By Ahmed Musa Hussain
The Twitter ban was completely needless and ineffective. It was a knee-jerk reaction against the deletion of President Buhari’s tweet by the microblogging site. The FG later stated its objectives to include Twitter opening an office in Nigeria, appointing a country representative, and paying taxes among other things.
Could these objectives be achieved without the ban? Yes! Have we achieved all these objectives with the ban? No! Twitter only agreed to consider or implement most of those terms on the condition that the ban is lifted first, fully aware that the FG lacks the strategic and technological edge to make the ban any effective as most Nigerians resorted to VPN to circumvent the restriction.
Make no mistake, I’m against the unregulated powers of Big Tech. I criticized Twitter banning/censoring of Donald Trump and predicted at the time that any political leader could be next. My argument was that regulation of free speech should not lie with unelected tech executives, but with the court of law and other democratic instruments like the legislature.
So, what was missing in Federal Government’s approach to the Twitter controversy?
The best way to regulate Twitter is to draft and pass an Internet Legislation requiring Twitter to implement all the things the FG wants it to comply with. An internet legislation would leave Twitter with no option than to comply. The US does the same thing, as well as other countries like Turkey, China, Russia, et cetera. In fact, despite all the hyperbole about free speech, the US is the biggest requestor of Twitter censorship, accounting for more than half of all requests for tweet removal and account bans.
Legislations like the Internet Law is the only way to hold Twitter and other social media sites to account and make them comply with Nigerian laws. Arbitrary actions like banning the platform are ineffective because only a complete internet shutdown of Nigeria would prevent Nigerians from accessing Twitter. The ban also portrays the government as lawless, draconian and undemocratic.
The most complex aspect of social media regulation is censorship. Tech companies mostly rely on ‘account reporting’ and other related algorithms to censor tweets and users. If many people report me today, chances are that I might get censored even if temporarily. But with local grievance officers familiar with Nigeria’s legal, social and political realities, such decisions can be tailored to reflect our local realities.
One of the most humiliating aspect of the whole episode was when the FG appointed a committee comprising 5 ministers and other high-ranking officials to lead the negotiation with Twitter. Just ordinary Twitter case that should be left in the hands of a unit head at NITDA was made an inter-ministerial issue because Nigerian officials have no work to do and zero sense of self-worth. It was as ridiculous as it was humiliating.
Now that the ban is lifted, the FG needs to learn its proper lessons and approach things the right way going forward. When dealing with modern tech businesses or platforms with no physical presence or boundaries, the old Nigerian behavior of arbitrariness no longer applies. Tech is not a shop you can send touts and Abuja market officials to seal off. It is not a respecter of ministerial agbada and political titles either.