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We have seen the internet exaggerate our own best and worst. Abdi Latif Dahir, who writes about East Africa for The New York Times, gives the most negative examples of both.
Governments in the region regularly shut down internet access or manipulate online chats to control dissent – Uganda did both ahead of last week’s presidential vote. But citizens also use social media to expose election manipulation and spread feminist movements.
Our conversation highlights an important question: Can we have the amazing aspects of connecting the world online without all the downsides?
Shira: Why did Uganda cut off internet access?
Abdi: The government took advantage of Facebook and Twitter to remove the fake accounts that spurred President Yoweri Museveni’s government. It is an excuse for the outage that many people have come to expect.
Are all these harms compensated for by the benefits of the online assemblers?
You can’t ignore the bleak picture, but we shouldn’t underestimate the power of these technologies.
In Tanzania, people used Twitter to gather evidence of fake votes. Kenya’s Supreme Court in 2017 ordered a new presidential election to be held, and some credit goes to those who have recorded manipulation of election results online. Kenyan writer Nanjala Nyabola has written a book about Kenyans exercising power in new ways online, including the blossoming feminist supporters on Twitter.
And I check Twitter Kenya first thing every morning. It’s full of hilarious memes and lively chats.
What else should Facebook and Twitter do to limit harm?
The Ugandan election was one of the few times – if not the only – that I saw Facebook hold an African government accountable for the manipulation of online chats. For the most part, like in many countries, East African activists argue that Facebook and Twitter don’t give enough attention to online incites.
Business & Economy
Groups in Ethiopia asked Facebook to take action last year against posts inciting ethnic violence following the murder of a famous singer and activist, Hachalu Hundessa. Facebook has already come up with plans to screen posts in African languages including Oromo, but I don’t think it’s enough to minimize the harm.
(Facebook description here its response in Ethiopia.)
You are describing the damage caused by the too much restriction of the Internet in some cases and too little restraint in others.
I know. When I told my friends about the Internet shutdown in Ethiopia during the Tigray war, many of them supported it for all the horrible things that happened after Hundessa was killed. All are complicated.
Amazon offers help with vaccines. Good. I think?
Two contradictory opinions constantly spin in my brain about the giant tech companies. I worry about how much power they have. I also want them to use that power to save us.
Amazon on Inauguration Day offered to aid President Biden’s plan to inject 100 million doses of vaccine against Covid-19 during his first 100 days in office. Amazon says it can lend “operations, information and communications technology and expertise” without being more specific.
Vaccinating hundreds of millions of Americans is partly a logistical challenge. Amazon is really good at logistics. So let’s hope that Amazon and other companies can help. But let’s also remember that technology and big business need effective government – and vice versa – to tackle complex challenges like these.
Look, the skeptical part of me immediately thought that Amazon was just trying to make up with the Biden administration. My colleagues at the DealBook newsletter also note that Amazon and other companies offering to help the state or federal government with vaccinations may make it difficult for their employees to prioritize. .
But skeptical or not, I go back to where I used to be: half hope and half fear that a tech giant might interfere with a complex problem.
I felt the same way when Google’s sister company looked as though it might be swooping in to coordinate coronavirus testing. (Nothing significant.) We have seen how Facebook’s actions or inaction affect ethnic violence in Ethiopia and what Americans believe about the election of we.
Like it or not, what tech companies do has a huge impact on our lives. If they have such power, it is their responsibility to use that influence in productive ways. (Let’s say we can agree on what’s helpful.)
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