Dealing with Internet Shutdowns by Governments

Two weeks ago, I was privileged to be one of the panelists on a Webinar put together by ISOC Nigeria Chapter, discussing on the theme: The Internet as a force for social good – Avoiding Internet shutdowns in Africa.

There is no doubt that the Internet is fast becoming a basic human need. We rely on it for education, health and fitness, happiness (real or imagined), low-cost long-distance communication, security, income and many other essentials of life.

The fluid, borderless nature of the Internet has however led to concerns by traditional government authorities about how it is used by the people. Some governments with insufficient understanding or capacity to engage stakeholders have even resorted to looking for some sort of “kill” switch to severe people’s connection to the Internet partially or totally as it suits their purpose. Will this be an effective solution to calming civil unrest?

Now imagine if a Doctor was performing an emergency procedure, guided by another Doctor in another part of the world, all happening over the Internet, and a Government orders that the Internet be turned off. What is the fate of the patient? Now imagine if the patient is a person very high up in Government, will the switch still be flipped?

There is no doubt that the discussions on Internet shutdown will continue for a long time between the citizens and the Government. The questions being asked are, whether shutdowns have been effective in solving the perceived problems? Whether shutdown is the best approach? What dangerous consequences can arise from cutting people off the World Wide Web? What if Internet access is shutdown in a user’s country? Are there any tools one can use to mitigate such a Government action, which is attack on your freedom of speech and association? Are people really aware of such tools or counter-measures?

There is also the responsibility of the people for an effective use of the Internet. Fake News and Hate Speech remains a huge concern to any responsible Government. Worse in the African context, where people hide behind a keyboard to attack people the cannot face in real life, obviously because of our customs and traditions.

Judging by the comments thereafter, the ISOC Webinar was an eye-opener for some of the participants, and I am glad about the level of engagement and awareness created.

It is now clear that we have joined the developed world to utilize of technology as a veritable tool for engagement, liberation and to benefit our entire world.

It is interesting, how we Africans now embrace technology in our activities and engagements.  Events and webinars are being powered with high level technology and we are becoming more comfortable with attending meetings online.

I remain your President, 

Rev’d Sunday Folayan

President, NIRA Executive Board

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