The recent ban of the microblogging site, Twitter, by the Nigerian government has continued to generate debates and even leading to several lawsuits in court. But while government said the ban was in the interest of the country’s stability, industry stakeholders said the action may have more dire consequences than economic loss. SAMSON AKINTARO reports
At the end of this week, the ban on the social microblogging site, Twitter, will be 22 days, even as there is no sign that government will be lifting the ban anytime soon. For many Nigerians, life continues with, or without Twitter. However, those whose source of livelihood depends on the platform will not be able to say so as they lose millions daily to the ban. While statistics suggest that Twitter occupied the number six position among the social platforms Nigerians mostly use, it is, no doubt one of the topmost engaging for businesses and even government, hence, the ban has been projected to cost Nigeria’s economy a huge loss. But beyond the economy, stakeholders in the country’s ICT industry see bigger losses.
Why the ban?
While the last straw that broke the camel’s back was the deletion of a part of President Mohammadu Buhari’s Tweet, which Twitter said it found to have violated its rules, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had said government took the action because Twitter had been providing an avenue for people threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria. He claimed that the owner of Twitter helped to fund the recent #EndSARS protest and is also allowing the leader of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, to use the platform to call for the killing of Nigerian security operatives. He said Twitter failed to take down Kanu’s tweets despite repeated requests to do so.
If the estimation of the global internet mapping platform, Netblocks. org is anything to go by, Nigeria may have lost about N3 trillion in the first two weeks of the Twitter ban.
According to the platform, the country loses N90.7 million every hour as the ban subsists. Netblocks aggregates the cost of shutdown tools and estimates the economic impacts of internet disruption, mobile data blackouts, or app restrictions using indicators from the World Bank, ITU, Eurostat and U.S. census as the case may be. The platform said it relied on booking institution methods, which relied on development indicators approximated digital economy extent of 0.05, and classic free app GDP impact technique to arrive at its conclusion. According to a Cybersecurity and Communications Consultant at the World Bank Group, Andrew Madaki, the ban, aside from leading to loss of jobs for many young Nigerians, is sending the wrong message to international investors about Nigeria. “The tech sector has grown so much in Nigeria in recent time and has seen a lot of transformations. Unfortunately, the ban passes on a message to the investors that your policies can change at any time. And so, if you set up an organisation in Nigeria, one policy in one day can shut down your business. So, this affects the investor confidence in the economy,” he said. Beyond economic loss While noting that social media was integral to attaining the goals of Nigeria’s digital economy agenda, the Chief Executive Officer of Jidaw Systems, Mr. Jide Awe, said government’s suspension of Twitter, one of the major global social media platforms, will certainly hinder the growth of the digital economy in Nigeria. But most importantly, he said, was the huge impact it would have on the country’s youths’ innovation drives. “Many who have become dependent on the platform for social, economic and political activities will be significantly affected. Losses may be considerable for youth and small businesses. It can be a huge setback – for youth innovation, entrepreneurship and employment, as young people and youth-led organisations are the most active segment of the population on Twitter and other social media platforms. The freedom of expression and openness is particularly attractive to and used by young people to share ideas and create value,” he said. Awe also cited the political implications of the ban. According to him, “the suspension will affect government’s relationship with young Nigerians who are the ones driving Nigeria’s digital revolution – resulting in feelings of alienation and growing distrust. “The tension and hostility are not healthy for social harmony, confidence, and trust, which are essential for digi-tal economy growth. And more young people may seek more anonymity in their use of social media and digital tools.” He said the suspension was also affecting government’s ability to use the platforms to inform stakeholders and the public of new policies/projects, highlight successes and challenges and improve engagement with citizens – this information flow and engagement is critical to the digital economy agenda.
Although the intention of government in banning Twitter was to prevent Nigerians from using the platform, this has only succeeded in opening the eyes of many young Nigerians to alternative means of accessing the platform without a trace. Consequently, the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) by many Nigerians to bypass the Twitter ban in Nigeria has been escalating Nigeria’s issues to other countries of the world. Several issues, including killings in parts of the country, are now trending in the Twitter space of countries like the U.S., Netherlands and Canada, among others. The VPNs disguise the users’ IP as emanating from another country, other than the location of the users. While the internet has made the world a global village in which information about any country can be accessed through an online search, industry analysts said the Twitter ban and the use of VPN mean that people all over the world no longer need to search for any information about Nigeria as all discussions about the country now land on their palms via Twitter. A Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Consultant, Mr. Muyiwa Awosile, noted that aside from exposing the country to the world, the use of VPN also exposes the users’ data to the whole world. Awosile who is the Managing Director of Tros Technologies, said: “A major reason people use VPNs is to protect their privacy while browsing the internet, but unfortunately, many free VPNs have third-party trackers embedded in the software. These trackers are used to gather data on the user’s online activity, so advertisers are better able to target users with ads. So, instead of providing users with privacy, the VPNs are doing the exact opposite, by collecting user information and selling it to the highest advertising bidder.”
While government has given a condition that Twitter and other social media platforms in the country must be registered locally as a business before the ban is lifted, stakeholders have advised government to explore all possible means of resolving the conflict. They added that a more inclusive approach to resolution would foster democratic norms and governance, as well as the advancement of innovation and economic growth in the country.