Twitter needs India and Nigeria to grow. Both of them get into trouble

The social media giant has been embroiled in a battle with the Indian government over freedom of expression and other issues for months, struggling with restrictive new rules being pushed by New Delhi. As if that weren’t enough, even more dramatic events are unfolding thousands of kilometers away along the west coast of Africa. Nigeria last week Blocked “indefinitely” Twitter (TWTR) according to the company deleted a post by President Muhammadu Buhari threatened brutal crackdown on the unrest in Africa’s most populous country. The Nigerian government has also ordered the federal prosecutor to arrest users of the app. The restrictions in India and the ban in Nigeria are bothersome to Twitter. Although the company doesn’t break down user data for these countries, independent research suggests India is among its top five markets. Asia’s third largest economy – with 700 million internet users and many more to come online – is also Twitter’s biggest growth market. According to NOI surveys, almost 20% of Nigeria’s 200 million residents now have Twitter accounts.

Now that Nigeria has shown it is not afraid of banning Twitter, some fear that India could be next if the dispute between New Delhi and the company cannot be resolved.

“If this continues, the Indian government’s envy of China will turn into envy of Nigeria.” tweeted the internet activist Nikhil Pahwa, who Founder of the tech website MediaNama from Delhi.

“You may see more calls to ban Twitter in India if it continues to oppose the government,” Pahwa told CNN Business.

The Silicon Valley-based company’s response to political pressure in these countries will determine their way into the rapidly growing economies that are vital to any global expansion strategy. Successfully managing tensions could provide other American tech companies with a roadmap for dealing with governments with increasingly authoritarian tendencies.

New challenges abroad coincide with pressures domestically, where Washington has shown its willingness to rein in American tech giants. And it doesn’t help former US President Donald Trump – who it is now blocked by Twitter and Facebook (FB) – urged other countries to follow Nigeria’s example.

“Undermining” Nigeria

Months of tension have caused problems on Twitter in both Nigeria and India.

Nigerians felt snubbed by Twitter when the company decided earlier this year to establish his first African base in Ghana instead of the largest economy on the continent. Although nearly 40 million Nigerians have Twitter accounts – more than the entire population of Ghana – there are some geopolitical considerations that may have influenced Twitter’s decision. In 2019, Ghana was 13 places higher than Nigeria in the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business Index”. When the decision was announced in April, Twitter described Ghana “as an advocate of democracy, a supporter of free speech, online freedom and the open internet”.

Tensions escalated this month when Twitter deleted Buhari’s post for violating its guidelines on abusive behavior.

The country countered Twitter’s decision by banning the platform for allowing it to use “Activities that can undermine Nigeria’s business existence,” said the Nigerian Ministry of Information and Culture. In an interview with the AFP news agency, the ministry said it would reactivate Twitter when it “registers as a company in Nigeria”. communicate and connect with the world. “

“The Nigerian ban will definitely get many other emerging economies thinking about how to get platform attention as well,” said Gbenga Sesan, executive director of Paradigm Initiative, which advocates digital inclusion and rights in Africa. opposite CNN Business. He added that if Twitter met Nigeria’s new registration requirements, “such countries could try the same approach to generate tax revenue”.

Threat to freedom of expression in India

Tension erupted in India in February as protesters used Twitter to voice their views against Prime Minister Narendra. to express Modi’s new agricultural laws. The The company clashed with the government over an order to delete accounts at the behest of the IT department, which it eventually did in part, but refused to take action against journalists, activists or politicians. In May, police showed up at the New Delhi Twitter office after the company decided to flag a tweet from a spokesman for Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party as “manipulated media”. Police said the visit was “part of a routine process” to get Twitter to cooperate in the investigation. The social media company criticized the move as a “intimidation tactic” and said it was “concerned” for the safety of its employees in the country. India’s new social media rules have only compounded the cold. These include demands that companies create special roles in India to keep them in compliance with local laws for companies to stay in touch with law enforcement agencies around the clock. There are also requirements that services remove certain types of content, including posts that contain “total or partial nudity”.

Twitter raised concerns about “key elements of the new IT rules” and the “potential threat to freedom of expression” in the country. However, Modi’s government says the company is trying to “undermine India’s legal system” by “willfully disobeying” the rules.

“Twitter needs to stop messing around and comply with the country’s laws,” the government said in a May statement. “Legislation and political formulations are the sole prerogative of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and doesn’t have one [place] to dictate what … India’s legal policy framework should be. “

For many in India, the social media use debate in the country is not so much about freedom of expression as it is about a foreign company challenging the power of the Indian government, Pahwa told CNN Business. He added that the Ban in Nigeria “adds more fuel to this fire.”

Hire locally, grow locally

To survive and thrive in these emerging economies, companies like Twitter may need to invest more in local teams and understand local laws, experts said.

A woman using her cell phone in Srinagar, India.  Photo by Faisal Khan / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

And government pressure could already weaken Twitter’s resolve.

After signaling reservations about the new social media rules last month, the company has now said it remains “deeply connected” to India, one of the world’s largest markets.

“We have assured the Indian government that Twitter is making every effort to comply with the new guidelines and an overview of our progress has been duly shared,” the company said in a statement this week. “We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian government.”

For Vivan Sharan, partner of the Delhi-based consultancy Koan Advisory Group for technology policy, the shutdown in Nigeria and the debate in India could be a “wake-up call” for Western social media companies to “expand their local capacities for content moderation and themselves.” to be further developed “. Decision-making to the country offices. “

“Obviously, this is a major challenge for new age companies that are used to global size and presence without large investments locally,” he said.

“Most social media majors spend most of their operational bandwidth in developed markets. This paradigm is untenable and is now beginning to change. “ he added. “Companies that don’t duplicate their localization in emerging markets may be on the wrong side of the splinter net.”

– Stephanie Busari in Lagos contributed to this report.

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