Could you live without social media…for a year?
Posted on 1st April 2019
Occasionally in the UK press you read about some journalist who has tried to live without social media or a mobile for a week, or in extreme cases (as we blogged about recently) for up to six weeks. “Huh! – that’s nothing,” I hear the folks in Chad cry, for it is fact the case that a year ago, on 28 March 2018 to be precise, the good people of that country tapped their phones to access messages, Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, only to be met with a blank screen, or rather an error message.
Now, I am not the only person in the west who thinks that social media has got a bit out of hand, what with Brexit and everything. However, despite the abuse that our politicians take on social media, no-one has suggested banning it yet. Unfortunately, some other countries’ leaders are not so principled. It is believed that the curtailment of social media in Chad can be linked directly to criticism of the President, Idriss Déby. In power since 1990, the 66-year-old Mr Déby introduced constitutional changes in 2018 that could enable him to remain in office until 2033. This was despite the opposition boycotting the process and using social media to organise anti-government protests. According to the BBC's Vincent Niebede the internet became a real threat to the government. The BBC also tells us that in Chad:
“Access to Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, among others, has been blocked and since the ban was implemented, the number of demonstrations has dropped and those that have gone ahead have seen smaller numbers.
“The restriction has mainly hit activists and small business owners, who rely on social media for advertising and customers.
“Some Chadians have managed to get around the ban by using internet proxies known as Virtual Private Networks (VPN). However, the ban only affects a small number of people in Chad - just 4.9% of the population regularly accesses the internet.”
Chad is not the only Africa country with a democratic deficit. During the first two months of 2019, five countries with “somewhat repressive” regimes – Algeria, Zimbabwe, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan – also had social media shutdowns, but these were mostly short-lived.
Sadly, it seems unlikely that the situation in Chad is going to change any time soon. Although a group of Chadian lawyers took court action in August 2018 to try to restore social media access, they lost the case. On appeal, the court dismissed their case once again, saying there were "security reasons" for the social media blackout.
Now I suspect that some might think that a little social media shutdown would result in an improvement in the civility of our debate around matters as important as Brexit (any improvement in social media civility would indeed be a good thing), but when you see the alternative, namely a government preventing people having any say at all, you do realise just how fortunate we are here in this country. I’m off to compose a tweet…while I can.
Michael Phair, Be-IT
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