Africa is the most censorship intensive region globally, responsible for nearly 53% of all global cases in 2021. In its report, Surfshark, a cybersecurity company describes Africa as “a volatile environment for social media”.
In the 2021 report of the Surfshark’s Social media censorship tracker, the vast majority of social media shutdowns in Africa happened during political events such as protests (37% of cases) or elections (21%).
Surfshark analyzed social media restrictions in 180 countries from 2015. With data curated from Freedom House, a nonprofit that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights and Netblocks, which is a watchdog organization that monitors cybersecurity and internet governance; and news reports.
The Report stated that the social media shutdown numbers during election days (3 out of 4 total cases were in Congo, Uganda, and Zambia), Chad blocked the internet following a raid at the property of Yaya Dillo, a representative of Chad’s government opposition; this event took place on February 28th, around two months before the presidential election. In Ethiopia, a social media blackout was said to be due to leaked 12-grade exam papers. However, most people believe the internet was blocked when rebel forces claimed to have seized strategic towns.
32 out of 54 countries in Africa have blocked access to social media
platforms since 2015. – Surfshark
Even though the censorship numbers were lower in 2021, they followed a similar trend to last year. The shutdowns usually targeted apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Viber, and platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
“In terms of politics, 2021 has been more stable than 2020, albeit still far from ideal. However, countries are evidently not afraid to pull the trigger on social media in areas of political turmoil. This is still especially true in Africa [and Asia]. And while this year showed a positive turn with fewer social media bans, it is yet to be seen whether the trend will continue in 2022 and beyond”, Vytautas Kaziukonis, CEO of Surfshark said.
Shutdowns on social media services have become an increasingly popular measure for oppressive regimes to control public sentiment and freedom of speech. The tendency to block access to social media sites is especially prevalent in countries where state authorities own or control the internet infrastructure.
This enables the authorities to quickly employ sporadic shutdowns to disrupt the expected movements of the democratic public.
Timeline of 2021 social media blocking cases in Africa
- Burkina Faso, November 22, 2021
A significant mobile internet disruption in Burkina Faso was recorded amid unrest against the shooting of protesters by a French military convoy on the 20th of November. It is the first time when Burkina Faso has blocked its internet since 2015.
- Ethiopia, November 8, 2021
Various social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook, and Facebook Messenger were blocked after 12th-grade national exam papers were reportedly leaked online.
A significant disruption to internet service in Sudan was recorded from Monday, October 25th 2021, affecting cellular and some fixed-line connectivity on multiple providers. Senior government officials have been detained in an apparent military coup attempt.
- South Sudan, August 30, 2021
Internet disrupted in South Sudan amid anti-government planned protests organised by the People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA), which is calling for the leadership to resign.
Social media platforms Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and messaging apps Messenger and WhatsApp have been restricted on multiple internet providers in Zambia amid presidential and parliamentary elections.
Nigeria banned Twitter after the social media site removed a post by President Muhammadu Buhari threatening secessionists.
- Republic of the Congo, March 21, 2021
Republic of the Congo shutdown the internet on the day of presidential elections, Sunday 21 March 2021.
The arrest of the opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in Senegal has led to demonstrations in Dakar. Restrictions of online services have been reported after the clashes between police and the protesters spurred.
Following a raid at the property of Yaya Dillo, a representative of Chad’s opposition, access to the internet form within the country was being hindered.
Ahead of its election, the Ugandan government ordered the blocking of social media.
- Tanzania, October 27, 2020
On the eve of general elections, October 27, 2020, Tanzania saw disruption to social media and online communication platforms.
- Algeria, September 13, 2020
Algerian authorities restricted social media access and cut internet connection nation-wide to prevent exam papers from leaking and discourage cheating among students.
Note: All images and data were provided by Surfshark