On June 4, the Nigerian government announced (via the Twitter account of its Federal Ministry of Information and Culture) that it would be suspending Twitter operations in the country. The move came after Twitter deleted tweets from the Nigerian President, citing violation of its usage policies. All Nigerian telecommunications companies and Internet Service Providers have suspended access of all network users to Twitter following the Nigerian Federal Government directive. The government has since reduced the ban to “temporary” status, but it is not quite clear how long it will remain in place.
For many Nigerian Twitter users and observers of Nigerian social media culture, the ban is sure to have complex ripple effects. In this report, we contribute targeted survey data to that conversation. Using Versus Ask, we surveyed 1,000 Versus Scouts to clarify the impacts of the ban on social media users.
This ban has shown how much people rely on social media platforms (Twitter and otherwise) for a broad set of activities. Majority of survey respondents indicated opposition to the Twitter ban as the platform has helped them stay informed on world events (22.3%), and connected socially (40.7%) and professionally, whether it is sourcing business opportunities/making money or career/job opportunities (26.7%).
To further clarify the importance of Twitter for business opportunities, we filtered the survey to analyze for respondents who used VPN and were self-employed, in order to deduce if their businesses were affected by the ban. When asked if they used a VPN prior to the Twitter ban, 76.2% of the 253 self-employed scouts indicated that they did not. The high rate of uptick in VPN use may be an indication that self-employed Scouts relied on the platform to earn money.
The Twitter ban is also reflective of the saying, “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.” Nigerian internet users have resorted to other social media platforms, the highest being Instagram.
47.4% of Scouts who are in support of the Twitter ban are from the North East part of Nigeria.
When asked if respondents used VPN prior to the Twitter ban, 76.2% of the self-employed scouts did not use a VPN. We can deduce that a large number of Scouts relied on the platform to earn money.
67.9% of Scouts over 40 are very regular on Twitter.
50.2% of female Scouts check Twitter from time to time, while 45.2% of male Scouts do the same thing
In the first three days after the Twitter ban, it was calculated that the move cost Nigeria N6 billion (approximately $12 million) in economic value. Beyond this economic loss, many who are against the Twitter ban view it as a violation of Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Nigerian 1999 Constitution.
On the other hand, those in support of the Twitter ban share sentiments with Nigerian government officials who believe that Twitter erroneously deleted the President’s tweets because of an alleged bias and the platform’s support for October 2020’s #EndSARS protests, which many in the government viewed as undermining their authority.
There is no clear evidence of these government claims. Twitter only deletes tweets that are widely reported as inappropriate by its user community. They use a combination of human review and technology to review and respond to reports.
Nigerian internet users have found workarounds via the use of VPNs and by turning to alternative social media platforms. Instagram appears to be the alternate platform of choice, followed by Facebook and other blog/forum options (Nairaland ranking the highest among blogs/online forums). Businesses wanting to confirm the digital gathering places of their Nigerian customer bases may prioritize these platforms.
Their resilience notwithstanding, the Twitter ban has obviously had implications on Nigerians, individually and as a nation. Our survey offers a glimpse at the nuances of the population’s views on the ban and efforts to navigate the challenges emerging from it. We’ll continue to track the situation as it unfolds.