By Nicole Stremlau and Nathan Dobson for the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa


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.

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