Somaliland, Zimbabwe crack down on social media

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Somaliland, the self-declared republic in northwestern Somalia, and Zimbabwe have cracked down on social media in the face of current and upcoming elections.

Somaliland will be restricting access to various social media platforms in an effort to protect voters from “fake news” surrounding the election held Monday, 13 November.

The electoral commission asked telecommunications companies to block the likes of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Viber, Flickr, Instagram, LinkedIn, Duo, and Google Plus. The companies agreed to the request.

The commission cited “external forces” spreading “inciteful and tribalistic” information, according to Quartz.

The platforms will be down from the end of voting until the results are announced. The commission says the outage will not be internet-wide.

The election is Somaliland’s third since seceding from Somalia in 1991, and previous elections have proven peaceful, though this latest restriction on the freedom of information has worried human rights organisations.

“The way to counter fake news or preempt violence is not to censor, but to ensure that those in authority disseminate accurate and credible information, including via social media and other channels,” the Africa Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, Angela Quintal, told Quartz.

Over in Zimbabwe, US citizen Martha O’Donovan was arrested Friday for a tweet that seemingly insulted Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

O’Donovan, who has since been released on bail, will be tried on charges of subversion and insulting the president, though Judge Clement Phiri stated in the High Court that it appears there is no evidence of a plot against the government.

The 25-year-old could face up to 20 years in prison.

The offending tweet called Mugabe a “selfish and sick man” and was accompanied by an image of the president with a catheter.

The arrest comes a month after Mugabe appointed a cyber security minister to oversee crimes on social media and other websites ahead of next year’s election, in which Mugabe will be running.

Last year, the nation was hit with the biggest anti-government protests in a decade, fueled by the hashtag #ThisFlag.

O’Donovan will return to court Wednesday.

Internet shutdowns are not uncommon in African countries when elections or protests are involved.

In 2016, Twitter and Facebook were blocked in Uganda as the nation headed to the polls, and internet services were reportedly down for two days in Ethiopia in what seemed an effort to quash protests. Earlier this year, internet services were down in English-speaking regions in Cameroon for 93 days.

In March, South African Minister of State Security David Mahlobo hinted at the possibility of regulating social media in an attempt to counter “false narratives”.

Feature image: Memeburn



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