After Nigeria banned Twitter, Canada joined other countries in condemning the move. This as it preps its own free speech crack down at home.
Canada may have sabotaged its moral authority when it comes to online free speech issues. Earlier this month, Nigeria ordered ISPs operating in the country to block access to Twitter. This after a tweet the president posted was considered a veiled threat to political opponents. From the BBC:
The government announced on Friday it was suspending Twitter’s operations in the country.
Mobile phone networks blocked access after being ordered to do so, but some users are getting around the ban.
The move comes after Twitter deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari for breaching the site’s rules.
Some users saw his post, which referred to Nigeria’s civil war four decades ago, as a veiled threat towards a secessionist movement in the south-east of the country
His government said on Saturday the tweet’s removal was “disappointing”, but not the only reason for the “temporary” suspension.
“There has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real world violent consequences,” the government said.
The move to block an entire platform over a deleted tweet is, indeed, troubling. It’s a move that impeached former US president, Donald Trump, tried to pull last year after Twitter finally made the halfhearted move to enforce the rules by fact-checking his tweets. At the time, there was universal condemnation over the attempt. In this case, it seems that the Nigerian president was successful in his own country.
In response to the banning of the social media platform, Nigerian users have been reportedly making the move over to VPN services. From Nairametrics:
Since the ban, users have been on the lookout for ways to access the social media platform through the use of a VPN. The volume of online search conducted on the word “VPN” showed its popularity during the week according to the search tracking site, Trends Map.
Users who generally express their views on Twitter and other social platforms opted for VPNs to conceal their IP addresses, keeping internet service providers (ISPs) in the dark about their online activities and locations.
One of such popular VPNs accessed by Nigerian users was Express VPN. Harold Li, vice president of ExpressVPN told Nairametrics that ExpressVPN.com saw a >200% increase in web traffic from Nigeria. The biggest spike came on Saturday, June 6th, when web traffic increased by around 250% compared to the day prior.
VPNs are first and foremost, security tools that help to protect users from being hacked, tracked, monitored, or otherwise compromised. ExpressVPN believes that digital privacy and internet accessibility are human rights, and will continue to speak out on this issue while encouraging others to do the same.
In response, Canada, the US, and the UK issued a joint statement condemning the move. The countries cite freedom of expression as a part of a key pillar to Nigerian democracy. The statement (PDF):
JOINT STATEMENT FROM THE DIPLOMATIC MISSIONS OF CANADA, THE EUROPEAN UNION(DELEGATION TO NIGERIA), THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND, THE UNITED KINGDOM AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The diplomatic missions of Canada, the European Union(Delegation to Nigeria), the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America convey our disappointment over the Government of Nigeria’s announcement suspending#Twitter and proposing registration requirements for other social media.
We strongly support the fundamental human right of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria as around the world and these rights apply online as well as offline. Banning systems of expression is not the answer. These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less, communication to accompany the concerted efforts of Nigeria’s citizens in fulsome dialogue toward unity, peace and prosperity.
As Nigeria’s partners, we stand ready to assist in achieving these goals.
The problem here is that Canada is seemingly in the process of cracking down on said freedom of expression at home. This through Bill C-10. To make matters worse, the Liberal government, with the help of the Bloc and NDP, shut down debate through a “gag order” over the legislation and began putting secret amendments to a vote. The current iteration of the law is now secret and kept in the shadows of darkness, away from public scrutiny. Despite this anti-democratic move that hasn’t been seen in over 20 years, the now secret law was passed in committee and is now headed for the House of Commons.
In response, University law professor, Michael Geist, noted how the Canadian government has lost the moral authority on these issues.
The Canadian government has sadly lost the moral authority to lecture others on respecting free speech, when it is actively trying to implement a gag order on further debate on Bill C-10, a bill with enormous implications for freedom of expression online.
On the one hand, it’s great to know that Canada is, in fact, advocating for free speech abroad. On the hand, though, it is gearing up for a huge free speech crackdown at home. Because of that, we can only cringe at the incredible level of hypocrisy that is on display for the Canadian government.