UGANDAN ELECTION DAY SOCIAL MEDIA BAN: A disproportionate precedent that Ghana should not follow

Uganda’s communications regulator said it blocked some social-media platforms to stop further campaigning during presidential elections in the East African nation.
“It’s a breach of the law to campaign on Election Day,” Godfrey Mutabazi, executive director of the Uganda Communications Commission, said in an interview with private broadcaster NTV in the capital, Kampala.
Mobile phone money-transfer platforms were also blocked, he said. The platforms would be back on later in the day.
(Story culled from www.bloomberg.com)
Ghana is in its election year and as she prepares herself for the upcoming November 7 polls, the euphoria to the buildup has already started, with various persons posting all manner of content including image, text, video, and voice on social media platforms especially Facebook and twitter to promote their political agenda, excitements and aspirations. It is a known fact, that Ghana’s election laws provides that all political campaigns should cease 24hour close to elections and it is important that this should not be the reason why the government may try to block social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter amongst others during the election period as experience in the case of Uganda.
Even though the ban on social media platforms entering into the November, 7 polls maybe a part of a number systemic measures by the government to prevent people from promoting and inciting dangerous ideas or posting contents that may or are likely to potentially threaten the peace and stability of the elections which is a concern for National Security in one context or the other, blocking major social media sites like Facebook & Twitter during the election period or on the day of elections limit freedom of expression and access to information during the election period and defeats the larger purpose of the social media promoting this intent, which is further enshrined in both or Ghana’s municipal laws and international laws respectively.
It is crucial at this point to relate the concept of social media which is the collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration. Websites and applications dedicated to forums, microblogging, social networking, social bookmarking, social curation, and wikis are among the different types of social media channels out there. As the real concept of social media is to give users a platform through which they can communicate their frustrations and share their thoughts relatively cheaper and faster without inherent censorship and regulator drawbacks that traditional media outlets (Radio, T.V, Print) are subjected to; business and individuals have a ‘cyber-livelihood’ online via social media such as business transactions, marketing, customer interaction, support and helpdesk services, communicating with family and friends including emergency access, a ban on the use of social media in 24hrs have repercussions far reaching and must be justified before any such action. The real after thought is whether or not to block one the other; but experts may say if you don’t block a number of them then one will not curb a security situation, so will it mean a total social media ‘blackout’, how substantial is where the interest is.
Moreover bans on social media must be justified in law to be in conformity with international laws and should not be wholly disproportionate.” As provided in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights quote: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
Also enshrined in Article 21 (1)(a)(b) of 1992 Constitution of Ghana is the provision as follows: All persons shall have the right to-
(a) freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media;
(b) freedom of thought, conscience and belief, which shall include academic freedom;

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It is acknowledged that rights come with responsibilities, and therefore it is an opinion expressed here that when such rights are being curtailed for one justifiable reason or the other, it must be done on case by case basis and must be proportionate to the intent or mischief to be solved. Even though one cannot also deny the fact that users of social media may post content that may seem to pitch one ethnic, religious and political sentiments with the potential of threatening the peace and stability of the electoral process during the period.
It is my view that Government in trying to control users from publishing threatening contents that may endanger the peace and security of the upcoming elections, should embark on awareness and civic education on both the electoral
process and the impact of social media when used as a platform to incite electoral disparity and violence, I suggest as follows;
1.Government as a matter of urgency should commence a social media awareness campaign in collaboration with the stakeholders like political parties, peace council just to mention a few; which must seek to target the actively engaged youth on social media and educate them on the need to be circumspect on social media publication that that could incite hatred or violence, encourage others to engage in illegal activity during the election period and after. The apparent use of Social media influencers who will assume the role of educating their fans/followers on desisting from posting disturbing contents that may threaten the peace and security of the elections.

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2.Concerned citizens of Ghana should take the matter of ensuring peace and stability during this election period seriously and be careful as to what we post on the various social media networks we join. For purpose of my readers who may not know; Social Media Influencers are people who have an established credibility and audience on social media; who can persuade others By virtue of their trustworthiness and authenticity. Enjoy a
peaceful election 2016 and may we see the continuous development of our dear country thereafter.

(SUBMITTED)
Gad Ocran is a social media practitioner at www.getghanaonline.com and also a level 400 Bsc. Telecommunications Engineering student at Ghana Technology
University College (Formerly Ghana Telecom University College).
Email: gad@getghanaonline.com

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