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NoNigerians resentful of their government’s recent ban on Twitter Inc. have understandably turned their anger on President Muhammadu Buhari: it was Twitter’s decision to delete his tweet that implicitly warned the separatists they were doing the same violent Could end up like former Biafran rebels who triggered the crackdown.
But the Nigerian ban should also be a warning to US lawmakers and activists. Your efforts to contain US-based social media giants like Twitter and Facebook Inc. risk curtailing democratic freedoms worldwide.
Antipathy towards the big platforms is growing across the US political spectrum. Democrats blame them for misinformation flourishing; Republicans for allegedly censoring right-wing votes. Both agree that they should be reduced to size: the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Consumer Protection and Trade Subcommittee said, “There is a bipartisan agreement that the status quo just doesn’t work.”
The US consensus has meanwhile begun to equate attempts by tech companies to maintain the integrity of their platforms through content management with violations of powerful corporate monopolies against state power. Congress has passed tough new bills that are a first step towards applying antitrust laws against tech companies.
That backlash is a gift to authoritarian governments around the world who have been looking for a stick to use to hit Twitter and Facebook, among others. Illiberal leaders have adopted the language and legal tools used by activists and politicians in the United States
Nigeria’s information minister has complained: “Twitter’s mission in Nigeria is very suspicious, they have an agenda.” Russia, which has started choking on Twitter’s bandwidth, last week fined Google and Facebook for “banned content”. Moscow also wants to force companies to open offices in Russia so executives and employees can be held hostage to an increasingly arbitrary legal system.
India reportedly ruled last week that Twitter is not an “intermediary” but a publisher – and therefore criminally liable for anything anyone says on it. The police in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh immediately filed a criminal complaint against Twitter and seven journalists, all of them Muslims.
The reason? A viral video in which an elderly Muslim claims to have been attacked because of his religion. (State police, under a government of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, insisted that the attack had “no common point of view” and that both Hindus and Muslims attacked the man.) In response, India’s minister for information said, “What in UP happened is an example of Twitter’s arbitrariness in the fight against fake news. “
What global authoritarians want is for the major US-based social media networks to align with the rest of the local media – which are already more or less subject to government control and intimidation. The US measures to restrict tech companies provide these executives with a set of controls that they can justify internationally. Resisting companies are accused of hypocrisy if they reject government dictates in the rest of the world but accept them in the United States
Many struggling activists in backsliding democracies may not be happy to have the faceless bureaucracies heard by big tech. But none of them want that power to pass instead to the functionaries of their own states, most of whom seek to silence all dissenters. A US subordinate social networks to government empowers only authoritarian leaders who have wanted to do the same for years.
US activists should trust themselves that the state is not the only way to discipline social media platforms. Tech companies face another burgeoning control of their power that some believe is more trustworthy than any politician: their own workforce.
Facebook, for example, recently had to reorganize its team in India after employees around the world accused it of being too close to the government. The company’s Israeli public policy team, the head of which previously worked in Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, faced similar allegations last month. Facebook employees resisted, and the New York Times said, “Dozens of employees later formed a group to report Palestinian content that they said had been suppressed to internal content moderation teams.”
Authoritarian around the world won’t stop repressing critics online or offline. That doesn’t mean American activists and politicians have to help them.-Bloomberg
also read: The Nigerian government sets up an official account on Koo after banning Twitter
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