How Nigeria’s Twitter Ban Highlights the Losing War Against Free Speech and How Blockchain Comes In
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, made headlines earlier this year after imposing a ban on cryptocurrency-related transactions. Deposit money banks were ordered to report and close accounts that were found to interact with cryptocurrency transactions, and Nigerian exchanges were forced to halt withdrawals and deposits onto their platforms.
Nigeria is back in the news after the country's minister of information, Lai Mohammad, imposed a Twitter ban last week.
On the surface, this news appears strange given that Nigeria has been cited as one of the largest hubs in Africa for crypto trading and has a massive Twitter following in the millions. Why would the country ban both within six months of each other?
Many believe that this is a government response to the 2020 #EndSARS protests, which attempted to address police brutality in the country. The government, led by ex-dictator Muhamadu Buhari, has been accused of attempting to stifle crowdsourcing (donations for protests were made in bitcoin after protest leaders' bank accounts were frozen) and potentially free speech (many of the protests were organized on social media of which Twitter was a major player).
The Responses to the Ban and Why the Free Speech War is a Losing One
Despite the fact that the bands took place months apart, both Nigerians and the international community responded in the same way. The Nigerian government has come under fire for what is perceived to be a crackdown on citizens' freedoms. Simultaneously, it has been claimed that the bans have not been as effective as a government would like them to be.
In the case of the cryptocurrency ban, Nigerians migrated in large numbers to peer-to-peer systems, and while the freedom to trade has been limited as a result of the ban, citizens have not stopped trading in cryptocurrency.
In the case of the Twitter ban, it appears that Nigerians have overwhelmingly switched to using virtual private networks to access Twitter services. Several Nigerian-related topics were trending in foreign countries or cities over the weekend, which is thought to be the result of Nigerians changing their locations via VPN to the cities.
Protests against the current administration are even planned for Nigeria's democracy day. The message has been clear: the ban cannot stifle free expression.
This is not the first time this has occurred in the world; after cryptocurrencies were banned in China, Chinese citizens used VPNs to trade in cryptos. To this day, China is one of the most important crypto trading hubs in terms of volume. In terms of communication, Chinese citizens continue to use VPNs to communicate outside of government-approved social media platforms.
The Place of Blockchain
Because of the power of technology, no voice can be silenced, and citizens will have access to their free speech in some form or another. Moving forward, blockchain technology is also likely to play a role in the fight against censorship.
In China, activists have been posting accounts of government activities to blockchain-based platforms in order to reach a larger audience while also ensuring that their work cannot be removed. With cryptocurrency, protests can be funded in real-time and in a way that the government cannot prohibit.
While both blockchain and technology as a whole have a long way to go, it is clear that they will be critical in the fight for freedom of expression, and regardless of how many bans or motions are put in place by the government, free speech will always prevail as long as there is technology.
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