Cameroonian Government Calls Social Media A 'New Form Of Terrorism'

from the dangerous-as-a-missile dept

As Techdirt readers know, there’s a bit of a debate going on currently about the influence that social media exerts on politics and society. If you are still a little undecided as to where you stand on this vexed subject, Cavaye Djibril, Speaker of the National Assembly in Cameroon, has a few thoughts on the subject (pdf):

I would like at this juncture to deplore what is developing into a new form of terrorism — the social malaise now affecting the cyberspace, that is, the insidious effects of the social media.

The social media, which was initially perceived as a medium for online communication and information sharing, is now being used for misinformation, and even intoxication and manipulation of consciences thereby instilling fear in the general public. In fact, it has become as dangerous as a missile.

A fascinating post on Global Voices explains that Djibril’s diatribe is part of a much larger government attack on social media. Television, radio and newspaper outlets controlled by the government have all piled in. Here’s what the Cameroon Tribune wrote:

A careful analysis of the situation tells of a phenomenon that is proving to be dangerous for society if no measures are taken to scale it down. This is important especially as elections are approaching. People with political ambitions may dive into it and use it to fight their opponents.

Well, that’s certainly true, but here’s why the Cameroonian government really hates social media:

The immediate cause of the government’s outrage was the deadly train derailment in Eseka, some 74 miles west of Cameroon?s capital, Yaounde, which resulted in the death of at least 80 people and injured over 600 on October 21, 2016. While social media users were nimble in sharing information about the disaster in real time, government officials and government-owned traditional media were slow to respond to, and inform the public about, the accident. In fact, pictures and videos of the tragedy were already being posted on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms when the government and Camrail (a subsidiary of the French conglomerate Bolloré that manages the railway system in Cameroon) were still denying that an accident occurred.

But it didn’t stop there. As the Global Voices post notes, when government officials finally admitted that there had been an accident, social media continued to challenge the government version, which tried to play down the number of dead, and to lay the blame on allegedly-defective Chinese-made carriages. However, what really seems to have riled the Cameroon government is the following:

Most significantly, many Cameroonians criticized President Paul Biya on social media for what they perceived as his lukewarm attitude towards the tragedy — not only did the president send a message of condolence to the victims from Switzerland (incidentally via social media), he did not return home immediately after the accident.

The flood of criticism and mockery that social media users directed towards the country’s President seem to have been the last straw. As well as coordinated attacks by officials and government-controlled media, there are now rumors that the authorities are drafting a social media bill to stifle these kinds of posts.

The Cameroonian saga confirms just how powerful social media can be in holding those in power to account, and exposes the risk that thin-skinned rulers might take offense and abuse their powers to strike back. Luckily, this kind of thing could never happen in the US.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “Cameroonian Government Calls Social Media A 'New Form Of Terrorism'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Water is wet too you know!

You mean to tell us that upper class folks feel that the empowering effect of giving a voice and exposure to the masses is a dangerous idea that threatens national security?

(Meaning: That common folks can potentially rival their outsized influence over politics and their entrenched positions in society)

Say it ain’t so!

TechnoMage (profile) says:

The problem is....

…They are kinda right…

“Social Media” is kinda a cesspool…

Just mentioning “YouTube Comment Section” is enough to make anyone with enough experience with it cringe.

Twitter… Lets not even get started with that one…

Facebook, etc. Don’t have a problem with “Fake News”, they have a more fundamental problem that they don’t have a product to sell other than users, their data, and their attention. “Fake News” is only a symptom, not the sickness. (Not like ‘I’ know how to fix it, I can just recognize the problem)

Hell look at TechDirt, it lets idiots like me post… 😉

All of this being said… Governments trying to crack down on one of the few areas where people can -actually- have freedom of speech is nothing more than a power grab.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The problem is....

I like this a million times better than being afraid to post something that can be conceived as “offensive” to the wrong people and have stormtroopers bust down my door.
1000 different people will have 1000 different viewpoints on what is offensive. If we open that door we will end up opening a floodgate instead. I can better stand to ignore trolls and sort fake news than being punished for my opinions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The problem is....

"Social Media" is kinda a cesspool…

That very much depends on who you hang out with on social media. Some groups there are help each other to learn and create new businesses. The choice is yours, your can hang out on the street corner and get into trouble, or hang at a a hacker space, photography club etc. an d learn to create something wonderful. However the news, because it wants sensationalism plays up the street corner and ignore those quietly making their and others lives better.

It is not the cesspool end that frightens governments and business, but rather those quietly getting on with improving their lives and gaining a wider following and increasing influence.

Anonymous Coward says:

“The social media […] is now being used for misinformation, and even intoxication and manipulation of consciences thereby instilling fear in the general public. In fact, it has become as dangerous as a missile.”

So, he’s arguing that social media is being used for fear mongering, and to illustrate his point, he claims facebook is as DANGEROUS AS A MISSILE!

I’m not sure I can comprehend these levels of hypocrisy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "Terrorism"...

Terrorism is the use of violence or the threat of violence directed towards people to instil fear in them, usually with a political goal.

Obviously, that’s not what the people on social media are doing. Besides, terrorism can only be directed against private citizens. It can’t be directed against roles — like “president” — and it can’t be directed against soldiers (the latter is something that especially US people don’t seem to grasp).

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Is There A Name For The “A Is As Bad As B” Fallacy?

Is there a term for those who don’t understand that arguing that “A is as bad as B” is also saying that “B is no worse than A”? If someone claims social media is as bad as terrorism, then they are also saying that terrorism is no worse than social media.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Association Fallacy

Not quite. That is arguing that because A ⊆ B, therefore B ⊆ A, or B ≡ A, something like that. I am simply pointing out that, if you claim that A ≤ B, then that is exactly the same as claiming B ≥ A.

In other words, the association fallacy is where the arguer is claiming a fallacious conclusion, whereas I am pointing out an actual logical, non-fallacious conclusion that the arguer has not thought about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Look at those people in power… So powerful, so high up the food chain — yet so sensitive, so inexplicably afraid of something that, heavens forbid, amplifies the voice of the common folk. Just like efforts by the MPAA et al to controlvthe free flow of information, it’d be funny watching them cry and whine if they weren’t capable of exerting tremendous pressure to those under their rule.

Not to mention that this isn’t an isolated opinion. While the amount of countries placing restrictions on social media (and internet) use isprobably

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Nov 29th, 2016 @ 5:02pm

(hit submit accidentally…)

in the minority, you can always find politicians shsring this vieweven in countries that don’t. It’s doubly worrying that the media would probably support such restrictions giben their own hate of amateur journalism…

Anonymous Coward says:

Redefining terrorism

Lets redefine some words:
Terrorist: Someone the government doesn’t like.
Terrorism: Something the government doesn’t like.

An example:
"Terrorists use social media."
This becomes:
"People the government doesn’t like use social media."

A real life example:
"I would like at this juncture to deplore what is developing into a new form of terrorism — the social malaise now affecting the cyberspace, that is, the insidious effects of the social media."

With word replacement:
"I would like at this juncture to deplore what is developing into a new form of things the government doesn’t like — the social malaise now affecting the cyberspace, that is, the insidious effects of the social media."

And just like that, all of these bullshit statements make sense!

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