So far, African countries are leading the pack when it comes to social media intolerance a report by Surfshark has established. This is a far cry from Australia and Oceania who have no recorded social media blocks, thereby earning themselves the enviable title of ‘social media heaven’ from the Social media censorship tracker.
Terming the continent as a ‘volatile environment for social media,’ the Social Media Censorship Tracker says denying citizens social media access is very common in Africa countries and this usually happens during elections, protests, demonstrations, or exams.
Since 2015, 30 out of 54 countries have blocked access to social media.
“Shutdowns on social media services have become an increasingly popular measure for oppressive regimes to control public sentiment and freedom of speech. The tendency to block access to social media sites is especially prevalent in countries where state authorities own or control the internet infrastructure. This enables the authorities to quickly employ sporadic shutdowns to disrupt the expected movements of the democratic public,” read part of the report
“The practice of limiting social media access is usually the product of anti-democratic governments seeking to suppress citizens’ freedom,” read another
At least 16 countries have restricted access to social media in the past due to elections. The countries include the Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Burundi, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Togo, Tanzania, Benin, DRC, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Sierra Leone.
Additionally, at least 7 countries have restricted access to social media in the past due to protests and demonstrations and they include Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Mali, South Sudan, Sudan, Zimbabwe
Latest bans on social media
Nigeria is the latest country to ban social media in Africa with the June 5,2021Twitter ban (insert link) after the social media site removed a post by President Muhammadu Buhari threatening secessionists. Other notorious attempts at social media regulations by Nigeria include a 2015 “frivolous petitions” bill to regulate social media. The punishment for social media posts criticizing the said law would be jail time and a $10,000 fine. However, following widespread public criticism, the bill was withdrawn.
Five years later, “People fear that the government will resurrect the bill since they’ve been vocal about social media regulations again. The authorities justify such attempts by claiming they want to manage fake news and hate speech. Still, the public sees questionable social media laws as a means to stifle online expression,” said the report.
March 5, 2021, saw the arrest of Senegal’s opposition leader Ousmane Sonko which led to demonstrations in Dakar. Restrictions of online services were reported after the clashes between police and the protesters spurred. The Republic of Congo and shut down the internet on the day of the presidential elections, Sunday 21 March 2021 while.
Hot on the heels of Africa, when it comes to continents with dubious social media intolerance titles is Asia. The latter is the strictest when it comes to social media shutdowns and currently, there are 6 countries with ongoing bans on social media.
The latest shutdown was on March 26, 2021, Facebook and Messenger were restricted in Bangladesh amid Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka.
“From total Western social media shutdown to blocking YouTube because of leaked sexual content portraying politicians, more than half of all Asian countries have been limiting access to social media,” said the report.
Additionally, 28 out of 48 countries in Asia have been cracking down on social media usage since 2015
In the Americas: 13% of all countries endure social media blocks. While North America doesn’t have recorded cases in social media restrictions, several countries in South America have dipped their toes in it. 4 countries out of 30 have practiced social media blocking in the Americas since 2015. Venezuela is the latest with a 2019 shutdown.
While there are no recorded social media bans in Western Europe, the East of the continent tells a different story. There have been cases reported in 4 out of 46 countries in South to Eastern Europe restricting access to social media services.
66 out of 180 countries have blocked or heavily restricted access to social media in the past six years
“Almost one in three countries have blocked social media either permanently or sporadically since 2015 with governments justifying restricting social media due to security reasons. This is despite the apparent shutdowns amidst protests and demonstrations,” said the report
Basically, social media blocking in most countries is more of an on-and-off occurrence instead of a permanent decision.
The data in the report measures social media blockings from 2015 till the present day. Social media was conceptualized as social networking sites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, etc.) and communication apps, including VoIPs (i.e. Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram, Viber). Both local and national social media blockings have been taken into account in the study.