Nigeria’s Twitter ban and what it means for democracy
‘Gbenga Sesan on building civic power and defending digital rights & inclusion across the African continent
Nigeria instituted an indefinite Twitter ban nation-wide on June 4, threatening “prosecution of offenders,” after Twitter deleted a violence-inciting tweet by Nigerian President Buhari. Some believe this most recent move could be a precursor to further democratic clampdowns and internet shutdowns — a practice used in 29 countries last year to silence protests, sway elections or hide human rights violations.
As the clash between nation states and “cloud nations” intensifies, regular citizens are stepping up to defend democratic norms. Ashoka’s Julia Kloiber spoke with Ashoka Fellow ‘Gbenga Sesan, founder of Paradigm HQ about building civic power and defending digital rights & inclusion across the African continent. You can watch the full conversation here. Here are a few of the highlights:
Some context on the Twitter ban
Before diving into the impact of the ban on Nigeria’s democracy, ‘Gbenga offers some context on the events that led up to it. It turns out, the deletion of the President Buhari’s tweet was simply the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.”
We also spoke with ‘Gbenga last November about Nigeria’s #EndSars protests against police brutality, and how it links to digital rights. You can read more about it in this Forbes interview.
Centering citizen voices to protect democracy
Even though many people are framing this conversation as an issue between Twitter and Nigeria –between “cloud nations” and “nation states”– ‘Gbenga urges us to see that the real target here is not Twitter, but citizen voices.
For more on this, ‘Gbenga also wrote an insightful article on the important roles played by the “Third Party” — citizens, and the “Third Sector” — civic organizations.
A citizen awakening is underway
‘Gbenga is hopeful that this moment in Nigeria’s history is creating a mass citizen awakening.
Not only has the ban aroused people’s curiosity about Twitter, it has also led thousands to mobilize and take action to protect freedom of expression and democracy.
Decentralized platforms make everyone powerful
‘Gbenga was an engineering student in the mid-1990s, when the Internet was just beginning to become mainstream. He reminds us that it was originally designed to run on common protocols — like hyper-text transfer protocol, HTTP — rather than turn into the walled gardens we’ve become used to with platforms like Facebook, Twitter & Google. It is this centralization of power that makes it much harder to deal with problems like “Fake News” and “Hate Speech.” His call to action: “re-decentralize” to empower us all to solve problems as they arise.
We ended on a hopeful note with three key recommendations from ‘Gbenga to safeguard the Internet as a public good. Engineers: don’t be selfish! Make policy as mainstream as engineering in the tech world. And global companies: hire diverse local experts to become truly global.