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Social Media use Explodes in Cameroon as Government fails to Monitor the Issue

Cameroon's government has used several laws to crack down on mobile and online communications, including a 2014 anti-terrorism law and the newly revised penal code

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Facebook logo, VOA

Social media use has exploded in Cameroon, as have the government’s efforts to police it.

These members of the Presbyterian church Bota in Limbe, southwestern Cameroon are praying for three local men: Fomusoh Ivo Feh, Afuh Nivelle Nfor and Azah Levis Gob.

They were convicted by a military court this month after allegedly sharing an SMS joke about recruitment for the Boko Haram terrorist group. The proceedings were closed to the public and Amnesty International and local rights groups condemned the conviction.

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Among those gathered at the church is Tabot Timothy, a 22-year-old law student at the University of Douala-Cameroon.

“It was normal for a thorough investigation to be carried out to ascertain that these guys were joking. It is unjust,” Timothy said. “Thorough investigations were not carried out.”

Cameroon’s government has used several laws to crack down on mobile and online communications, including a 2014 anti-terrorism law and the newly revised penal code.

Barrister George Marcellin Tsoungui, a member of the Cameroon Bar Council says prison time of six months to two years and fines of $10,000 to $20,000 await those who use electronic media to propagate information without proof. He says the sanctions can be doubled if it is found that the communications were intended to destabilize social peace.

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Police detained a journalist in January after he erroneously reported on social media that President Paul Biya had visited soldiers in the north.

In March, police arrested people accused of sharing a leaked confidential letter on social media. The letter was from the country’s minister of defense and said that Boko Haram terrorists had arrived in Yaounde.

The country’s National Communications Council has the power to suspend journalists and seal media houses.

The council is investigating 20 complaints of what it calls “social media blackmail” submitted by senior state officials. One of the complaints concerns a minister who was seen on Facebook dancing to the music of Franko, an artist whose songs were banned by the government.

Despite the arrests, social media and mobile messaging apps and networking sites are increasingly popular in Cameroon, and are used by opponents and supporters of the government alike.

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“Social media is inevitable. It’s like a devil that you are called upon to live with. It is difficult to suppress it. It’s just going to be like throwing water on a duck’s back,” said Nelson Tawe, a social media consultant. “Social media has come to stay there is no way you can suppress it. I think that government is going to have an uphill task to succeed in what it is trying to do.”

Cameroon is not the only country getting jittery about the fast form of communication.

Several countries in Africa have taken similar measures, and a new report from the Washington-based Freedom House says internet freedom has declined globally for the sixth consecutive year. (VOA)

Next Story

Social Networking Giant Facebook Allows Ads to Promote Anti-vaccine Content

“We’re currently working on additional changes that we’ll be announcing soon.”

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Facebook, photos
This photograph taken on May 16, 2018, shows a figurine standing in front of the logo of social network Facebook on a cracked screen of a smartphone in Paris. VOA

Facebook has enabled advertisers to promote anti-vaccine content to nearly nine lakh people interested in “vaccine controversies”, the media reported.

The social networking giant is already facing pressure to stop promoting anti-vaccine propaganda to users amid global concern over vaccine hesitancy and a measles outbreak in the Pacific northwest.

Advertisers pay to reach groups of people on Facebook which include those interested in “Dr Tenpenny on Vaccines”, which refers to anti-vaccine activist Sherri Tenpenny, and “informed consent”, which is language that anti-vaccine propagandists have adopted to fight vaccination laws, The Guardian reported on Friday.

On Thursday, California congressman Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, in letters to Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, urged them to take more responsibility for health-related misinformation on their platforms.

“The algorithms which power these services are not designed to distinguish quality information from misinformation or misleading information, and the consequences of that are particularly troubling for public health issues,” Schiff wrote.

“I am concerned by the report that Facebook accepts paid advertising that contains deliberate misinformation about vaccines,” he added.

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Facebook, social media. Pixabay

In 2017, ProPublica, a US-based non-profit organisation, revealed that the platform included targeting categories for people interested in a number of anti-Semitic phrases, such as “How to burn Jews” or “Jew hater”.

While the anti-Semitic categories found by ProPublica were automatically generated and were too small to run effective ad campaigns by themselves, the “vaccine controversies” category contains nearly nine lakh people, and “informed consent” from about 340,000. The Tenpenny category only includes 720 people, which is too few to run a campaign.

Facebook declined to comment on the ad targeting categories, but said it was looking into the issue, The Guardian reported.

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“We’ve taken steps to reduce the distribution of health-related misinformation on Facebook, but we know we have more to do,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement responding to Schiff’s letter.

“We’re currently working on additional changes that we’ll be announcing soon.” (IANS)