Social media informs us about events locally and globally that we need to know as citizens. It gives citizens an avenue to speak their minds, be heard, discuss and share their frustrations.
The Internet enables concepts of e-governance to promote transparency between the government and the citizens. It also serves as a public forum allowing citizens to lend their voices to social issues by commenting or taking action, voting, marching and other tools they have access to.
The Internet provides an advertising platform for all forms of businesses online, providing revenue for bloggers and online news publications. Marketing online is faster, cost effective, requires less staff and engaging. The benefits are enormous!
Despite these benefits that the Internet presents, many governments especially in Africa tend to ‘control’ the Internet by adopting laws and practices that seek to limit the freedoms that people enjoy online and common among them are Internet shutdowns.
An Internet shutdown is an intentional disruption of Internet or electronic communications rendering them inaccessible or unusable for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.
In 2017 alone, Africa witnessed shutdowns in Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal, Somalia, Morocco,Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo. Let’s not even begin to talk about Cameroon; the francophone- dominated government shut down the Internet in the anglophone regions between January 2017 and April 2018. This nightmare birthed a documentary titled Blacked out and crippled Cameroon’s vibrant digital sector.
Let’s not forget the arrest of innocent citizens that exercise their right to freedom of expression online. Yes! The right to freedom of expression online is a thing! It exists and it’s your right!
The United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution in June 2016 passed a resolution for the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, which condemns any country that intentionally disrupts the Internet access of citizens.
Internet shutdowns are harmful, unnecessary and have no place in a democracy; they directly violate the rights to freedom of expression, association and access to information. Indirectly, shutdowns may violate the right to free and fair elections, education, healthcare, equality and trade, not to mention its implications on a nation’s economy.
Governments must ensure that any regulations or agreements with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) — either state controlled or independent — regarding shutdowns, are publicly available and any order or instruction to initiate a shutdown must be in compliance with the law and subject to administrative and judicial review.
I would love to see an Africa where Artificial Intelligence would someday be able to detect suicidal thoughts through people’s social media posts and alert authorities so we can have less suicide stories.
I would love for my sister who bakes great cakes to be able to advertise her business to a wider audience through her social media accounts so that her business blooms without fear that her business would be brought to a halt by a shutdown
I would love for the Internet to be open and free! Wouldn’t you?
– Mku can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org