Somaliland, the self-declared republic in northwestern Somalia, has announced it will restrict access to social media sites during its upcoming presidential elections. The electoral commission has asked phone companies to block more than a dozen social media outlets in order to limit hate speech and “fake news”. It includes Facebook, Twitter,WhatsApp, Snapchat, Viber, Flickr, Instagram, LinkedIn, Duo, Google Plus, among others. The commission blamed what it called “external forces” for spreading “inciteful and tribalistic” information (in Somali) and decried its inability to control the proliferation of these messages. As a result, the sites will be down starting from when voting ends on Nov. 13 up until the results are declared.
“As the election commission, we have given telecommunication companies an order to block social media sites and they have agreed to it,” spokesman Said Ali Muse said. Muse also allayed fears that there would be a complete internet shutdown during the vote, saying they had received concerns from citizens and private business owners.
Internet shutdowns have become much more frequent in Africa since 2015, with governments either totally cutting off the internet or blocking access to platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter. In 2016 alone, 11 countries disrupted internet communications before crucial elections in Uganda, during national exams in Algeria, and anti-government protests in Ethiopia. In 2017, Cameroon instituted a 93-day blackout in its English-speaking regions, and Togo shut down the internet to stifle protests against president Faure Gnassingbé.
The decision to limit access is partly incongruous with Somaliland’s stature as a small, but stable region of about 3.5 million people, with strong institutions that conduct free and open elections. After seceding from Somalia in 1991, the region has held successive elections where the defeated have always conceded and peacefully transferred power.