Senegal: Authorities must rescind decision on social media blackout

The Government of Senegal must rescind its decision to restrict access to social media as announced on July 31, 2023, and work with stakeholders to ensure responsible use of online platforms by all.

According to a statement issued to the Ministry of Communication and Telecommunications and Digital Economy, the disruption is in response to “hate speech and subversive publication on social media which constitutes a threat to public order.”

The statement said the blackout will affect mobile internet temporarily within certain time slots beginning from July 31, 2023. It did not, however, specify the exact times nor the number of days that the measure will cover.

Multiple sources have confirmed to the MFWA that the social media blackout is currently in effect.

This is the second time the Senegalese government is restricting access to social media this year. The first incident happened on June 1-7, 2023 when the government shut down mobile data and also restricted access to social media platforms for a number of hours daily.  The government’s actions followed protests by some citizens in response to the imprisonment of an opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko. In response to the demonstrations, the government restricted access to several social media networks including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, and Telegram, citing the spread of hate speech.

“Due to the dissemination of hateful and subversive messages in a context of disturbance of public order in certain localities of the national territory, mobile data internet is temporarily suspended during certain time slots. Telephone operators are required to comply with the requisitions issued,” read a statement from the Ministry of Communication, Telecommunications and the Digital Economy on June 4, 2023.

The government also cut the signal of the television channel Walf Tv which was showing images from the demonstration.

Incidentally, this July 31 announcement of the decision to restrict social media is happening a few days after the re-arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.

Access to the internet and by extension social media is important at all times. Restricting access to social media or completely or partially shutting down the internet does not solve any problems. Resorting to such measures rather heightens the problem and creates more room for misinformation and disinformation.

In 2015 the United Nations joint declaration on Freedom of Expression and Response to Conflict Situations affirmed that network shutdowns “can never be justified under human rights law.” They are a violation of human rights and must not be seen as the solution to curb alleged hate speech, election-related mis/disinformation, demonstrations, examination malpractice, etc.

The MFWA, therefore, urges the Senegalese government to rescind its decision and rather resort to dialogue with multi-stakeholders to find human rights-respecting solutions to address the issue.

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