Internet shutdowns in Africa are becoming increasingly widespread, particularly when governments face competitive or contentious elections. They have also come to symbolise a widening fracture between competing conceptions of the global Internet and its regulation. Governments in Africa are justifying shutdowns as able address misinformation and disinformation, protect the election process, and ensure national security. International organisations, NGOs, and social networking platforms condemn these as an inadmissible form of censorship and information control, an abuse by political actors seeking to silence critics or manipulate elections. This article offers an alternative reading on internet shutdowns by placing them in the historical context of the wide range of information controls around elections, many of which are widely regarded as being acceptable and legitimate mechanisms to support competitive elections. By offering this context, we can ask what is new about shutdowns and whether they can ever be regarded as a proportionate response to real concerns of social media and election manipulation. We conclude by highlighting the inequalities of online content moderation as an often-overlooked factor in driving the use of shutdowns, and the failure of social media companies to effectively address misinformation and disinformation in Africa, particularly around elections.
File Type: pdf
Categories: Journal of African Elections