The Digital 2022 April Global Statshot report by DataReportal revealed that 7.93 billion people were living on earth as of April 2022, with 57 per cent residents in urban areas. A total of 5.32 billion people are now using a mobile phone, equating to 67 per cent of the world population, and smartphone users account for roughly 4 in 5 of the mobile handsets used around the world today, while 63% of the world population are now connected online, equating to 5.00 billion internet users; an increase of almost 200 million from the previous year record. Interestingly, 58.7 per cent of the global population now uses social media, translating to 4.65 billion social media users.
Social media has established dominance in the media circle as the most affordable, most available, fastest, easiest, real-time, and wider-reach media platform for news and information dissemination. It has become a platform where ethical and unethical journalism is displayed. It has gradually transformed into a strategic player in the global economy, governance, and politics.
However, its increasing influence has created a power-play and discomfort between the government and social media companies, opening a new chapter and wave of social media censorship, restrictions, and outright ban across many countries. Over time it has been enmeshed in a deep-seated and high-stake battle with authorities in many countries because of its unarguable political influence worldwide. A look at the Nigerian political situation between 2015 and 2022 showed that social media platforms were an avenue for galvanizing support for political parties and candidates, organizing protests and rallies, and expressing dissenting political opinions. The 2020 protests by Nigerian youths tagged “EndSars” gave a clear illustration of how what seemed to be just an online discussion and complaints about brutality and cruelty against Nigerian youths by security agencies, particularly the Nigerian police force, turned into a call for a protest that eventually snowballed into open street protests in different parts of the country. In June 2021, the Nigerian government shocked the entire nation with the outright ban of Twitter due to the deletion of a post made by the President that seemed politically biased and improper.
Governments in different countries have descended heavily on social media with excuses of unlawful content, incitement, hate speech, religious blasphemy, overcrowding in unsolicited events, ethnic or racial abuses, and public safety.
The 2018 #KeepItOn Report published by AccessNow and the data from the Shutdown Tracker Optimization Project (STOP) documented a total of 196 internet shutdowns in 2018, with the most occurring from Asia and Africa; a rise in the total number of 76 and 106 shutdowns in 2016 and 2017 respectively. According to June 2020, and May 2021 Research Findings by Freedom House published in 2021, global internet freedom experienced 11 years of decline in 30 countries out of the 70 countries covered by the report. The greatest documented deteriorations came from Myanmar, Belarus, and Uganda, where state forces cracked down amid constitutional and electoral crises; Myanmar’s 14-point score being the most decline since the Freedom-on-the-Net Project began.
Governments clashed with tech companies over user rights, with at least 48 countries pursuing new rules for tech companies on content, data, or competition. There were more arrests for non-violent political, social, or religious speech in 56 countries, internet access got suspended in at least 20 countries, access to social media got blocked in 21 states, and governments in at least 45 countries obtained spyware or data-extracting technology from private vendors. China ranked the worst state for internet freedom for seven consecutive years with draconian policies, laws, and stringent actions. Ecuador and Gambia improved significantly, while Iceland remained the top performer, followed by Estonia. The assessment of the world’s internet users indicated that 39% had no freedom, 28% had been partially free, 21% had total freedom, and 12% were not studied.
Sadly, the recent boom in the surveillance tech market has more than ever boosted the capacity of governments to monitor private communications, thereby brazenly flouting the rule of law on rights to personal privacy. An instance is the 2014 $32 million contract between the Israel-based NSO Group and the Mexican government for the Pegasus Spyware, a move that has made the country become one of the hotbeds for abusing private online communications. In India, there has been a massive deployment of Netwire and Pegasus against activists, Journalists, and opposition figures. In 2019, Nigerian security forces used commercial tools to identify and monitor the sources of journalists that were reporting on military operations.
Freedom House data stat showed that 75% of the world’s internet users live in countries where individuals got arrested for posting content on politics, religion, or social issues, and 72% live in countries where individuals have been attacked or killed for their online activities since 2020, and 64% live in countries where pro-government commentators got deployed to manipulate online discussions. 56% live in countries where political, social, or religious content got blocked online, 46% live in countries where access to social media was temporarily or permanently restricted, and 41% live in countries where authorities disconnected internet or mobile networks often for political reasons.
With the new internet regulations sweeping across the globe, data from Freedom House indicated that governments in at least 48 countries pursued new rules for tech companies on content, data, and competition before 2021. Twenty-four countries initiated measures governing how platforms treat social media content, 38 countries initiated reforms affecting the management of data by social media companies, and 21 countries proposed actions to defend competition.
The below Key Internet Controls by countries, published by Freedom House, showed how governments censored and controlled the digital media sphere between June 2020 and May 2021.
- Social Media and communication platforms got blocked in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirate, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. A total of 22 countries.
- Political, religious, or social content got blocked in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirate, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam. A total of 36 countries.
- ICT Networks got deliberately disrupted in - Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe. A total of 20 countries.
- Pro-government commentators manipulated online discussions in - Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirate, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, Zimbabwe. A total of 47 countries.
- New laws or directives increasing censorship or punishment were passed in - Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Philippines, Russia, Sudan, Turkey, United Arab Emirate, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Zambia. A total of 24 countries.
- New laws or directives increasing surveillance or restricting anonymity were passed in China, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, India, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Zambia. A total of 17 countries.
- Bloggers or ICT users were arrested, imprisoned, or in prolonged detention for political or social content in Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirate, United States, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, Zimbabwe. A total of 56 countries.
- Blogger or ICT user physically attacked or killed (even while in custody) in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirate, United States, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zimbabwe. A total of 42 countries.
- Technical attacks against government critics or human rights organizations in Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Taiwan, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirate, United States, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Vietnam. A total of 56 countries.
A recent analysis by the Social Media Censorship Tracker; Surfshark showed that between 2015/2022, a third of the countries in the world restricted access to different social media platforms, and the countries cut across the five regions of Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. Of the 193 United Nation Countries covered in the study, 72 countries have imposed different restrictions on social media.
Thirty-two countries in the region restricted access due to election concerns, and 11 out of the 32 countries hinged their restriction on protests and demonstrations. Below are some prominent incidents:
YouTube and other social media platforms got blocked on Thursday 8, 2019, following a viral video that surfaced online where Algeria’s ex-defence Minister Khaleed Neezar was calling on the army to “realize the demands of the people,” a speech that got understood to be a call for the ousting of the military leader Ahmed Gaid Saleh. Also, Algeria has often shut down social media during school exams.
The West African nation blocked social media access during the 2020 presidential election.
From around 10:30 p.m. UTC on Saturday, November 22, 2021, significant mobile network disruption was recorded amid the riots that ensued following the shooting of protesters by a French military convoy. Significant internet disruption started at noon on Monday, January 10, 2022, and Tuesday, January 11, 2022, amid the arrests connected to an alleged coup incident. Internet service issues persisted until January 20, 2022, indicating the restriction of Facebook and WhatsApp servers, while on Sunday morning, January 23, 2022, internet disruptions occurred amid the reports of gunfire and uprising at a military camp and continued up to Monday evening.
Authorities shut down access to social media for 472 days between 2018 and 2019. In 2021, the deadly armed raid at the house of Yaya Dillo, a known opposition figure in Chad, resulted in severe disruptions of internet connectivity on Sunday, February 28, 2021, with a slight connectivity rise on Monday.
A report from Reuters indicated that the communications regulator of the East African nation ordered a nationwide suspension of all internet gateways on January 12, 2021, the eve of a presidential election.
There were disruptions in social media and internet connectivity on the eve of the elections on October 27th, 2020.
On February 2020, the day of the election, the state authority blocked all social media platforms.
Following violent protests that killed at least 12 persons in January 2019, the government suspended Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp for one week. Also, on Sunday, February 20, 2022, confirmed internet metrics by NetBlocks showed that significant internet disruption occurred while the main opposition party held a rally in Harare.
Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and Telegram got blocked for four days because the 12th- grade national exam papers leaked.
In an apparent military coup, several senior government officials were arrested and detained, and internet services and social media got disrupted for 24 days from Monday 25, October 2021, to Thursday 18, November 2021, when significant internet service restoration increased. Social media restrictions got lifted on Wednesday, November 24, 2021.
From Sunday 29, August 2021, the fragile North African nation recorded significant internet disruption that restricted access to social media until Monday 30, August 2021, amid the planned protests by the People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA) for the resignation of the country’s leadership.
NetBlocks metrics confirmed the restriction of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp on Thursday, August 12, 2021, amid presidential and parliamentary elections.
Following Twitter’s removal of the controversial and threatening post made by President Muhammad Buhari on Twitter, the social media platform got suspended on June 2021. The ban got lifted in January 2022 after seven months.
Republic of Congo
A three-day internet blackout started on Sunday, March 21, 2021, as a result of the presidential election that took place on Sunday 21, March 2021.
Following the arrest of the opposition leader Ousmane Sonko which led to demonstrations in Dakar, there were social media disruptions on March 5, 2021. Metrics from NetBlocks indicated that Facebook, YouTube, Whatsapp, and Telegram were restricted on the leading network operator Orange/Sonatel.
Western social media platforms have faced stricter opposition in Asia and the Middle East. Of the 46 countries in the region, 30 have recorded some form of social media restriction since 2015.
This Asian giant cum world power is presently widely regarded as the strictest on social media. The country has successfully created its internet ecosystem with homegrown social media like QZone, WeChat, and Nebo.
Facebook, Twitter, Viber, WhatsApp, and YouTube were restricted on Sunday 3, April 2022, for 16 hours local time as the government declared a state of emergency due to the nationwide protests caused by economic crises.
Access to Facebook and Facebook Messenger was restricted from Friday, March 26, 2021, until Monday evening, due to the protests against the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Internet disruptions affected most parts of the country on Monday, February 1, 2021. NetBlock metrics indicated that the military blocked access to Facebook, while internet connectivity was at 50% capacity following the protest against the military coup that rocked the nation.
Access to YouTube was restricted twice in 2016 due to the viral sex videos depicting politicians from the country.
Deadly clashes between the country and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region resulted in the restriction of access to Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Messenger, Tik Tok, Twitter, Skype, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Zoom on Sunday, September 27, 2020, for security reasons.
NetBlock data confirmed that the loss of the internet happened throughout the evening of January 15, 2022, following an escalating destabilization pattern of infrastructures as the country’s energy crises worsened.
NetBlocks data confirmed significant internet service disruption from the evening of Tuesday, January 4, that gradually led to a nationwide communication blackout because of the widening protests against the sudden price hike.
As a result of the visit of the then US President Barack Obama in 2016, Facebook got restricted in the entire country.
On May 22, 2016, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp got blocked for three days following widespread protests and riots in Jarkata.
According to stats from Surfshark, only six out of 35 countries have interfered with social media access.
Social media were disrupted at least 12 times in 2019 due to the political power tussle between President Nicholas Maduro and the self-acclaimed interim president Juan Guaido.
Partial social media disruption occurred between Friday, November 27, 2020, and Monday, November 30, 2020, amid protests in Havana for artistic rights. On July 12, 2021, the country recorded another disruption caused by the widespread protests against government policies and price hikes, an incident that lasted until Sunday, July 18, 2021.
Data from Freedom House indicated disruption of social media, mobile, and fixed connectivity in October 2019 following the mass protests against planned austerity measures.
According to a report published in The Guardian, WhatsApp got blocked across the entire country following a court order on Wednesday, December 16, 2015, to all mobile phone internet service providers issued to last for 48 hours. The order was due to injunctions sought by a plaintiff before a Sao Paulo criminal court for WhatsApp’s failure to obey a court order dated July 23, 2015, and after another notification on August 7, 2015, this was a result of WhatsApp’s non-compliance with a criminal investigation. On Monday, May 2016, as reported by The Washington Post, WhatsApp service was suspended again by a court order over the company’s non-compliance with a drug-related investigation. But the ruling was overturned by a higher court.
Russia and social media companies are experiencing a bitter relationship over social media rules concerning the inversion of Ukraine. Data from NetBlocks Internet Observatory indicated that network disruptions occurred throughout Russia on Saturday, January 23, 2021, amid protests against the detention of prominent opposition activist and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny. On September 17, 2021, the mobile App store metrics from NetBlocks confirmed the removal of a popular and strategic election vote tracking app from the Apple Store and Google Store that belonged to the opposition group. Also, the country had restrictions from Saturday, February 26, 2022, starting with Twitter, and subsequently, Facebook Servers got restricted on Sunday, February 27, 2022. There are now widespread restrictions across multiple social media platforms and internet services.
4 out of 44 countries have recorded a social media ban, and the four countries are all from the East of the continent, whereas the western nations have tried to maintain clean records.
According to Human Rights Watch, internet access got restricted for 61 hours from August 9, 2020, to August 12, 2020, permitting only text messages and voice calls over 2G networks in an apparent attempt to hide information about protests and severe police brutality against the presidential election results that demonstrators contend as rigged. Also, on August 14, 2020, and August 23, 2020, protesters could not use mobile internet for several hours.
In 2017, President Petro Poroshenko banned the nation’s two most popular social networks, the Russian VK and Odnoklassinki, the most popular email service Mail.ru, and the most widely used search engine Yandex. The decree ordered internet service providers to restrict access to social media sites for three consecutive years in an apparent move to block what he termed Russia’s “hybrid war” and propaganda.
A report covered by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) stated that in 2002, the government banned Civil Servants from accessing Facebook and Youtube during work hours in government offices to optimize and lessen the network load of government agencies. Also, on April 20, 2022, the country joined the EU in banning the Russian state-controlled media outlet Russia Today and Sputnik over Ukraine's inversion.
Australia and Oceania
Interestingly this region, with no record of any social media ban, seems to be a safe destination for social media.
In conclusion, the platform envisaged from the onset as a field for connecting people, exchanging information, networking, and relationship now seems like a battle space between government and tech giants for control rights.