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Why it’s impossible to shutdown social media access in Nigeria

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[files] Social media seasons of challenge depicts the power of coordination amongst Nigerians.

The Nigerian government, like any government in the world, has its critics. But, unlike some governments, the leadership in Nigeria has expressed a willingness to silence dissent. One way they have talked about doing this is to block social media access. If they tried to do this, it would certainly disrupt communication for many people within the borders of Nigeria, but it would not really kill social media in the country. Because good VPN services exist, any attempt to block a part of the internet will have limited success. A closer look at how and why the government might go about censorship can make this clear.

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A History of Censorship
Africa is a large continent, and it would be unfair to group every country in the continent under a single label.

With that in mind, there is a pattern of censorship that has emerged from a fair number of African countries over the last decade. In plenty of examples, that censorship has been heavy-handed. If you’re in Nigeria and worried about having social media access in the long-term, looking at a brief history of some other countries in the region can shed a little light.

Major internet censorship most notably got traction during the Arab Spring in 2011. Libya and Egypt both went to great lengths to throttle internet access. More specifically, they tried to deny access to social media sites.

Those sites were used frequently by dissenters to organize protests. Ultimately, those protest groups helped form the backbone of resistances that toppled both governments. Clearly, the stakes were high.

Since the Arab Spring, similar conditions have played out in a number of other countries, from Ethiopia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In total, more than 10 African countries have gone after social media access in an attempt to prevent dissenters from organizing their movements. Those efforts have seen mixed results.

What does this mean for Nigeria? If the government sees enough dissent and general unrest, they may be inclined to take steps seen in other countries over the past decade.

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Nigerian Internet Control
Since October of 2020, Nigeria has been seriously discussing internet throttling and social media restrictions. An entire chain of command has been established to make it fast and easy to implement these restrictions if the order comes through. The Nigeria Communications Commission can essentially pull the plug from a single order.

If this were to happen, things in Nigeria would be tough. Regular internet usage would be harder to come by. The convenience of modern apps would disappear. Working from home would be an incredible challenge, and considering the state of the pandemic in Nigeria, that represents a major problem. Nigeria is the most heavily populated country in Africa by a pretty large margin. Any internet throttling could be disastrous for the economy and the daily lives of residents.

Despite the mechanisms and consequences, completely killing all internet access in Nigeria would prove immensely difficult. The bulk of internet service is run by a handful of private companies in the country. An order from the government could force them to kill a lot of traffic, but there are many external forces at play, and those external forces will inevitably force the government to want to keep some lanes of internet traffic open. This primarily extends to communications with foreign powers. International pressure can and has prevented countries in Africa from completely turning off their internet infrastructure, and Nigeria is likely to behave similarly if the order comes to throttle the internet.

Ultimately, this means that internet throttling from the government can be intense and disrupted, but not complete. There will be ways to work around such a move. The easiest workaround uses satellite internet that isn’t directly controlled by the government. Other, more involved methods could include cell internet and finding nodes that are kept open for any number of reasons.

Social media is an entirely different story. Killing the internet would primarily be aimed at cutting off social media access to inhibit organized dissent. The easier method of doing this is to block access to social media sites directly. The rest of the internet can function, but residents within the borders of Nigeria would have no access to any social media servers.

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This is entirely plausible and not entirely difficult for the government to implement. They can simply block the IP addresses of social media servers so that any request originating in Nigeria will get no response. It’s a complete social media blackout, and it would accomplish the primary goal.

The good news is that this method of blocking access is a manageable obstacle. Defeating IP blocks is pretty easy with the implementation of a VPN. You simply need to route your social media request through a middleman that isn’t in Nigeria. Foreign VPN servers do this automatically, and using them is incredibly simple.

The VPN Solution
VPNs are used for many purposes, and one of the leading reasons is to route your traffic through a VPN server. This accomplishes two things. It anonymizes your IP address, and it gives you access to the internet as it is seen in other countries. If Nigeria blocks social media access, you can route through a VPN that is in any country without such restrictions. The social media sites become available, and no one can trace the activity back to you (through your IP address) because the VPN is anonymizing your internet activity.

Anyone worried about social media access in the coming months or years should investigate VPN resources. Having access now can ensure a workaround when the time comes.

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