Ethiopia is Developing Its Own Social Media

Ethiopia is Developing Its Own Social Media

In the face of growing apathy toward social media, fueled in some cases by the government’s intolerance of free speech and the desire to control people’s posts, many governments are now seeking alternatives to the dominant American social media platforms.

Ethiopia has begun developing its own social media platform to rival Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, though it does not plan to block the global services, the state communications security agency said. Reuters has the report.

The east African country has been engulfed since last year in an armed conflict pitting the federal government against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Tigray region in the country’s north.

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Supporters of the warring sides have used social media for verbal attacks, with the government accusing social media platforms of bias.

The government wants its local platform to “replace” Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Zoom, the director general of the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), Shumete Gizaw, said on Monday.

Shumete accused Facebook of deleting posts and user accounts which he said were “disseminating the true reality about Ethiopia”. Now, Ethiopia wants to put an end to the perceived censorship by developing its own social media platform.

International human rights groups have criticized the Ethiopian government for unexplained shutdowns to social media services including Facebook and WhatsApp in the past year. The government has not commented on those shutdowns.

Facebook’s Africa spokesperson, Kezia Anim-Addo, declined to comment on Ethiopia’s plans and did not respond immediately to a query about Shumete’s accusations.

But in June, days before national elections, Facebook said it had removed a network of fake accounts in Ethiopia targeting domestic users which it linked to individuals associated with INSA, which is responsible for monitoring telecommunications and the internet.

Shumete declined to specify a timeline, budget and other details, but told Reuters news agency: “The rationale behind developing technology with local capacity is clear … Why do you think China is using WeChat?”

He said Ethiopia had the local expertise to develop the platforms and would not hire outsiders to help.

Social messaging app WeChat, owned by China-based Tencent Holdings, is widely used in the country and is considered to be a strong tool by Chinese authorities for monitoring its population.

Shumete also referred Reuters to comments he made on Friday to a local media outlet in which he accused Facebook of blocking users who were “preaching national unity and peace”.

He also told Al-Ain Amharic that authorities were working on the platform to replace Facebook and Twitter, while a trial has already been completed of a platform to replace WhatsApp and Zoom and that platform will soon be operational.

While there are so many countries whose relationship with social media platforms has soured, Ethiopia is the first in recent time to move to create platforms of its own. It’s not clear if Ethiopians are in support of the government’s move, which may determine the success of indigenous social media. But if Ethiopia succeeds, other countries like Nigeria that are trying to control its social media space, may likely tow its path.

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