Twitter suspension: The gains and deprivations


By Ijeoma Olorunfemi, NAN

As a rave in social media, Twitter compared to Facebook, has been deployed by users to reach millions of readers in the fastest time across the globe.

Unlike Facebook that can accommodate longer posts, videos and a lot more, tweets are just of 280 characters per tweet, with 140 minutes video duration.

The microblogging social media platform was used in the US 2016 Presidential Election where former President Donald Trump used Twitter as a phenomenon.

However, the role of Twitter during the election have even birthed a book “The Role of Twitter in the 2016 US Election,’’ a six-chapter book by emerging scholars in political science and communications.

In Nigeria, the platform, which had over 39 million users, was also used for the rallies during the end SARS protests.

Nigerian youths had accused the police of torturing, maiming and harassing innocent Nigerians.

The protests had its origin from a tweet on Oct. 6, after a video of a young man shot by policemen in Ughelli, Delta, suspected to be members of SARS, went viral.

The video generated social media campaign tagged `EndSARS’ with youths who have encountered SARS tweeting their experiences.

The protests gained support from many celebrities, concerned citizens and was widespread across states of the federation especially the South-South, South-East, South-West and parts of North-Central and the FCT.

Created in 2006 by America’s Jack Dorsey as the CEO, Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Wiliams, with total assets valued at USD13.37 billion in 2020, had more than 330 million users as at early 2019.

Twitter has its rules of ensuring that all participants in the public conversation express him/herself freely and safely, not threatening violence against an individual or group, among others.

The Federal Government, however, blamed the platform and some other social media services for encouraging fake news and allowing people to attack the government.

On June 5, the Federal Government suspended Twitter indefinitely two days after the company removed a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari, for alleged violation of the site’s rules.

A statement by the Federal Government accused Twitter of allowing the use of its platform for activities capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.

In the statement, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, also directed the immediate commencement of the licensing of all Over The Top (OTT) social media operations in the country.

The Federal Government warned that citizens should avoid its use or face prosecution.

A don, Prof. Babatunde Rabiu, Director, Centre for Atmospheric Research, National Space Research and Development Agency (CAR-NASRDA), said the ban presented an opportunity to develop an indigenous replica of the platform.

Rabiu said: “This is a great opportunity to make good and cool legitimate business with a social media platform such as this, and I feel the ICT sector in Nigeria is ripe enough to produce and offer an equivalent of Twitter services to Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

“If some app developers can come up with something very meaningful within the coming days, it will be a development for the sector and even if Twitter comes back, it will be like a competition.”

He opined that Africa is waiting for Nigeria, because the market is domiciled in Nigeria and the country constitutes one quarter of Africa’s population.

Rabiu believes that having such service in Nigeria will not only create jobs, but will ensure the other dividends will remain in the country for its socio-economic development.

An ICT expert, Dr Jimsom Olufuye, Chief Executive Director at Kontemporary Konsult, explained that there are principles of Internet Governance which propels digital economy and freedom of expression is one of them.

Olufuye reiterated that the Nigerian constitution guarantees freedom of expression and stemming the use of the social media platform such as Twitter diminishes growth and sustainable development.

Mr Osaze Efe, Creative Director at Art for Humanity Foundation, pre-empted the ban of the microblogging platform, following its active engagements during the EndSARS protests in 2020.

Efe said the ban came as a mixed bag of good and bad, with the bad side limiting freedom of expression.

“The good side of the ban is that it gives room for young Nigerians in the tech industry to become more innovative in building a similar app that is indigenously ours.’’

Mrs Ijeoma Okigbo, Founder, Girls Aspire Initiative, and an ardent user of Twitter to promote her activities of raising young girls that will have passion in cricket games, said the platform had supported activities of fraudsters, hence the good side of the ban.

“The ban will reduce the way government accuses the platform of inciting hate speech, violence and there are so many fake accounts where people feign sickness to solicit for money.

“It will also reduce fake news because some people have even taken up jobs of influencing a propaganda that is not true which most citizens turn out to believe,’’ she said.

However, Okigbo, who regretted the ban, said it helped her to gain recognition for her activities nationally and globally, but stressed that government should restore Twitter but have a mechanism in place to check its abuse.

An ICT consultant, Mr Jide Awe, said social media is integral to attaining the goals of Nigeria’s digital economy agenda, as major social media platforms have become the most efficient means of communication in the 21st century.

According to Awe, the indefinite suspension of Twitter, one of the major global social media platforms, will certainly hinder the growth of the digital economy in Nigeria.

“The participation, contribution of individuals and organisations that use Twitter to conduct business will be affected, 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, and used by young people to share ideas and create values.

“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.’’

Awe believed that more young people may seek more anonymity in their use of social media and digital tools which the government is fighting to reduce.

The consultant recognised that social media platforms are private platforms which have rules that all users agree to when they sign up and the government should explore other ways to resolve conflicts.

He advised the Federal Government to discuss with Twitter management on norms and issues of concern, be explicit and inclusive because a more inclusive approach will foster democratic norms and governance, innovation and economic growth.

However, a Certified Security Expert, Mrs Oluwafunmilayo Daso, pointed out that some Nigerians are downloading the Virtual Private Network (VPN) to boycott direct access to Twitter.

Daso explained that VPN allows an individual to browse anonymously on the internet and make you appear on the internet as if from a different location or country.

She warned that in as much as VPN presents an alternative way to Twitter, it has its downturn, because data shared on VPN can be leaked on the Dark Web.

Dark Web, she said is the World Wide Web content that exists on dark nets, which presents overlay networks that use the internet but require specific software, configurations or authorisation to access.

“A VPN cannot protect you when you visit a malicious or phishing website, it cannot protect you from virus, malware, meaning that your system is exposed to cyberattacks whether using VPN or not.

“Data shared on VPN, can be leaked or sold on the Dark web.’’

She warned that citizens should not share their financial data, sensitive information, passwords, personal identification numbers and credit card details while using VPN.(NANFeatures)

** If used, please credit the writer as well as the News Agency of Nigeria