Nigeria blocks Twitter after president's tweet deleted

Nigeria blocks Twitter after president's tweet deleted

Activists condemn stifling of social media platform in country of 200 million

Telecoms operators in Nigeria began restricting Twitter on Saturday as the government announced the indefinite suspension of the platform after it deleted a post by the country’s president.

The ban was ordered due to “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said on Friday in a statement that was also posted on Twitter.

He also ordered the country’s broadcast commission to compel all so-called over-the-top media services and social-media operations in Nigeria to apply for permits to operate.

Twitter said the announcement was “deeply concerning”, according to an emailed statement. “We’re investigating and will provide updates when we know more,” it said.

Twitter has been embroiled in controversies around the world as governments try to frame their narratives using social media. Earlier this year, it banned former US President Donald Trump for breaking its rule against glorifying violence.

In India, Twitter has clashed with the government over a request to block accounts linked to farmers’ protest groups that it said included misinformation and threats to national security.

In Nigeria, the company this week took down a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari for violating its rules, after he threatened to crack down on separatists.

The 78-year-old former general referred to “those misbehaving” in recent violence in the southeast, where officials blame separatists for attacks on police and election offices.

“Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” the president had said in the post.

The Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (Alton) confirmed on Saturday that its members had received formal instructions from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to suspend access to Twitter.

It said in a statement that a robust assessment of the request had been made and that members had “acted in compliance”.

“Network data show that access to the Twitter platform and backend servers is now restricted on leading networks MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile,” the London-based internet monitor Netblocks wrote on its website on Saturday.

Twitter is popular with young urban Nigerians, ranking as the sixth-most used social-media platform in the country of 200 million.

The state’s decision is “bizarre and unconstitutional and should be immediately reversed”, said Clement Nwankwo, director of the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre. “The suspension exposes Nigeria to national and international ridicule and is unsustainable.”

Twitter has no physical presence in Nigeria. In April, the company announced it was setting up its African office in Ghana. 

Amnesty International on Friday condemned the blocking order, calling on Nigeria to “immediately reverse the unlawful suspension”.

“This repressive action is a clear attempt to censor dissent and stifle the civic space,” Human Rights Watch researcher Anietie Ewang said.

Nigeria in 2019 had announced it would tighten regulations on social media to fight fake news and disinformation, sparking concerns over freedom of expression.

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