In a bizarre move, Somalia bans 1XBet, TikTok and Telegram over alleged ‘horrific’ content and spreading misinformation. The Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) decided to curb the dissemination of what it called ‘indecent content’ and terrorism by banning some of the popular internet platforms. Internet service providers in Somalia have until 24 August to comply with the ban.
Mogadishu, SOMALIA. By Yahya:
The country’s Minister of Communications & Technology, Jama Hassan Khalif, announced a ban on TikTok, the messaging app Telegram, and the online betting website 1XBet in a statement late on Sunday. “The Minister of Communications orders internet companies to stop the aforementioned applications, which terrorists and immoral groups use to spread constant horrific images and misinformation to the public.”
While the terrorist group al-Shabaab frequently uses social platforms, including TikTok and Telegram, it remains unclear what precisely the Minister meant by the other “immoral groups spreading horrific images”. The ban has raised questions about its real intentions, as experts point out that it cannot in any way affect the terrorists’ propaganda.
Targeting al-Shabaab’s communication?
First, repressive regimes trying to restrict citizens’ access to information have taught the citizens to bypass these draconian restrictions. The popular way of doing that is by using the Virtual Private Network (VPN). VPN allows for establishing a protected network connection when using public networks. VPN encrypts the internet traffic and disguises an individual’s online identity. It is popular in places like China, where the government restricts access to different social platforms. VPNs are popular in Somalia, too.
Secondly, if the Somali government claims it targets terrorism, it should be noted that al-Shabaab does not rely solely on Telegram and TikTok. As the recent study by Georgia Gilroy revealed, al-Shabaab reaches far beyond the two. It frequently uses Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, with the group’s influencers likely testing the platforms’ commitments to continued moderation. Facebook is by far the most popular social network in Africa and is known for having trouble catching up with moderation efforts.
TikTok faces potential ban in the U.S., too
Somalia’s ban on these platforms reflects a growing concern that extends beyond its borders. The concerns differ in their reasoning, however. In the United States, for instance, TikTok has faced potential bans due to alleged connections to the Chinese government. While such bans intend to address national security concerns, they also raise questions about citizens’ rights to access information, communicate, and express themselves online.