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Africa tops global social media shutdowns in 2021

social media shutdowns

African governments are more averse to social media compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world, a report by cybersecurity company, Surfshark, has revealed. This is even as the continent accounted for 53 per cent of social media shutdowns recorded this year.

Nigeria, for the first time, joined the list of African countries shutting down social media this year with the ban on Twitter, which took effect from June 5, 2021, until date.

According to the report, a total of 19 shutdowns were recorded this year in 17 countries, affecting 250 million people worldwide. However, this showed a 35 per cent decrease in shutdowns compared with 29 recorded in 2020.

“Despite a notable decrease in cases, internet disruptions affected approximately a quarter of a billion people. Social media or complete internet shutdowns were recorded in 17 countries, with two incidents in Russia and Iran. The annual report shows that Africa is the most censorship-intensive region globally, responsible for nearly 53 per cent of all cases in 2021. The vast majority of social media shutdowns happened during political events such as protests (37 per cent of cases) or elections (21 per cent),” Surfshark stated in the report.

It noted that the shutdowns usually targeted apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Viber, and platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. “Moreover, the vast majority of the social media shutdown cases were politics-related: Seven cases (37%) affected countries suffering from protests (Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Senegal, Iran, Russia, Cuba, and Columbia); Four cases (21%) affected countries during the presidential elections (Congo, Uganda, Zambia, and Russia); The remaining eight cases (44%) occurred during general political turmoil (Chad, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Armenia, Bangladesh, Iran, and Myanmar),” the company stated.

In comparison, out of 29 social media restriction cases in 2020, six were ordered amid elections, and eight more happened during various protests.

"In terms of politics, 2021 has been more stable than 2020, albeit still far from ideal. However, countries are not afraid to pull the trigger on social media in areas of political turmoil. This is still especially true in Africa and Asia. And while this year showed a positive turn with fewer social media bans, it is yet to be seen whether the trend will continue in 2022 and beyond,” said CEO of Surfshark, Vytautas Kaziukonis.

Incidents crippled communication for millions of people in times of political distress and a global pandemic. According to Surfshark’s study, 250 million people were affected during the blockings.

This year, Africa is said to have become the most censorship-intensive continent across the globe, responsible for 10 of the 19 cases in 2021. Its shutdowns were also the most political-heavy.

For instance, Chad blocked the internet following a raid at the property of Yaya Dillo, a representative of Chad’s government opposition. This event took place on February 28th, around two months before the presidential election. Ethiopia claimed their social media blackout was due to leaked 12-grade exam papers. However, most people believe the internet was blocked when rebel forces claimed to have seized strategic towns.

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