WhatsApp and other social media platforms restricted in Zambia during the ongoing elections – TechCrunch
Several users from Zambia visited Twitter to inform the public that WhatsApp was restricted in the country during the ongoing general election today.
The presidential and parliamentary elections culminate in a confrontation between current President Edgar Lungu and the opposition party Hakainde Hichilema.
Internet surveillance organization Netblocks further confirmed these reports, adding that several Internet providers in Zambia have restricted access to the American social messaging platform. Some of these networks include the Zambian government company Zamtel, Airtel Zambia, Liquid Telecom and MTN.
As recently as this week, reports circulated that the Zambian government had threatened to shut down the Internet if Zambia “fail to make proper use of cyberspace during this year’s elections”. According to reports, the government intended to carry out its plans from Thursday, election day, to Sunday, when the vote count is expected to end.
However, the Zambian government, through its Permanent Secretary for Information and Broadcasting Services, Amos Malupenga, has denied the reports, calling them “malicious”. Still, he mentioned that the government would not tolerate the abuse of the internet and that in case of mischief there would be no concern about taking appropriate action.
“The government therefore expects citizens to use the Internet responsibly. But if some people misuse the internet to mislead and misinformation, the government will not hesitate to invoke the relevant legal provisions to prevent any breakdown of law and order during the country’s legislature, ”Malupenga said.
Zambia is not the first African country to experience this during an election as social media restrictions and internet shutdowns are a recurring theme for most African countries.
Countries like Cameroon, Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Guinea, Togo, Benin, Mali and Mauritania faced social media restrictions and internet shutdowns during the elections. A handful of others, such as Chad, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, have seen similar restrictions on unrelated events.
Most governments argue that they are implementing social media restrictions and internet shutdowns to ensure safety during elections; However, it is blatant to see the process as a means of curbing the diffusion of critical information among voters and the media inside and outside the country.
Today’s event shows that despite the rejection of reports of an impending internet shutdown, the Zambian government is moving in that direction by first shutting down WhatsApp. While writing about the WhatsApp restriction, Netblocks also reported that the Zambian government has restricted other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Twitter.
Still, internet users in Zambia are now using VPN services to bypass the restrictions of WhatsApp and these other social media platforms. However, it remains to be seen whether the government will enforce a complete shutdown of the internet.