African Governments Are Increasingly Blocking Social Media, But VPNs Are Increasingly Becoming A Pain In Their Foot

African Governments Are Increasingly Blocking Social Media, But VPNs Are Increasingly Becoming A Pain In Their Foot

Did you know that the average African tweeter is more political than the average tweeter from other continents? That is according to reports by Portland Communications.

With that in mind, and also the fact that the people who run governments hold their posts thanks to politics; dirty politics or democratic politics. It has emerged that a small but growing group of governments in Africa have taken decided to block social media in their countries during elections period.

Take, for instance, Congo-Brazzaville, Chad, and Uganda. These countries recently held their presidential elections, and they were all marked with the blocking of social media. It seems governments have learnt not to underestimate the revolutionary powers a people can marshal up through social media. You only need to take a look at the Arab Spring, to see how social media can provide a platform for people to rise against an oppressive regime and oust it from power.

Social media in itself does not cause the uprising but provides the platform for encouraging and educating others in an effort to better coordinate the mass protest. Of course, when governments block social media they do not admit to it being a platform that could spark mass protest. They do so citing security reasons.

In the case of Congo-Brazzaville, the government shut down social media and went to as far as ordering cellular service providers to shut down their operations. The government official said they ordered the shut down with a view to preventing “illegal publication of results.”

So how does Government go about Blocking Social Media?

The governments by themselves have no physical or technical ability to block websites and cellular services. Instead, they have the power to order the companies that provide these services to do so.

In Congo-Brazzaville, the government order mobile carriers Airtel and MTN to shut down their services. Thus, effectively cutting off the civilians from internet access and the ability to make calls or receive text. These tactics are always effective since very few people in Africa use fixed lines to access the internet.

However, there are reports that the government ordered only allowed specific numbers to continue using the cellular services while the rest of the citizens were cut off.

In Uganda, the government order telecoms regulator to cut off access to certain sites. These sites were Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and mobile money services.

How Citizens get around the blocking on social media?

When governments block access to certain sites, people always figure a workaround to bypass those blocks. All thanks to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Sometimes, the knowledge on workarounds for the government blocks to social media comes from influential leaders.

For instance, in Uganda, the opposition leaders and one of the presidential candidates in Uganda’s 2016 Presidential race tweeted to Ugandans that they should download Tunnel Bear VPN.

App Annie says that for the next for days after the elections, the top 12 apps Ugandans were downloading were all VPN apps. VPNs work by redirecting user’s internet activity to a computer located in a different country, where the given site has not been blocked.

There is no denying that social media has increasingly become a powerful tool, so much so that governments not just in Africa but around the world feel the need to control it. However, with technology such as VPNs, there is only so much a government can do.

That is probably why Zimbabwe is currently exploring ways to create its own social networks monitored by the state. Zimbabwe’s Sunday Mail reports that the government is encouraging local coders to come up with social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp, in which the government can have greater control over. It is evident Zimbabwe wants to travel down the path the government of China has travelled.

Source >> BBC Africa.

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