Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are increasingly implementing their disciplinary policies to restrict or remove posts, which they deem to be against their policies. Lately, there have been many high profile incidents of the sort.
Former President Donald Trump was banned permanently from Twitter for supporting rioters who stormed the US Capitol. Recently, a Nigerian televangelist was banned from YouTube for claiming to cure a gay person. Then a few days ago, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s account was suspended for a few hours owing to a post he made that went against Twitter’s policies. Nigeria responded to the suspension by banning Twitter in a vindictive stand that analysts say will negatively impact Africa’s tech giant.
The Nigerian Twitter ban does not do any justice to Nigeria’s freedom of media environment. The Twitter ban may seem archaic and retrogressive.
Nigeria has been one of Africa’s largest tech giants attracting investors. The Twitter ban may send out a cold political message to tech investors on the type of hostile environment they may face. Most Nigerians have a presence on Twitter and a lot of businesses and individuals depend on Twitter and other social media platforms to conduct their business. This is especially so when executing digital marketing and other digital-based strategies. The Twitter ban will affect such businesses and individuals.
In my view both the Nigerian government and Twitter overreacted.
However, the spat may raise a few emerging legal issues supposing Kenya was faced with the same situation.
In Kenya for example, the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and religious beliefs amongst others. Kenya also guarantees freedom of media, which largely allows media houses to operate freely within its region.
The issue, therefore, is how far social media companies can go in curtailing or controlling the freedom of expression. For example, did Twitter breach former President Trump’s or President Buhari’s freedoms of expression by disciplinary action? Did YouTube breach TB Joshua’s freedom of conscience or religion?
Nevertheless, Twitter and YouTube are not local entities and therefore may not have to adhere to either the Kenyan or Nigerian constitutions.
Similarly in the event, one suffers losses as a result of having their account suspended or banned from social media, can they file for damages against the social media company?
A Twitter ban in Kenya may raise serious constitutional issues revolving around the freedom of media, freedom of expression and freedom of information.
Twitter and most other social media giants are largely owned by companies registered in foreign jurisdictions.
The first issue that would therefore arise is if these entities are subject to protection under the Kenyan Constitution. For example, if Kenya were to effect a Twitter ban, can Twitter file a constitutional petition claiming that its freedom of media has been infringed? Can any other foreign-registered media outlet file a constitutional petition on freedom of media and other rights?