Category

Internet Freedom

Ethiopia’s Tigray Crisis: Net Blackout and Govt’s One-Way Fact Check.

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

Ethiopia has had a challenging 2020 relative to the internet. There has been a triple outage – two restricted to particular zones and one nationwide. The first outage in western Oromia lasted three months in an area government was combating rebels.

The second and more impacting being the nationwide blackout imposed in June, through the better part of July followed the killing of a famed Oromo artiste, Hachaalu Hundessa, in the capital Addis Ababa. That blackout lasted over three weeks according to Net Blocks.

The more recent restricted outage is in the northern Tigray region where the government says it is carrying out a “rule of law operation” against the recalcitrant regional government led by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, TPLF.

Immediately after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed “declared war” on the TPLF in early November 2020, internet connectivity was cut across Tigray as federal forces engaged the regional forces in hostilities that have triggered a humanitarian crisis along the border with Sudan.

Government’s one-way fact-checking via Facebook / Twitter

Days after the operation began in western Tigray, the government announced official social media channels (Facebook / Twitter) – to debunk fake news. Relaying official account of the operation and debunking misinformation was the main task of the State of Emergency Fact-Checking handles.

From new reports about the bombing of a dam, enlisting of South Sudanese soldiers, and talk of regional even continental mediation; the government debunked all of the above whiles confirming other separate incidents reported in the press and posted on social media.

Incessant as the calls for de-escalation and restoration of especially communication services have been, the calls have all been rebuffed by Addis Ababa. The United Nations, African Union, human, media, and digital rights groups, have all made the unheeded call.

Most people tweeting about the crisis are believed to be Ethiopians from the diaspora and or political and security watchers who receive their information from other sources – be it diplomatic or by other means.

The regional authorities despite the blackout continue to grant interviews especially to the major news agencies – Reuters, AFP whiles other journalists in the region also relay news via Twitter especially.

Analysts on Ethiopia’s ‘assault’ on connectivity

Internet Rights expert, Ekai Nabenyo, East Africa lead for net rights group Paradigm Initiative, PIN; in an article described the Ethiopian government’s appetite for internet shutdowns as “insatiable and atavistic.” 

“…in blatant disregard of basic human entitlements, the government of Ethiopia never missed an opportunity to violate the rights of citizens. At the slightest provocation, the government appears to always have as its first option, internet shutdowns and communication restriction.”

“Internet shutdowns are never a good option in times of crisis or national emergencies. A society that does not have access to information is a society that is walking in a fathomless abyss,” he added.

For other analysts, it was intriguing that a government creates the conditions for fake news to be peddled yet positions itself to be a “unilateral” source of credible information. 

Why the outrage and calls for lifting measure

The Ethiopian government did not give any reasons – it hardly ever gives reasons for such security-related shutdowns – but experts have said the move was to ensure that government controls the war narrative plus to disrupt communication lines of “opponents.”

Despite not being opponents, the media became one of the most adversely impacted by the communications blackout. People outside of the region could also not connect with family and friends trapped in the region. 

In a recent Reuters report, the script read in part: “Claims from all sides are difficult to verify since phone and internet links to the region have been down…” Several journalists have had to depend on diplomatic sources and other means to report incidents.

Most analysts have stressed the impact of unverifiable information. In which instance people peddle fake news along with its attendant dangers. Local and international watchers have tasked the government to lift the outage.

“Cutting off communication has severely hampered the ability to monitor the situation on the ground, particularly the impact of the clashes in the local population,” UN human rights head Michelle Bachelet said in a November 6 statement.

Bachelet asked Addis Ababa to “re-establish all basic services, including Internet and telephone connections.” Adding that “the right of all people to be informed and to access information is particularly vital in a crisis situation”.

Conclusion

But authorities in Ethiopia are not alone in seeking to unilaterally combat fake news, over in Nigeria, the Army has recently appropriated unto itself busting fake news on social media. 

In the aftermath of the deadly toll booth shooting in Lagos amid the #EndSars protests, the Army stamped “fake news” labels on social media posts alleging their complicity in the incident.

Restricting the internet as done by Addis Ababa was to achieve an end – be it security or information control. Going a step further to fact check reports underlines the importance of combating unverified/fake news.

The writer, Abdul Rahman Shaban Alfa, is a 2020 Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights and Inclusion fellow. He is a digital journalist who writes on major digital rights trends across Africa.  

Review: Digital pledges in 2020 manifesto of Ghana ruling party.

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

Ghanaians will be voting in December 2020 in general elections. The keenly watched poll is a re-election bid for the two main candidates. Incumbent Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and former President John Dramani Mahama. The winner will be serving their second and final term as president of one of Africa’s most stable democracies. The vote is the eighth consecutive since the return to multi-party democracy in 1992.

Important as electioneering campaigns and messaging are, they afford both parties and other contenders the opportunity to sell their political agenda. As a 2020 Paradigm Initiative digital rights fellow, this writer zones in on the digital pledges in the manifesto of the ruling New Patriotic Party, NPP. This follows a first part that tracked the same in the main opposition National Democratic Congress, NDC’s; manifesto.

Setting tone for digital take-off

The NPP touts their achievements so far in the digital landscape and continues in the document to address areas they will consolidate and or introduce in the next term if they win the polls.

The word “digital” appears a total of 64 times in different contexts throughout the 216-page document dubbed “Leadership of Service: Protecting our Progress, Transforming Ghana for All.”

The first mention of the word digital is in the message from the president and flagbearer of the party which read in part: “We have embraced digital technology in the delivery of public services …”

In Part 5 of the document titled: Accelerating Growth and Transformation; the NPP dedicates an entire chapter to Digitisation and the Transformation of the Ghanaian Economy. Specifically, it zoned in on the digitization journey and plans to build a digital services economy and to create a leading sub-regional digital hub.

Touting digital strides from 2016 – 2020 

The government summarized its digital development areas as follows: improve the delivery of public service, formalize the economy, improve revenue mobilization, deepen and broaden inclusiveness in the development process, and curb bribery and corruption.

The Akufo-Addo-led government has since 2016 rolled out a number of digital processes in the delivery of government services. Some of the notable ones being the 2018 digital address system, digital driver’s license, and vehicle registration.

Others are the digitized process of obtaining building permits, reforms for court administration, and incremental development of the Ghana.gov portal as a one-stop-shop for digital payment and revenue mobilization.

In the education sector especially, the government also touted its efforts in digitizing libraries stating thus: “Through the Ghana Fund for Electronic Communication (GIFEC), we provided students living with disability in selected tertiary institutions with assistive technology-enabled devices and training to promote their digital inclusion.”

Digitizing the health insurance system was also the other plank highlighted. The Digital Hub under which the Accra Digital Center falls is an area of innovation and enterprise for young developers that government promises to boost.

Plan, promises, and projects for 2020 – 2024

“Over the next four years, we will leverage on our existing digital infrastructure and make the necessary investments and policies to establish Ghana firmly as the digital services hub of West Africa,” the manifesto said.

In concrete terms, the NPP government promised to among others:

* Put in place generation of connected market infrastructure on which government and the economy can function.

* Rationalise the functions of bodies in the technology ecosystem and to streamline the legal and regulatory frameworks.

* Update Ghana’s spectrum policy and regulations to promote greater transparency, the competitive and rapid expansion of internet services to rural areas.

* Establish a national data center that centralizes all digital information and data storage, management, and protection.

* Increase broadband coverage, affordability of digital devices and explore innovations to ensure the visually impaired are not left out of the ongoing digital revolution plus increasing access and affordability of digital devices.

* Invest in human capital to build digital skills base, by continuing investments in teaching ICT from primary school.

* Undertake processes aimed at reducing the cost of data in Ghana. A gigabyte of data as of 2020 costs $0.94, making Ghana the country with the sixth cheapest rate in Africa.

* Other areas of interest include reduction of taxes on digital devices, lowering of the spectrum and license costs.

Digital investment makes a significant showing in the concluding chapter under the heading of “Transformation for a Ghana Beyond Aid,” the relevant portions read thus: “The coronavirus pandemic has reaffirmed our vision of building a Ghana Beyond Aid…

“… one of the pillars of which is to build a resilient economy with the financial strength to fund public services, and to ensure a strong Ghanaian presence and capacity across the supply and services value chains of all the major sectors.”

The cyberspace plans are largely limited, only reporting of successes in the first tenure. The government mentioned the setting up of the Computer Emergency Response Team with the National Communications Authority and also training police on cybersecurity.

Conclusion

The digital space clearly is of increasing interest to major political stakeholders in Ghana. Like the NDC, the incumbent party has given lots of space to the potential and game-changing impact of digital processes on general national life.

As reiterated by experts in the digital ecosystem, civil society and the media will be key in keeping successive governments in check to deliver on promises especially relative to legislation on digital rights and data protection.

“Civil society must track these promises and push politicians to implement as many of them as possible,” a digital rights activist told this writer.

As crucial as the digital space is, one wonders how many Ghanaians will vote on digital rights and other digital inclusion grounds.

Whiles at it, parties and candidates are busily using social media to sell their messages to the many Ghanaians with a presence on and offline. Game on, may the best party win.

 

The writer, Abdul Rahman Shaban Alfa, is a 2020 Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights and Inclusion fellow. He is a digital journalist who writes on major digital rights trends across Africa.  

Tanzanians Vote Amidst Unprecedented Internet Disruption

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

It is not an overstatement to say that if there is any word that most Tanzanians are coming into contact with — or forced to use — for the first time then is VPN or virtual private network, a technology that gives internet users online privacy and anonymity. Thanks to the ongoing heavy restriction on the use of the internet by Tanzanian authorities during the general election, most Tanzanians, both technologically savvy and ignorant, struggle to download VPN and install it on their mobile devices so that they can be able to access various social media platforms whose use Tanzania has reportedly restricted.

Restrictions

News on the likely restriction on the use of social media first came to light on Tuesday, October 27, 2020, as various people, especially on social media, reported to have had difficulty accessing the platforms. NetBlocks, an international non-governmental organization that monitors cybersecurity and the governance of the Internet, confirmed what it called “widespread disruption to social media and online communication platforms” via multiple internet providers as of Tuesday.

NeBlocks’ analysis revealed that real-time metrics showed that Twitter, WhatsApp, backend servers for Instagram, and some Google services, including Gmail and Translate were generally or partially. This was true for any user of Tanzania’s leading network operators like Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo, Halotel, and Zantel. While other social media companies are yet to comment on the situation, Twitter said Tuesday that it had observed “some blocking and throttling” of the platform. In a statement, Twitter said: “Internet shutdowns are hugely harmful, and violate basic human rights and the principles of the [open internet.] The government is yet to comment on the matter as of the time of writing this. Nor are the network operator who has been on the receiving end of various inquiries and even accusations from their customers. Many of them, however, acknowledged experiencing “network issues,” promising to work on it.


The restriction on the use of the internet came hardly three days after another development was reported by users of Tanzania’s largest mobile network operators Vodacom Tanzania and Airtel Tanzania preventing users from sending mobile text messages which carried the name of some of the opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu and Maalim Seif Sharif to their contacts. The move by Vodacom and Airtel came two days after Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) wrote to telecoms ordering them to temporarily suspend bulk short messaging services (SMS) and bulk voice calls from October 24 to November 11, 2020. TCRA’s director-general said in the letter which was addressed to Viettel Tanzania PLC which trades as Halotel that the move was aimed at curbing the “adverse impacts” of the services during general elections.

Keep It On

Back in August 2020, some digital rights activists in the country were already worried that the government might restrict the use of the internet ahead of the 2020 general election. This is so despite the fact that Tanzania does not have legislation that gives the government power to shut down the internet, according to a Lagos-based digital rights advocacy group Paradigm Initiative (PIN). Still, the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, 2020 give the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) power to order service providers to block or filter content if the TCRA deems such content is prohibited, the digital rights organization, quoted a human rights lawyer Daniel Marari as saying. Mr. Marari told Paradigm Initiative then:

“The way it works is that the law allows TCRA to delegate censorship powers and powers of content removal to service providers. It can direct service providers, or internet service providers, to filter and block access to certain services/websites or remove certain content. If they don’t comply, they risk sanctions. [This is] an indirect way of blocking access to online content or services.”

It was the fear of restriction on the use of the internet experienced right now that moved Ms. Zaituni Njovu and her colleagues at Zaina Foundation, a local organization that champions digital rights and inclusion, to adopt and launch the #KeepItOnTZ in Tanzania to make sure that the government does not shut the internet down as it can have unspeakable effects on people’s participation in the upcoming election.

Access Now, a global digital rights organization, criticized what is currently happening in Tanzania, saying it stiles people’s fundamental rights and freedoms. “Telecom service providers operating in Tanzania have a responsibility to respect the human rights of Tanzanians, and must take all possible measures to prevent and mitigate government attempts to censor millions,” said the organization in its October 27 statement. “[We] invite the international community to join the call: telecommunications companies must resist Magufuli-government censorship requests, and allow people to freely and securely access communication platforms throughout the election period and thereafter.”

BY Khalifa Said Rashid, Paradigm Initiative Media Fellow 

Facebook et Les Manifestations Politiques en Afrique.

By | Digital Rights, Internet Freedom, L.I.F.E.

Alors que les forces de sécurité nigérianes ont abattu des jeunes manifestants le 20 octobre, lors des rassemblements #EndSARS pour mettre fin à la brutalité policière, plusieurs publications ont été faussement signalées comme des « fausses nouvelles». Sur les réseaux sociaux, la crise anglophone au Cameroun prend désormais de l’ampleur après le drame de Kumba. Quel rôle peut jouer Facebook dans cette nouvelle mobilisation en ligne ? Entretien avec Qemal Affagnon, coordinateur de l’Afrique de l’ouest pour Internet Sans Frontières.

Quel rôle peut jouer Facebook dans la crise anglophone au Cameroun ?

Je pense qu’au niveau de la diffusion de l’information, ils ont un rôle à jouer. Les artistes et les personnalités ont commencé à donner de la voix au Cameroun et ils sont nombreux sur Facebook. Depuis le drame de Kumba, Facebook permet aux citoyens de libéraliser l’information au-delà des médias traditionnels.

Mais il y a un risque que Facebook tente de censurer les discussions comme ce fût le cas au Nigeria. Parce qu’en 2018, Facebook a dépêché deux représentants au Cameroun pour rencontrer les autorités afin de limiter les fausses nouvelles et les discours de haine. Autorités, qui il faut le rappeler, quelques semaines avant, avaient coupé internet pendant 94 jours.

Aussi, à l’approche des dernières élections, les autorités ont contacté Facebook et ils ont répondu présents.

Donc il y a déjà des contacts entre les deux parties et un risque réel que Facebook ressorte l’argument des fausses nouvelles si le mouvement au Cameroun prend de l’ampleur et menace les intérêts du gouvernement.

De nombreuses personnes exercent leur droit à la liberté d’expression sur les réseaux sociaux et à travers ces pratiques, Facebook entrave ce droit. Cependant, au Cameroun, Facebook n’a pas trop intérêt à réagir pour l’instant car la mobilisation est encore faible mais j’imagine que si elle grandit, il y a effectivement un risque réel d’entrave à la liberté d’expression.

Comment comprendre cette erreur de Facebook qui marque une information vérifiée comme une fausse nouvelle ?

Facebook explique que c’est dû à une erreur technique, que l’algorithme s’était emballé et qu’ils s’en sont rendus compte après coup. Ils disent avoir mal étiqueté les informations. Alors que les gens qui diffusaient l’information recevaient une alerte selon laquelle ils s’apprêtaient à diffuser une fausse information. Donc ils ont cherché à briser l’élan qui amenait les gens à s’exprimer.

C’est difficile à croire car Facebook manœuvre pour l’ouverture de son second bureau en Afrique. Ce n’est pas qu’un bureau de communication mais ils veulent développer de nombreuses activités. Le Nigeria étant un marché gigantesque, il négocie actuellement des partenariats avec des opérateurs de téléphonie et les agences de communication.

Quand tu prends une photo et que tu le postes sur Facebook, le réseau social récupère les métadonnées de cette photo. Et aujourd’hui, dans la perspective de leur ouverture au Nigeria, ces données sont précieuses et constitue aussi une manne financière importante.

Ces données sont stratégiques pour l’avenir de Facebook dans le pays et le monde a vu l’ampleur de la mobilisation. Le mouvement est devenu tellement important que les manifestants ont demandé la démission du gouvernement donc on peut penser que Facebook essaie de mettre en place ce genre de règles pour étouffer ce genre de mobilisation qui peut avoir d’énorme conséquences sur ses intérêts, ainsi que ceux de ses partenaires officiels. Ils essaient de se positionner sur le rôle qu’ils peuvent jouer.

Du côté d’Internet Sans Frontières, on surveille la situation mais le risque est vraiment au niveau de la capacité des citoyens à se mobiliser davantage.

Responsabilité des plateformes dans les mobilisations politiques de plus en plus courantes ? Comment se préparer ?

Dans les années à venir, il y aura de plus en plus de mobilisations via les réseaux sociaux. Le taux de pénétration mobile croît davantage. Les jeunes représentent la majorité de la population et les gens sont de plus en plus connectés. En plus, dans de nombreux pays, les médias sont à la solde des gouvernants donc on peut anticiper qu’il y aura de plus en plus de mobilisations en ligne.

Les autorités doivent prendre leurs responsabilités. Ces plateformes permettent aux gens de s’exprimer. Ce sont des violations flagrantes de ces droits donc il faut que les gouvernements prennent conscience qu’il y a de réelles atteintes à la liberté d’expression, à liberté d’accès à une information pluraliste.

Il y a davantage de menaces sur les risques de coupure d’internet. A Internet Sans Frontières, on essaie aussi désormais de sensibiliser davantage les gouvernements sur le coût économique de la coupure d’internet dans ses pays. Un de nos partenaires a développé un outil qui permet de calculer les pertes économiques et on essaie de montrer que les Etats sont pénalisé sur plusieurs fronts. Avec la Covid-19, les pays sont fragilisés économiquement et la coupure d’internet pénalise encore plus.

Pour ce qui est des acteurs comme Facebook, je pense qu’il faut mettre en place des lois. Ces domaines numériques sont soit très mal régulés en Afrique, soit les lois existantes sont utilisées à des fins politiques comme on l’a vu récemment avec Ignace Sossou au Bénin.

Il faudrait veiller aux usages des textes et éviter que ce genre de de textes restrictifs ne soient répliqués dans d’autres pays.

Facebook peut-il développer d’autres outils plus subtiles pour contrer la liberté d’expression ?

Les réseaux sociaux peuvent avoir un impact assez important en terme de manipulation. Par exemple, cela a permis de limiter le vote des populations noires lors de l’élection de Trump aux Etats-Unis. Et ce genre de pratiques peut advenir sur le continent car de plus en plus de personnes s’informent via les réseaux sociaux. De nombreuses populations s’échangent des informations via Whatsapp (qui appartient à Facebook). Dans les années à venir, on va assister à des pratiques encore plus sophistiquées. Facebook vend des espaces publicitaires et c’est notamment un pilier de son modèle économique. Ce qui s’est passé aux USA peut donc se produire en Afrique, notamment au moment des périodes électorales.

Par Sinatou Saka, Boursier en droits numériques et d’inclusion chez Paradigm Initiative.

Review: Digital footprints of NDC’s 2020 manifesto

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom

Ghana, one of Africa’s most stable democracies goes to the polls in December 2020 to elect a president and lawmakers. It is the eighth consecutive vote that has been held since return to multi-party democracy in 1992.

Electioneering has undoubtedly evolved over the years. One of the main assets of campaigns being manifestoes – the document based on which party aspirations are laid out and with which they are held accountable periodically.

The 2020 campaign is no different, with the two major parties having unveiled their manifestoes. The issues therein as usual span service and infrastructure delivery promises and governance ideas and visions.

As a 2020 Paradigm Initiative digital rights fellow, this writer zones in on the digital footprints of opposition National Democratic Congress, NDC; led by former president John Dramani Mahama. A subsequent review will look at the ruling New Patriotic Party, NPP’s digital plans, pledges and postures.

A digital start

Right from the get-go; the manifesto’s introduction message pledges “digital transformation,” whiles in his foreword candidate Mahama says: “we must build a knowledge-based economy and move faster into the new world of smart manufacturing and digital services.”

The word “digital” appears a total of 44 times in different contexts throughout the 143-page document dubbed “Jobs, prosperity and more – The People’s Manifesto.”

The areas of focus remained varied spanning the finance, education, health, creative arts, agriculture, the judiciary, government services, private sector and digital inclusion sectors of the economy.

The NDC touts its achievement in the digital space during the first term of the Mahama administration (2016 – 2020) whiles promising largely to increase investment and support for people operating in the digital ecosystem.

One of the major promises in the document falls under the $10m Big Push infrastructure agenda under which the NDC is promising to “develop regional digital and innovation centers.”

The digital zone of the NDC manifesto

Still under the Big Push umbrella, the NDC states its commitment to developing a digitally functional economy. “Undoubtedly digital infrastructure is the bedrock of every digital economy,” the party stressed.

“… the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, not only the weaknesses in Ghana’s health system, but also its key deficiencies. These include gaps between the served and underserved on healthcare and delivery of other services.

“Ghana cannot be caught waiting. We must fully embrace digital technology but with efficiency, in order to build a knowledge-based economy.”

The highlight of the party’s “smart business, smart government services and infrastructure” vision includes the following:

  1. Build a national information highway
  2. Make access to the internet universal and affordable by 2024
  3. Create a digital economy development fund
  4. Develop a digital Ghana masterplan
  5. Ensure efficient transfer of digital technologies

Areas of legislation and data issues included in this section include the following:

  1. Enhance Ghana’s Cloud readiness to encourage core significant investments in and use of data centers …
  2. Enact and enforce a Critical National Infrastructure Act to regulate the laying of fibre, water pipes and electricity lines alongside road construction.
  3. Digitise and integrate diverse national databases to improve Government services and enhance customer satisfaction.
  4. Support indigenous research into ICT technology, improvement and innovation including automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and big data …
  5. Strengthen the Data Protection Commission and the National Information Technology Agency, NITA.
  6. Encourage open government data sharing to make information available to citizens.

There is room for digital innovation and inclusion in the areas of next-generation social infrastructure, health, education and agriculture. The creative arts sector and the judiciary also get special mentions in the use of digital processes.

The cybercrimes slot

The section of cybersecurity rounds up the “digital zone” of the manifesto spelling out efforts the NDC will employ in the area of data protection and curbing of cyber related crimes.

The party stresses its resolve to develop cybersecurity policies to protect critical information infrastructure, promises strong protection regime for victims of cyber fraud. Setting up cybercrime units within the police service along with national and regional cyber labs.

The digital gospel has indeed hit home among major political stakeholders. The main opposition has given enough room for the gospel in its manifesto spanning infrastructure boost, digital inclusion and critically the burgeoning area of data protection.

The role of civil society and the media will be key in keeping the party – and government – on track if it eventually wins. “Civil society must track these promises and push politicians to implement as many of them as possible,” a digital rights activist told this writer.

As crucial as the digital space is, one wonders how many Ghanaians will vote on digital inclusion and other digital rights grounds. What is incontrovertible is the role of new media in the campaigns of respective parties. Game on, may the best man win.

 

The writer, Abdul Rahman Shaban Alfa, is a 2020 Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow. He is a digital journalist who writes on major digital rights trends across the continent.  

Pan African solidarity: How digital platforms unite protesters

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

Protest support and or solidarity in these times have been made easy, easier if you want; thanks largely to the internet and social media – most especially the micro blogging site, Twitter.

The days when protests were largely localised continues to fade out as hashtags transcend boundaries with some going global as was the case with the #EndSars street protests that rocked Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria.

Twitter became the standout medium through which thousands of people were mobilized locally and abroad to join in the calls to #EndSars – on and offline.

The fact that top global celebrities, football clubs, sportsmen and women, politicians and activists joined the call was a testament to the reach that Twitter gave the protest.

#EndSars: Facebook fumble, Twitter twinkles

A Quartz Africa article published in October 2020 emphasized the boost that Twitter had on the movement whiles pointing out the counterproductive effect that Facebook and Instagram “unleashed.”

The latter pair admitted mistakenly flagging genuine posts on the October 20 Lekki toll booth shooting as ‘fake news.’ A mistake that activists say the Nigerian Army leveraged on to slap “fake news” labels on news reports on the incident.

Quartz quoted Ray Walsh, a UK-based digital privacy analyst as saying: “It seems clear the social media platform’s (Facebook, Instagram) algorithms are completely failing to differentiate between genuine posts and fake news…

“… causing harm to users and serving as evidence that those algorithms simply are not up to the job of fact-checking when large scale breaking news event occurs,” he added.

Cross-continent protest solidarity: South Africa leads

Africa has recently seen an intersection of protest solidarity with South Africa in the lead. Political parties, politicians and activists have tweeted in respect of rights abuses in next door Zimbabwe and as far as in Nigeria.

When authorities in Zimbabwe arrested journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and activist Tsitsi Dangaremgba months back, South African activists and major political parties tweeted solidarity messages and justice calls.

Former leader of opposition, Mmusi Maimane – currently leader of One South Africa movement – was a strong voice back then and also during the #EndSars crackdown in Lagos.

“To the youth of Africa I say this. Reject the orthodoxy. This is your time and it’s your future on the line. The old men have failed. To the youth of South Africa, Cameroon, DRC, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Namibia, fight for the present that you deserve,” Maimane posted in an October 21 tweet.

The Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF; the third largest party has also consistently called governments out – especially in Zimbabwe and Nigeria – tasking them to respect rights of protesters.

Zimbabwean activists also threw support behind #EndSars protesters on Twitter as did Ghanaians counterparts, many of them published solidarity tweets during the protests and calls for justice after the Lagos incident.

“Attacks by an unidentified task team on peaceful protestors against Nigeria’s controversial SARS unit that have targeted innocent have made international headlines.

“There have been many casualties and while this caused Nigerians in South Africa to march to the embassy in Pretoria and President Muhammadu Buhari to deny that this unit was part of his army, the AU chairperson has not been quoted once in any of the stories.”

The above statement is attributed to South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, DA; tasking president Ramaphosa to speak out on injustices ongoing in a number of African countries.

Most recently, #EndAnglophoneCrisis has also attracted a sizeable amount of solidarity tweets after primary school kids were killed by separatists in a part of Cameroon’s English-speaking region.

Role of WhatsApp and Telegram

Beside the solidarity push, the mobilization – of protest, finance – and the information dissemination of these platforms, WhatsApp has also strongly emerged as a preferred platform that helps rally support for protests.

Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of social enterprise outfit Paradigm Initiative, stresses why WhatsApp is of significant impact.

“The fact that the app is very simple and mimics simple classic messaging appeals to a demographic that is not savvy enough to use traditional social media.

“Its ease of transferring information to contacts, just like SMS, but combined with the functionality of sending audio, photo and video has made it an important channel for disseminating information,” he told Sinath Saka, an RFI journalist in an French interview.

Sinath’s article on the impact of WhatsApp in the #EndSars protests also identified that its potency cut two ways. Whiles bridging information flow gap, it was the most complicit in spread of fake news.

Also in a time where authorities are increasingly employing heightened surveillance against activists, encrypted social media platforms have become the go-to outlet as admitted by a member of a group that rallied – on and offline support for protesters.

“Lots of conversations and groups have moved on to Telegram. This app has a better reputation in protecting users’ personal data.

“What we also notice is that on WhatsApp there is a lot of fake news that can increase ethnic and religious tensions,” Fakhriyyah Hashim of Feminist Coalition told the journalist.

One thing is clear, the speed with which social media exposes incidents in real time means that such cross-continental even global solidarity calls are here to stay. Governments may not heed these calls but the calls will only get louder if anything at all.

Hashtags are drumming home the point that citizens and neighbours will not remain hush in the midst of heavy-handedness or injustice – wherever and whenever it happens.

The writer, Abdul Rahman Shaban Alfa, is a 2020 Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow. He is a digital journalist who writes on major digital rights trends across the continent.

« Sur Internet, nous devons affronter le privilège des langues dominantes » Gerald Roche

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

Gerald Roche est anthropologue et chercheur principal à l’Université de La Trobe, et auparavant à l’Institut asiatique de l’Université de Melbourne. Ses recherches portent sur les politiques de mise en danger et de revitalisation des langues, avec un accent régional sur le Tibet. Il a récemment co-édité le Routledge Handbook of Language Revitalization. Son projet de recherche actuel porte sur la politique ethnique et la diversité linguistique dans les régions tibétaines de Chine. L’étude examine la situation sociolinguistique de la population de Rebgong, une région multiethnique et multilingue du plateau du nord-est du Tibet où les Monguor constituent une minorité linguistique.

Que pensez-vous de la situation des langues minorisées sur internet ?

Je pense que le grand problème pour les langues dans les espaces numériques est que les politiques du monde réel ont tendance à se reproduire dans l’espace digital: le même déséquilibre des ressources, les mêmes hiérarchies de respect et de valeur, les mêmes stéréotypes et préjugés.
Ainsi, par exemple, Internet est toujours un environnement dominé par le texte, et il y a cette idée que pour que les langues soient présentes sur Internet, elles doivent être réduites au texte — même s’il existe d’énormes possibilités d’avoir une présence en ligne dynamique. Lorsque des langues minorisées pénètrent l’espace numérique, elles sont souvent soumises aux mêmes normes de présentation que des langues bien mieux dotées en ressources. Ainsi, par exemple, lorsque le COVID-19 a commencé à se répandre en Chine, le gouvernement ne fournissait pas d’informations dans les langues locales. Les communautés ont elles-mêmes entrepris le travail de traduction et produit des vidéos expliquant des informations vitales sur la santé publique dans les langues locales. Mais certaines personnes dans ces communautés ont réagi en disant que les vidéos n’étaient « pas professionnelles ». Même lorsqu’ils obtenaient des informations vitales dans leur langue, les gens jugeaient toujours nécessaire de juger le contenu en fonction des normes établies par des langues bien mieux dotées en ressources.

Pourquoi la diversité linguistique est-elle importante sur Internet?

Mon approche est de me concentrer sur les gens qui parlent ces langues plutôt que sur les langues elles-mêmes. Je pense que la langue est une question de justice sociale. Donc, ce n’est pas seulement que la diversité linguistique est négligée sur Internet, il est important de dire que l’Internet doit être un espace ouvert où tout le monde peut participer de manière égale. Il devrait être un espace où les gens ne subissent pas de discrimination. Mon objectif n’est pas de promouvoir la diversité linguistique pour elle-même mais de réduire la discrimination et d’accroître l’égalité fondamentale pour que ceux qui parlent les langues minorisées soient également entendus.

Comment la langue affecte-t-elle notre expérience Web?

Deux choses sont importantes ici. Premièrement, la langue peut créer des «bulles de représentation». Par exemple, je faisais des recherches sur Internet en tibétain. Les questions qui sont discutées, la façon dont les choses sont représentées, etc., sont totalement différentes des questions liées au Tibet sur Internet en anglais. Et deuxièmement, les mouvements politiques ont tendance à voyager à travers la langue dans les hiérarchies de pouvoir. Ainsi, par exemple, des communautés linguistiques plus petites et plus démunies sont susceptibles de connaître des luttes politiques plus vastes, mais pas l’inverse. Et cette inégalité dans la popularité des mouvements politiques est produite par les mêmes mécanismes qui produisent les inégalités politiques. Cela signifie que les «puissances» de l’analyse et de la production de théories ont tendance à produire des idées qui ont une pertinence limitée pour des luttes plus petites et des communautés plus localisées.
Je pense qu’à certains égards, nous pouvons penser que la «construction d’Internet» reproduit les mêmes problèmes qui se sont posés lors de la construction du système mondial d’États-nations, liés entre eux par le capitalisme mondial. Il a des dimensions à la fois locales et mondiales — il établit des hiérarchies au sein des États et entre eux. Et dans les deux cas, il y a des gens qui sont plus ou moins opprimés par ce processus. Comme Fanon a parlé des damnés de la terre, je pense que nous pouvons aussi penser aux « damnés d’Internet» …

Que proposez-vous ?

Par exemple, en Australie, j’aimerais voir tous les jours des sites d’actualités nationales ayant du contenu dans les langues autochtones en première page. Je pense que ce serait un excellent moyen de rappeler aux locuteurs de langues dominantes, qui en Australie sont souvent monolingues, l’existence d’autres langues … rappelant ainsi aux gens qu’il y a une différence, et donc une hiérarchie et des inégalités importantes. Mais en général, je pense que nous devons affronter le privilège des langues dominantes. Nous pensons souvent que l’activisme numérique pour les langues opprimées concerne l’autonomisation et l’inclusion — plus de plateformes, plus d’outils, plus de voix, etc. Et c’est bien. Mais ils ne suffisent pas si nous ne confrontons pas la domination injuste des autres langues. Si nous ne faisons que donner du pouvoir, nous invitons essentiellement les personnes et les communautés dans un environnement hostile. Cet environnement doit changer.
Cet article a été rédigé dans le cadre de la bourse pour les médias décerné par Paradigm Hq, une organisation qui milite pour les droits numériques en Afrique.

Écrit par Sinatou Saka – Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow.

Balancing the competing rights of free speech and hate speech

By | #PINternetFreedom, Digital Rights, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom

In August, the Nigerian Government announced the increase of fines for hate speech by media houses from N500,000 to N5 million. The announcement was made by the Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at the unveiling ceremony of the revised National Broadcasting Code by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in Lagos.

The code amendment stirred controversy with Nigerians kicking against its provisions. Many claimed the amended code is another attempt to clamp down on freedom of speech and media since the November proposed hate speech bill, which prescribes death by hanging for any person found guilty of hate speech has been put on hold.

Paradigm Initiative’s Program Manager, Adeboye Adegoke, said the hate speech fine increment has a very huge implication for the civic space and even for journalistic work. He said the government through the fine is forcing Nigerians to self-censor and more importantly, using the media to censor Nigerians.

“Since it is the media platforms that get to be fined at the end of the day, they are naturally compelled to limit the thoughts that their guests, interviewees can share on critical national issues,” Adegoke said.

“What we have seen clearly is an attempt by the government to unilaterally decide what amounts to hate speech and use that as a weapon to targets critical voices in society.”

A lawyer Ayo Odenibokun said the recently increased hate speech fine is absolutely “ludicrous.”

“It is an attempt to subjugate and suppress the people’s right to freely express themselves,” Odenibokun said.

“It is quite unfortunate that such increment is done in an era where the minimum wage is N30,000 only.”

However, the Nigerian government is hell-bent on regulating citizens’ expression online and offline with determination to curb hate speech. In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari, during his Independence Day speech vowed that his administration would take a “firm and decisive action” against promoters of hate speech and other divisive materials on the Internet. The minister of information while announcing the hate speech fine increment stated the amendments were necessitated to vest more regulatory powers in the NBC.

“If we the citizens of the federal republic of Nigeria or as citizens of the world rescind our rights to free speech, that would definitely cripple the meaningful development of our country,” publisher and social change advocate Khadijah Abdullahi -Iya said.

“How would great ideas be shared? Who would then critique the performance of the government and charge them to do better? All of these are necessary elements of a growing democracy.”

Some Nigerians have also argued that the government and regulators would arbitrarily define hate speech and use this new regulation to oppress press freedom and free speech.

This however is not farfetched because, despite the clamour to clampdown on hate speech, there is still no clear identification of what expression or commentary defines Hate speech.

“I think no one is certain about what the phrase ‘hate speech’ denotes,” Abdullahi-Iya said.

“I see it as one of those ambiguous words with fuzzy edges.”

The Nigeria police and State Security Service (SSS), have made regular arrests of journalists, bloggers, and social media commentators. Journalists like Agba Jalingo, have been detained or charged to court for writing articles or posts on social media criticising political officeholders.

“The government ought to look at the root cause of the various criticisms it receives and which are not far fetched i.e. lack of adequate and quality education, insecurity and poverty,” Onibokun said.

“Rather make laws which on the face of it offend the rights of its innocent citizens,” he added.
Adegoke also noted that if Nigeria is really interested in mitigating the effect of harmful speeches then the country must be willing to go through an open, inclusive, and collaborative process in arriving at the best solutions.

“All ongoing conversations are an attempt by the government to unilaterally decide what is acceptable speech and what is not,” Adegoke said

He also stated that once there is an agreement that citizens’ expression should be regulated, then the government would be taking away the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression.

“ While rights are not absolute. Any derogation to it as provided for by the constitution must be necessary, towards a legitimate end and must proportionate to that legitimate end,” Adegoke said.

Written by Abisola Olasupo – Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow.

Media Parade and Fundamental Human Rights

By | #PINternetFreedom, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

Almost inevitable every week in Nigeria is a media parade of suspected criminals from state and divisional commands of different security agencies in the country.

During these parades, spokespersons or heads of the security agencies narrate how the suspects were arrested and grant journalists access to interview the suspects who are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court, according to the Nigerian Constitution.

Sometimes, the paraded persons are later discovered to be innocent of the crime they are accused of committing. But before their innocence is proven, They have been, tacitly, demonised on pages of newspapers and in electronic media.

In 2019, human rights activist Femi Falana, SAN, approached a Federal High Court in Abuja, asking it to declare the pre-trial media parade of criminal suspects by security and anti-corruption agencies in the country illegal and unconstitutional.

Falana argued that “ every individual shall have the right to have his cause heard. This comprises the right to an appeal to competent national organs against acts of violating his fundamental rights as recognised and guaranteed by conventions, laws, regulations and customs in force; (b) the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court or tribunal.”

The case is yet to be heard by the court.

But security agencies in Nigeria have over the years defended the media parade of suspects, claiming they do not tamper with or violate suspects’ fundamental human rights. They claimed it helps to correct vices in the society and also update or inform citizens about what the police are doing about their safety.

The Lagos State Police spokesman Bala Elkana said a person who is being paraded is still referred to as suspects and not criminal by media organisations, the dignity and right of such person is protected.

“We have guidelines on how to carry out a media parade of suspects,” Elkana said.

“The regulation makes it clear for us to create an avenue for citizen to know what the police is doing about their safety,” he added

He further stated that it is not unlawful to parade citizens who are being prosecuted because of any criminal offences.

”It is not unlawful and debatable because it is not unlawful to practice journalism. The best way to inform citizens is to bring the person who is involved in that criminal act to explain how he did it and there is nothing unlawful about passing information,” Elkana said.

“It is not to pronounce him guilty but for citizens to be able to understand how and what crime he/she committed.”

But a lawyer and Human Right activist Tope Akinyoade said the media and public parade of suspects have no legitimacy under Nigeria.
“The law is that a suspect is innocent of any offence until he has been tried and convicted,” Akinyoade said.
“It is therefore overreaching for security operatives to parade innocent citizens. The only exception to this is ‘Identification Parade’ which is allowed by law. But there is a clear distinction between media parade and identification parade.”

The Paradigm Initiative Executive Director Gbenga Sesan stated that nothing will change until people speak up, or seek redress.

“One of the ways to stop rights violations is to challenge that violation using the same courts, in addition to various institutions (that work in social justice — either for offline or online cases) working with the judiciary so that judges can caution such security agencies,” Sesan said.

“If a few security agencies lose cases for parading suspects and even hurting them in the process, they may learn a lesson or two about the place of dignity even for accused people.”

Sesan also asked the media to create their narratives in such a way that suspects are not seen as criminals until proven guilty in court.

“There is a huge narrative role that the media can play to reduce the public shaming of suspects, especially those who are simply victims of law enforcement agencies carrying out the rights violation agenda of public officials.” Sesan said.

Written by Abisola Olasupo – Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow.

Déclaration conjointe en réponse aux perturbations d’Internet en Guinée

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom, Press Release

Déclaration conjointe en réponse aux perturbations d’Internet en Guinée

3 Novembre 2020

[See English translation after this text in French…]

Nous, les organisations soussignées, sommes préoccupées par les perturbations d’Internet en Guinée. En effet, le 24 octobre 2020, les réseaux de télécommunications en Guinée ont subi de graves perturbations. Selon l’observatoire d’Internet NetBlocks, «des perturbations sont observées au niveau national dans le service internet en Guinée depuis 7h30 (GMT) le (23 octobre 2020 ndlr), y compris sur Orange, premier réseau de téléphonie mobile du pays. Cet incident semble conforme aux restrictions imposées par le passé et assignées aux organes de contrôle de l’État lors des élections.” a rapporté Netblocks. Aussi, les perturbations mentionnées concernent l’internet et les appels internationaux en général.

Le 24 Octobre 2020, l’opérateur Orange a envoyé un message à ses abonnés sur la situation en s’excusant. Dans un communiqué de presse daté du 25 Octobre 2020, l’opérateur Orange a ensuite informé ses abonnés qu’il a enregistré une coupure d’internet. Nous nous rendons compte que ce n’est pas la première fois que la Guinée enregistre des perturbations d’Internet en 2020. Le 19 Mars 2020, Orange, MTN et Cellcom Guinée  ont averti leurs utilisateurs qu’un arrêt d’internet se produirait à une durée déterminée les 21 et 22 Mars 2020 pour une intervention de maintenance d’Orange Marine, une filiale de l’opérateur télécoms Orange. Cette annonce de la fermeture d’Internet et des travaux intervenait lors du référendum dans le pays, et était manifestement nuisible pour l’accès Internet des abonnés. 

Internet est essentiel pour la protection des droits de l’homme. Il fournit une plate-forme pour accéder à l’information, permet de jouir de la liberté d’expression, de réunion et d’association, entre autres droits. De plus, pendant la période de la pandémie du COVID-19, Internet a permis de faire l’expérience de l’éducation, des affaires et des loisirs; un rappel clair de l’importance de la liberté sur Internet. Nous appelons le gouvernement guinéen et les fournisseurs de services Internet à respecter les droits des citoyens d’accéder à Internet. Les interruptions d’Internet sont inutiles lorsqu’il n’y a pas de cause légitime. 

Nous sommes également préoccupés par la perturbation d’Internet qui s’est produite dans le contexte d’une élection présidentielle. Certaines des conséquences négatives sont une violation de la liberté d’expression, l’accès à l’information, les droits démocratiques et l’interruption des activités commerciales avec des répercussions financières en dehors du champ d’application des instruments régionaux et internationaux auxquels la Guinée est partie prenante. 

Nous rappelons au gouvernement de Guinée ses obligations en vertu du Pacte international relatif aux droits civils et politiques et de la Charte africaine des droits de l’homme et des peuples de respecter la liberté d’expression et l’accès à l’information. En outre, le Principe 38 (2) de la Déclaration de principes sur la liberté d’expression et l’accès à l’information en Afrique indique clairement que les États ne s’engagent ni ne tolèrent aucune interruption de l’accès à Internet et aux autres technologies numériques pour des segments du public ou une population entière. 

Nous interpellons le gouvernement guinéen sur les principes (2) de la Déclaration africaine sur les droits et libertés d’Internet qui stipule que l’accès à Internet doit être disponible et abordable pour toutes les personnes en Afrique sans discrimination pour quelque motif que ce soit comme la race, la couleur, le sexe, la langue, la religion, l’opinion politique ou autre, l’origine nationale ou sociale, la propriété, la naissance ou tout autre statut. La perturbation d’Internet a un impact important sur les groupes vulnérables tels que les femmes et les personnes handicapées (PH). Aussi, les effets de la fermeture d’Internet peuvent avoir des effets négatifs de grande portée sur la manière dont les femmes utilisent Internet par rapport aux hommes, l’accès des femmes aux programmes de développement, et sapent encore davantage le rôle des femmes dans la contribution au développement national.

Nous appelons le gouvernement guinéen à mener les actions suivantes:

  • Restaurer entièrement la connexion Internet, les accès aux plateformes de médias sociaux et d’assurer le respect des libertés fondamentales conformément aux meilleures pratiques. 
  • S’engager pour la stabilité de la connexion Internet sur tout le territoire national pendant et après le processus électoral afin qu’internet soit d’utiliser comme instrument de promotion de la démocratie en Guinée.

Signé:

  1. Centre de soutien juridique (Gambie)
  2. Give1Project Gambia 
  3. Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
  4. Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
  5. Institut des TIC pour le développement (INTIC4DEV) Togo-Bénin-Sénégal
  6. BudgIT Foundation, Nigéria

Joint Statement In Response to the Internet Disruptions in Guinea

3 November 2020

We, the undersigned organisations are concerned about internet disruptions in Guinea. On October 24, 2020, telecommunications networks in Guinea experienced severe disruption. According to the internet observatory NetBlocks, “disruptions are observed at the national level in the internet service in Guinea since 7:30 am (GMT) on (October 23, 2020 editor’s note), including on Orange, the country’s leading mobile telephone network. This incident appears to be consistent with restrictions imposed in the past and assigned to state oversight bodies during elections.” As reported by Netblocks, the disturbances mentioned concern the internet and international calls in general.

On October 24, 2020, the operator Orange sent a message to its subscribers on the internet situation advising they were investigating the matter. In a press release dated on October 25, 2020, the operator then informed its subscribers that it was experiencing a shutdown. We realise that this was not the first time that Guinea was experiencing internet disruptions in 2020. On March 19, 2020, Orange, MTN and Cellcom Guinea  warned their users that an internet shutdown would occur at designated times on March 21 and 22, 2020 for a maintenance intervention by Orange Marine, the subsidiary of the telecoms operator Orange. This announcement of the closure of the internet and work occurring during the referendum was clearly untimely and detrimental to internet access of subscribers. 

The internet is critical for the protection of human rights. It provides a platform for accessing information, enjoyment of freedom of expression, assembly and association among other rights. Moreso, now during the COVID-19 pandemic, the internet has enabled education, business and leisure to be experienced, a clear reminder of the importance of internet freedom. We call on the government of Guinea and internet service providers to respect the rights of its citizenry to access the internet. Internet disruptions are unnecessary  where there is no legitimate cause.  We are further concerned by the internet disruption which occurred against the backdrop of a presidential election. Some of the  adverse consequences are a violation of freedom of expression, access to information, democratic rights and the interruption of business activities with financial repercussions outside the scope of the regional and international instruments to which Guinea is a party to. 

We remind the government of Guinea of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to uphold freedom of expression and access to information. Furthermore, Principle 38 (2) of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa clearly points out that  States shall not engage in or condone any disruption of access to the internet and other digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population. 

We refer the government of Guinea to principles (2) of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms which states that access to the Internet should be available and affordable to all persons in Africa without discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.  Internet disruption highly impacts vulnerable groups such as women and persons with disabilities (PWDs). The effects of internet shutdown may have far-reaching negative effects on how women use the internet compared to men, women’s access to developmental programs, and further undermines the role of women in contributing to national development.

We call on  the government of Guinea to immediately do the following;

  • Fully restore internet connection and access to social media platforms and ensure respect for fundamental freedoms in accordance  with best practices. 
  • Commit to the stability of the internet connection throughout the national territory during and after the electoral process in order to use the Internet as an instrument for promoting democracy in Guinea.

Signed:

  1. Centre for Legal Support (Gambia)
  2. Give1Project Gambia 
  3. Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
  4. Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
  5. Institut des TIC pour le développement (INTIC4DEV) Togo-Bénin-Sénégal
  6. BudgIT Foundation, Nigeria
en_USEnglish
fr_FRFrench en_USEnglish