June 20, 2016 (GIN) – Ghanaians who use social media could find themselves staring at a blank screen instead of Facebook or Twitter under a plan now being considered by Ghana’s Police Service (GPS).
Superintendent Cephas Arthur, Public Affairs director of the GPS, said that blocking Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets during the upcoming elections would be in the best interests of the nation.
Such a ban would not infringe on people’s rights, he said, but would promote peace and ensure a violence-free election, he claimed.
The proposed shut-down has dismayed U.N. Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, who remarked that the U.N. would not support a social media black-out.
“For good or for bad, social media serves as one of the modes of expressions of free speech of democratic societies,” said Dr. Ibn Chambas, while on a recent fact-finding mission in Ghana.
National elections in Ghana are scheduled for November 7.
Inspector General of Police (IGP) John Kudlor was also of the opinion that social media could be used as a tool for misinformation and thus pose a danger to the national’s security during the polls.
“If people are churning out the type of information which is quite false then why not? The security of this nation is paramount,” he was reported to say on Citi FM news.
Free speech advocates were shocked to learn of the proposed media black-out.
“We are not a country that subscribes to heavy handed repressive tactics,” said Kinna Likimani of Ghana Decides in an interview. “It is not a democratic best practice and doesn’t suit the path we are on as Ghanaians.”
The Alliance for Accountable Governance added: “Blocking or restricting access to social media is a blatant violation of freedom of expression,” and “a violation of the constitution which says that all persons shall have the right to freedom of speech.”
Other countries which have blocked Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and other popular media platforms include Uganda, which shut down social media during elections and during President Museveni’s inauguration, Ethiopia, Congo, and Chad.
Deji Olukotun of the Internet freedom advocacy group Access Now added that such crackdowns also have economic ramifications – “they’re a blunt instrument that hurts everyone,” he said. He cited $25 million lost by Uganda when the internet shut down blocked popular mobile money transactions.