IGTWG Statement on Coordinated Campaigns for Shutting Down of the “X” Social Media Platform

In light of the recent calls to ban “X” (formerly Twitter) in Tanzania, particularly following the press conference on June 11, 2024, led by Mohamed Ali Kawaida, Chairperson of the CCM Youth Wing, the Internet Governance Tanzania Working Group (IGTWG) wishes to express its concerns. The calls for a ban, which were supported by religious leaders including Dr. Sule Seif from Dar es Salaam, Methodist Church Bishop and Secretary Allen Siso, and Sheikh Hilal Yusuph (popularly known as Sheikh Kipozeo), allege that the platform promotes activities detrimental to the nation.

Withholding that the arguments are weak in nature, the coordinated statements are what is concerning. IGTWG takes them seriously, recognizing the potential for coordinated efforts that could impact freedom of expression and access to information. We advocate for a balanced approach to Internet governance that respects both cultural values and fundamental rights.

The arguments presented for banning the “X” platform are weak, as evidenced below:
1. Moral Deterioration Due to Pornographic Content

The primary reason cited for the proposed shutdown of the “X” platform is the moral deterioration of youth caused by pornographic content. However, it is important to note that users are responsible for the content they consume online.

Note: Based on our close monitoring and analysis of social media trends in Tanzania, the platform most prevalent with pornographic content is Telegram. In contrast, “X” is known for hosting serious discussions crucial to the welfare of Tanzania. According to data from Global Digital Insights, “X” has only 594,000 users, which constitutes approximately 0.91% of the total Tanzanian population.

2. Promotion of Homosexuality

The claim that the “X” platform promotes homosexuality, thereby influencing youth and undermining Tanzanian culture, lacks substantial evidence.

Note: It is imperative to recognize that the predominant content on the “X” platform revolves around current news, politics, economics, and sports. Discussions on homosexuality are exceedingly rare. As such, the argument that “X” significantly promotes this agenda is unfounded. The platform serves as a vital space for critical discourse and information sharing, which are essential for the socioeconomic development of Tanzania.

In response to these ongoing dialogue on social media regarding the potential ban of the “X” platform, numerous users have expressed their views, intensifying the discussion. On June 16, 2024, the Minister for Information, Communication, and Information Technology of Tanzania, Hon. Nape Nnauye, addressed the matter on the “X” platform. He stated that the government is aware of the conversations surrounding the potential ban and assured that the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) would fulfill its duty to ensure the safety of Tanzania, particularly for the younger generation.

The Minister’s statement raised significant concerns within the Internet Governance Tanzania Working Group (IGTWG). It signals that TCRA may be actively considering the shutdown of the “X” platform. Our concerns were further fueled when we observed on June 21,2024 that the TCRA and TCRA Care “X” accounts had been removed from the platform. These developments stress the urgency of addressing the implications of such a ban on freedom of expression and access to information in Tanzania.

Our Concerns Regarding the Call for Banning the “X” Platform

The justification for banning “X” based on the promotion of homosexuality and exposure to pornographic content is weak and lacks substantial evidence and implies a lack of consideration of not consulting serious actors who directly use the X platform as opposed to a group of people who do not understand what the platform is, how it works and how it is critical to the socio-economic and political landscape of Tanzania. Such claims should not form the basis for broad censorship measures without clear and compelling evidence.

1. A Peril to Freedom of Expression

The proposed ban on the “X” platform poses a significant threat to freedom of expression. Curtailing access to this platform would undermine democratic principles and stifle the free flow of information. Article 18 of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, CAP 2, provides for freedom of expression as a human right, stating that:

  • Every person has the freedom of opinion and expression of their ideas.
  • Every person has the right to seek, receive, and disseminate information regardless of national boundaries.
  • Every person has the freedom to communicate and protection from interference with their communication.
  • Every person has the right to be informed at all times of various important events and issues of significance to society.

This constitutional provision clearly outlines how shutting down the “X” platform would undermine human rights in terms of freedom of expression.

2. Impact on Access to Information

“X” is a vital source of real-time news, political updates, economic insights, and sports information. Banning the platform would restrict access to timely and relevant information, which is essential for informed decision-making and public awareness. This restriction would negatively impact the public’s ability to stay informed about critical issues. Furthermore, Part II of the Access to Information Act (2016) emphasizes the right to access information, with Section 5(1) stating that every person shall have the right to access information under the control of information holders.

3. Economic Complications especially for the self-employed Youth

The “X” platform plays a vital role in the digital economy by providing a space for businesses, entrepreneurs, and influencers to reach their audiences and market their products and services. Shutting down the platform would disrupt these economic activities, leading to potential financial losses and stunted growth for many businesses. Thus going against the government’s intent on leveraging on sources of revenue such ad the Digital Content Creators which was clearly stated in the Financial Bill of 2024.

4. A Precedence for Future Censorship

Implementing a ban on “X” sets a dangerous precedent for future censorship of online platforms. It raises concerns about the arbitrary use of regulatory powers to control and limit access to digital spaces. This could pave the way for further restrictions on other social media platforms and online services, eroding digital rights and freedoms.

5. Journalism and Media Development

Journalism and the media will be affected, Shutdown will impact both their ability to receive newsworthy information, as well as their ability to share essential information with society. This will violates the right to a free press and restricts both the right to access information as well as the right to freedom of expression.

6. Global Information in Areas such as Health, Education, Environment, Science, and Cultural Exchange

X platform is a source to vast amounts of information and opportunities, becoming increasingly essential for modern life. X serves as a crucial platform for many Tanzanians, providing vital information on health, educational resources, environmental issues, scientific advancements, and cultural exchange. As the dominant and most influential platform in these areas, a shutdown of X would significantly impact Tanzanians’ right to access information and opportunities across these critical sectors.

7. Personal Security of Netizens

Many users of the platform use messaging services to alert friends and family of dangerous security situations. Shutting down X – personal security may decline significantly and it goes against the Constitution of Tanzania. This is in the same case globally – Laws such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), guarantees the right to freedom of expression and information, and aim to protect these essential rights. The effectiveness of these protections can be undermined if communication channels are disrupted, leaving the users unable to send or receive critical information during emergencies.

8. International Reputation and Digital Inclusion

Banning “X” could harm Tanzania’s international reputation as a proponent of digital inclusion and open internet principles. It may also discourage foreign investment in the country’s digital economy and technological advancements. Embracing an open and inclusive internet aligns with global standards and promotes Tanzania’s position as a forward-thinking nation in the digital age. There is no need to mark our Nation as one of the countries that gagged freedom of expression as it is the case of Nigeria’s Twitter(X) ban unlawful: ECOWAS Court. (2022, July14)

IGTWG’s Call
  • The IGTWG has initiated dialogue with the respective authority, TCRA to seek a constructive resolution regarding the matter. Historically, shutting down social network platforms has aggravated issues rather than solving them.
  • IGTWG is willing to organize an awareness workshop for the young political leaders and religious leaders advocating for the shutdown of “X” so as to teach them what the “X” platform is as well as the significant impacts of internet shutdowns on the people of Tanzania and Tanzania as a Nation.
  • The IGTWG urges the government not to succumb to such campaigns and emphasizes the need to explore alternative solutions by adopting collaborative approaches, with solutions that can effectively address concerns without resorting to drastic measures.
  • The IGTWG argue that pornographic contents, promotion of homosexuality is against Online Contents Regulations of 2020 as among of prohibited contents and it is criminal offense in the law. TCRA should deal with individual criminals rather than deal with the platform – the shutdown of X is not provided by law, not necessary in a democratic state, does not fit in legitimate actions and it is not proportional.

We trust that by fostering open dialogue, promoting digital literacy, and enhancing righteous practices, Tanzania can address the challenges posed by prohibited content without resorting to platform shutdowns, thereby upholding cultural values and fundamental freedoms in the digital age.

The IGTWG remains committed to advocating for a balanced approach to internet governance that ensures the safety and empowerment of all Tanzanian netizens while preserving the integrity of our digital ecosystem.

—-

Released by the Internet Governance Tanzania Working Group (IGTWG)

“Fostering Inclusive Internet Governance for a Better Digital Ecosystem”

July 3rd, 2024 – Dar es salaam, Tanzania

—–

The statement in PDF format can be downloaded – HERE.