The keys to arguably the world’s most influential social media platform, Twitter, are now in the hands of emblematic tech entrepreneur, Elon Musk, following the suspension of disagreements and the completion of the USD 44 B acquisition. And with the passing of the torch, the fate of Twitter’s interests in Africa, amply demonstrated under former Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, now seems up in the air.
The erstwhile CEO famously toured four African countries back in 2019, culminating in a bold declaration of his intention to spend six months on the continent the following year – albeit this plan would be derailed by the pandemic.
Twitter would however underline its Africa interest eventually, setting up its African headquarters in Ghana in April 2021 and ramping up recruitment on the continent.
“As a champion for democracy, Ghana is a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet, of which Twitter is also an advocate,” Twitter said in its announcement. But following the change of leadership and ownership, it’s unclear how Twitter’s African endeavour would proceed.
Across Africa, the power of Twitter has been seen in viral humanitarian movements that penetrated global consciousness such as #ShutItAllDownNamibia, #BringBackOurGirls, and #EndSARS. Twitter has also been a target of government-backed clampdowns and reprisals, most notably in Nigeria where it was blocked for seven months after temporarily restricting the account of President Muhammadu Buhari who had tweeted a statement perceived as disturbing and insensitive.
Twitter’s new boss, Musk, is now tasked with running and elevating the public square of free speech that Twitter has positioned itself to be, though history suggests it is a tricky job.
The South Africa-born billionaire has communicated intentions to make Twitter algorithms open source, rid the platform of the menace of bots, and verify all users. Musk has also hammered on the goal of advancing free speech and enabling users to curate their own feed so as to insulate themselves from content they may perceive as harmful. Content moderation will also be stepped up, according to Musk who would be standing in as CEO for some time.
“Twitter will be forming a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints. No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes. To be super clear, we have not yet made any changes to Twitter’s content moderation policies,” he tweeted recently.
It remains to be seen how Twitter will handle Africa relations under Musk’s leadership, though there’s reason to believe it would have to deal with what appears to be an increasing appetite to leash the platform, especially among the more repressive regimes.
There is some speculation that the Twitter-born, momentous #EndSARS movement in Nigeria which drew the support of global icons and even Twitter’s ex-CEO, Dorsey, rattled government officials and contributed to the decision to ban Twitter in the country.
When the ban was lifted earlier this year, government officials claimed Twitter had agreed to set up an office, pay taxes and cooperate with the country’s national security considerations on the content it allows. However, Twitter has remained largely non-committal in their response to press enquiries about the concessions. This, in any case, is the nature of the terrain that Twitter would have to navigate.
While the future of Twitter’s infant Africa project hangs in the balance and seems at risk of abandonment at present, Musk is known to have displayed significant attention towards his birth continent with his other projects, SpaceX and Starlink, and that might be indicative of good omens on the Twitter-Africa front.
Featured Image Credits; Rising Voices