On March 5,, 2018, the US Mission in Nigeria tweeted that, “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government – Benjamin Franklin. But no law protects free speech that makes a direct threat against another person or incites a group to commit violence. #EndHateSpeech.” Not once, did it find it necessary or important, to caution twitter, over its hosting of speeches by the IPOB leader, threatening security officials and other government functionaries; while he also constantly incites his inductees to commit violence. Today the US Mission is up against its own principles, speaking for a platform that protects and encourages hate speech. On August 11, 2011, the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, threatened a twitter shut down, announcing that government was looking at stringent new measures, to tackle disorder, following riots in English cities for over a week. Similarly, in the US, Trump banned Tiktok, an app owned by a Chinese company, and stifled the operations of Huawei, citing national security. Now President Biden has lifted the ban, but has set up a body to regulate foreign apps, for the sake of national security. The question here is, doesn’t Nigeria, as a sovereign nation, have the right to protect its national security? And regulate apps from foreign countries?
It’s been a week now, since the spat between twitter, and the Nigerian government, with double standard practices by the app leading to a suspension of twitter by the govt. At first, the app was cheeky enough to tell the government that they do not know who Buhari is or which country’s government he is leading, and that by deleting his tweet; they were just observing and complying to their own laid down rules and regulations of using the platform. That made it obvious that their personnel in charge of the sub region, and in particular Nigeria, were antagonists of the government, and would throw caution, to publicly insult a whole nation, along with its president. A popular Yoruba actor had pointed this out, and blamed twitter for being so rude. Before you could say tomorrow, the next day, some online media platforms were already circulating purported nudes of the said actor. He was already being harassed for speaking against the tech company. He was bullied online for being patriotic, and for coming to the defense of his president.
Experts have come to point out the economic disadvantages of the suspension, stating the losses in millions of dollars that Nigeria was incurring. Youths and start-ups whose businesses were twitter based were also assumed to be hit hard by the suspension. Twitter issued another statement, saying that it was deeply concerned by the suspension of their app in Nigeria. Obviously, it was losing more millions in dollars, than Nigeria, its youths, and all of their businesses rammed together. It is estimated to have atleast 40 million Nigerian users, making billions in dollars, as earnings from the Nigerian market. It doesn’t pay taxes in Nigeria as it does in the US, the UK, and other foreign countries, so the Nigerian Market is a free ride for them.
After talking tough for a while, twitter had a re-think of the quagmire it found itself in, and started to tow the path of diplomacy in handling the issue. First, it started deleting some of the IPOB leader’s inciting tweets, which were filled with hate speech, and calls to violence and mayhem. Not wanting to fall into the same scenario it is in Nigeria, with India, it recently blocked four handles/ persons, which the Indian government had been imploring them to do, while threatening to ban the use of twitter. Two days ago, twitter tweeted that, “we have informed the Nigerian government that we are ready to meet for an open discussion to address mutual concerns and see the service restored.” From all indications, they now know what the Nigerian government is and are infact ready to meet and discuss! I guess that means they are now familiar with who Buhari is right? PMB’s language was quite a surprise and it was definitely well understood.
I am not an advocate of the suspension. I am a heavy user of twitter, its my favorite past time, and I learn a lot from it. But like all platforms for free speech and dissemination of information, it is susceptible to abuse and manipulation, or misuse, that can cause more harm than good; in the end rubbishing the medium and its usefulness. No technological company should tell a country what to say or do. It has no business with that. And when a techy can be used to cause instability and compromise the national security of a nation, then it must be stopped or banned. The calls to violence and mayhem should not be supported or propagated by any kind of media whatsoever. Laws must be used to regulate their operations. Nothing should be allowed to just operate any way it deems fit, using freedom of speech as a vehicle to decimate other peoples’ freedom. Citizens of the world have actually congratulated Nigeria, including Trump, for the actions taken against twitter, which is causing the app to review and reconsider the way it is operating in so many countries worldwide. Its a dicey one for Jack Dorsey, the CEO of twitter, who is fast realising that he may be way over his head, if he thinks he can control nation states and how they relate with their citizens, the way he controls twitter, tweeps and their tweets. So, time is money Jack! We can’t wait to get back Jack.
Tahir is Talban Bauchi.