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The 'democratising power' of the Internet

Publish date: 06 February 2019
Issue Number: 1767
Diary: Legalbrief eLaw
Category: General

The Arab Spring was also called the Facebook Revolution. In countries such as Tunisia and Egypt, social media was used more than ever before to organise protest and to raise local and international awareness of the uprisings. Even in countries with fewer social media networks, such as Libya and Yemen, electronic devices such as cellphones and e-mail were used to communicate news about political events. In a Mail & Guardian analysis, Mia Swart notes that social media has helped to change the way in which war is narrated and possibly the narration itself. ‘The disruptive and democratising power of Internet communication and social media is not lost on African governments. The Zimbabwean Government shut down the Internet for three days in January. This followed the DRC Government’s order to cellphone companies such as Vodacom to shut down for three days as voting ended in the highly disputed presidential election. Alongside the shutdown in the DRC, many complained that text messaging became more difficult and media was increasingly censured. Radio France Internationale was closed. The shutdown in the DRC made it easier for government to put out fake election results.’ Swart points out that the fact that the shutdowns occurred just days after the UN passed a historic resolution specifically condemning Internet shutdowns shows the disregard for international law both in Zimbabwe and in the DRC. ‘Internet access is a human rights issue. In 2015, experts from the UN Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Organisation of American States and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a historic statement declaring that Internet shutdowns can never be justified under international human rights law, even in times of conflict. In Estonia, one of the most connected countries in the world, access to the Internet is a basic human right. It is urgently necessary that the liberation of access to the Internet should be prioritised by human rights protectors and international bodies tasked with upholding human rights.’

Full analysis on the Mail & Guardian site