Rally in Addis Ababa

Ethiopia building its own all-in-one social media platform

Image credit: REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

The Ethiopian government has started to develop a state social media platform to rival all of the largest existing alternatives, Reuters has reported. The government does not plan, however, to block services such as Facebook and Twitter.

For the past year, the Ethiopian social media space has been pulled into the ongoing armed conflict between the central government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (which controls the northern Tigray region).

Although a small minority use social media, and internet penetration is limited to around 20 per cent of the population, vocal supporters of the two sides have taken to social media in a war of words. The Ethiopian government has drawn criticism from human rights groups which link it to unexplained social media blackouts affecting Facebook services. The government has not commented on these blackouts.

Now, Reuters reports that the Ethiopian government is developing a social media platform which it hopes will “replace” Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Zoom.

The news comes from Shumete Gizaw, director general of the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), which monitors telecommunications.

He is assured the country has sufficient expertise to develop the platform; the INSA will not hire non-Ethiopians to assist. According to Shumete, the government has already carried out a trial of the new platform and it will soon be operational. The government does not plan to block services such as Facebook and Twitter, he said.

Shumete accused Facebook of meddling with user-generated content by deleting posts and accounts which he says are “disseminating the true reality” of the conflict. He also told media that Facebook has been blocking accounts of users who are “preaching national unity and peace”.

However, Facebook reported that it removed a network of fake Ethiopian accounts linked to individuals associated with the INSA just days before national elections.

Shumete told Reuters: “The rationale behind developing technology with local capacity is clear […] why do you think China is using WeChat?”

Social media apps used largely by the Chinese diaspora, such as WeChat, YY and Weibo, have been accused of providing tools for censorship and surveillance by the Chinese government. For instance, a Lowy Institute report on “digital authoritarianism” in China cited research which found these platforms deleted or blocked posts related to coronavirus, including politically neutral posts.

Social media services have become the target of authoritarian governments seeking to quell dissent, particularly during moments of civil upheaval. For instance, internet services have been blocked across Myanmar and Sudan by their respective national governments.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles