a tweet by the Nigerian president.
President Buhari, a former brigade major in the Nigerian civil war while warning secessionists wrote in part, “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” causing an uproar on the platform.
Having suffered the effects of the civil war from 1967 to 1970, the Igbo tribe of southeastern Nigeria as well as think-tanks, accused the president of posting a “genocidal statement” and called for a report of the tweet for abuse.
Besides deleting the tweet, the president’s account was left in a “read-only mode” for 12 hours. Days after, Nigeria announced a temporary ban and subsequently announced that the ban was indefinite. Unrelenting, Nigerians have turned to the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) to continue to use the app with several voicing out their displeasure with the ‘hasty action of the government.’ There have been several opinions that the suspension is not only ‘unconstitutional’ but also a ‘childish tantrum’ by the government with Nigerians left to bear the brunt.
Admittedly, although the ruling party rode to victory in the 2015 presidential election with help from social media, the government has been vocal about the need to regulate social media. The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed has several times blamed “the siege of disinformation and fake news” on social media.
The move to delete President Buhari’s tweet was one the government was clearly not going to take lightly. Mohammed heavily criticised the “double standards” of the platform, complaining that Twitter did not delete tweets from a separatist leader. In another statement about the Twitter ban, the government claimed that one of the reasons is because “there has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real world violent consequences.”
This is asides the accusations that Twitter supported the 2020 #EndSARS protests organised by young Nigerians to protest police brutality in the country.
For many Nigerian users of the platform, Twitter has become more than just another social media platform. It has become the voice to criticise the actions and inactions of the government, and also a place where many earn their daily living. Indeed, Nigeria has witnessed anti-government protests being organised on Twitter with the recent #EndSARS protests gained momentum and worldwide recognition thanks to social media activism. Twitter even unveiled a custom emoji to support the campaign.
The economic impact of Twitter ban is one that has been enormous on Nigeria. Three days after the twitter ban in Nigeria, the A4AI (Alliance for Affordable Internet) put Nigeria’s economic loss at $1.2b. A watchdog organisation, NetBlocks, also remarked that each hour of the Nigerian government’s decision cost $250,000 (N102.5 million), bringing the daily loss to N2.5 billion. Minus COVID-19’s impact on small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs), the e-commerce market in three days lost an estimated $12 billion.
Many Nigerian businesses and individuals rely on the use of Twitter to support their operations and hustle. Many employers use Twitter to promote their job openings while online vendors also promote their businesses and services on the platform.
According to a report by fDi Intelligence, a specialist division of the Financial Times, in collaboration with research company Briter Bridges, Nigeria boasts of the largest number of startups in the Africa tech ecosystem and most of these startups use Twitter to attract investment.
Digital marketers and online influencers have also complained bitterly about the harsh effects of the Twitter ban on their businesses. Potential digital marketer, Favour, was on the micro-blogging platform, Twitter, pleading that tweeps follow her so that she can be a part of the campaign. Like so many others on the platform looking to become a part of this industry, some clients require that marketers have a certain number of tweeps before they’d qualify for the job.
A few days after several retweets, pleas and mentions were gathered to gather the number, the Nigerian government issued a statement on June 1.
Jide, a vendor on the platform, says that “I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t affected business. Ongoing campaigns got cancelled, some were put on hold and even intending campaigns got cancelled just like that. For someone like me, for example, where Twitter is my main strength, it has been tough.” His outcry is not exaggerated. For vendors, it is a harsh reality they are still trying to grapple with. Another social media vendor has been completely left jobless.
There is also the internet security threat that many Nigerians are exposing themselves to by turning to the use of VPNs. Not only does the widespread use of VPNs to access Twitter come at a significant cost but there is an even higher price to pay for those who turn to free VPNs instead of fee-based ones that are more secure. The free VPNs will expose the users to data theft and various forms of hacking.
In 2020, Nigeria overtook India as the poverty capital of the world, with about half of its population, 86.9 million people living in severe poverty. The same year, Nairametrics noted that 27.1% (about 21.7 million) Nigerians are unemployed, while the underemployment rate stands at 28.6%, leading to a total of 55.7%. It is not farfetched to state that many Nigerians will be turning to the use of free VPNs.
Furthermore, digital media has become an essential tool for information exchange with many Nigerian tweeps relying on Twitter as their emergency hotline. A few months ago, Nigerian social media users were able to raise awareness about the kidnapping and murder of a job seeker Iniubong Umoren in Akwa Ibom using the tools of social media. Local and international attention has also been brought to issues affecting the people relying on social media as a medium of communication and information dissemination.
For many, Twitter as well as other social media platforms have become the go to channels to obtain real-time updates and unfiltered information about events going on around the world. Ironically, even the Nigerian government relied on the use of Twitter to announce the controversial ban.
The Way Forward
It is unclear at the time of writing this how long the government plans to uphold the ban, however, with the level of difficulties faced by Nigerian youths, it is imperative that the elephant in the room is addressed on time.
Despite the Federal government’s proposition on a dialogue with Twitter, this idea has not gone down well with vendors who believe that their means of livelihood is on the brink of collapse. Jide says, “Twitter is a platform with its terms and conditions. I don’t think they are going to change those rules because of one country, so the intended meeting is just a waste of time.”
Another vendor who prefers to remain anonymous says; “The government should lift the ban and leave it alone, any interference is weighing on our freedom of speech as citizens, which is against the democracy we practice in Nigeria.”
Today, we are discussing the Twitter Ban, as the Minister of Information has threatened, it could be another social media application tomorrow.
If indeed the country is an entity where “they can have business”, then, unless those at the helm of affairs see it as a tool that has created job opportunities, and a tool for expressing differing political views and opinions for the betterment of the country, we might make no headway with the dialogue.
Our leaders need to understand the importance of new age applications and have passionate young Nigerians play active roles in leadership. That way, there is a balance of experience and knowledge.
The damaging effects of the ban on the economy is not one to be swept under the rug. It is now a matter of urgency.
Modupeoluwa Adekanye contributed to this article.