The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria may be the beginning of what the government had planned to do over the years — the regulation of social media.
But is Twitter Inc. alone affected by this directive? No.
The statement, made by Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, came as the government suspended the operations of Twitter, the microblogging and social networking service.
“The Minister said the Federal Government has also directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria,” the minister said.
Twitter’s suspension comes days after a post by President Muhammadu Buhari on the 1967 civil war was deleted by the microblogging platform.
In a series of posts on Twitter on Tuesday, the president had condemned the attacks on government facilities in the country, and referencing the civil war, threatened to treat those “bent on destroying” Nigeria “through insurrection” in “a language they understand”.
Defending Buhari’s post, the information minister had condemned the deletion of the president’s post and accused Twitter of “double standards”.
WHAT ARE OTT SERVICES?
Over-the-Top (OTT) services are essential media services offered directly to viewers via the internet. Most often, such contents can be streamed on computers, smartphones, and other devices.
They bypass cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms – the type of media services that NBC traditionally act as controller or regulator.
In Nigeria, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, FB Messenger, Skype, iROKOtv, and Netflix are currently running on OTT.
HOW WILL THE DIRECTIVE AFFECT SOCIAL MEDIA OPERATIONS?
One of the avenues through which Nigerian citizens air their views on the actions and policies of government have been through social media platforms. These platforms have given voice and hope to countless citizens on various issues, including politics, opportunities, and economic powers worldwide.
With the regulation, the government will put the users’ right on the line by setting modalities for OTT service operations in the country. The modalities may hamper citizen’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on those platforms.
For instance, India set out internet modalities for the operations of social media giants, which include Facebook, Twitter and others, to take responsibility for every user post on their channels. These rules are also obtainable in China, where social media platforms have to censor content before appearing online.
Social media companies are also at the mercy of the federal government and could be ordered by the authorities to remove any flagged content.
Adeboye Adegoke, a digital right activist at Paradigm Initiative, said the implications are enormous and beyond the big companies like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp.
“The government is targetting the bigger players, but the policy has far implications for the smaller ones, most especially indigenous players providing OTT services like VBloggers, Influencers, etc., providing learning, tutorials, and other consultancy services,” he said.
“These are the people we need to be more concerned about.
“If you have ever been bothered that most leading tech companies are foreign, you will then be faced with bigger issues. Regulating OTT services would kill potentials of young tech genius in the country because the government is not allowing a conducive environment.”
For Netflix, iROKOtv, and other streaming platforms, the authorities can also determine the content they stream for the Nigerian audience. Any anti-government content may not scale through.
Just like the government’s current battle with Twitter, users’ activities on other social media channels may now come at a cost.