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International Relations and Security Analyst, Mr Irbard Ibrahim has backed calls for social media shutdown on Election Day to safeguard national security and stability of the country as conflict early warning signs surface.
The security forecaster noted that conflict warning signs are enough for Ghana to consider regulating social media on polling day to curb “deliberate false reportage” and sheer preponderance of abuse and misuse of the technological tool, which could be used to fuel violence.
Mr Irbard who is a Peace Ambassador to Ghana’s 2016 elections made the proposal during a round table on: “Banning social media in general election 2016: Security implication versus legal justification.”
The discussion was enabled by the Centre for Constitutional Order, a non-partisan organisation that works through legal research, litigation sponsoring legal protestation, demonstration and campaigns for rights guaranteed under local and international laws.
The Ghana Police Service had signalled that it was weighing the option of shutting down social media services on Election Day because it was being abused and used to create tension.
“Social media is used to churn out untruths and half-baked truths and finally lies…We as the Police will not sit down for this to happen, we shall recommend that the Social Media is banned for the seven or eight hours that the election will take place, after all, it is nothing but Ghana first and I still stand by that,” John Kudalor, Inspector General of Police (IGP) was reported saying.
Mr Irbard said the main barometer used to detect conflict early in Ghana since 1992 has been the level of incendiary political rhetoric, which mostly made the country cringe in apprehension.
“The critical nature of this election being a last ditched attempt or shot at the presidency for Nana Addo and Dramani Mahama are indicative of the fact that 2016 may bode an omen for us if online threats, insults and other excesses are replicated in reality,” he said.
“Because Ghana is still a conservative nation that only senses tangible and palpable events that could precipitate instability,” he said, expressing fear that online or virtual bullying and social media aggression could spill over onto the streets of Accra at some point.
“Freedom of expression and free speech are international values that cannot be violated but the increasing use of social media to fabricate lies, photoshop and incite could lead to violent mobilisation on Election Day.”
He cited remarks like ‘all die be die,’ ‘kill ewes,’ ‘violence begets violence,’ and ‘we are a nation born out of revolution,’ as utterances that raised red flags about Ghana’s serene political ecosystem.
In the event conflict outbreak, he said, the best thing the United Nations could do is to provide humanitarian aid like food and blankets.
Most Ghanaian youth, he noted, access news from Facebook rather than traditional media websites, and gloss of headlines without clicking to read full stories.
Online miscreants and deviants have mastered the art of cloning credible websites to accompany such false and sensational political headlines, he said.
“Traditional election reportage has been done by duly licenced and identifiable radio and TV stations as well as newspapers and online portals,” he added, and the National Communication Authority and the National Media Commission know these outlets.
He said they are traceable and could be held accountable for any deliberate false reportage.
Mr Irbard said the security agencies and government departments are deficient in IT and control weak websites which are rarely updated and poorly managed.
“So if the IGP has conferred with the IT Department of the Ghana Police Service and he senses an IT deficit that could be exploited for violent political mobilisation and false electoral reportage, then it is not out of the ordinary to mull over a temporary blackout to safeguard the stability of the nation,” he said.
Mr Kwame Ahiabenu II, Executive Director of PenPlusByte said the government and security agencies do not have the physical and technological ability shutdown social media, though, he alluded that the platforms could be abused and used to create fear and panic.
He said although social media blackout is a critical issue that calls for deeper interrogation, the platforms could equally be exploited to help voters find polling stations and give information on time about voting to the electorate.
He said the ban could lead to substantial loss of income to business entities, make the country notorious and ditch investors’ confidence in the economy as well as hurl Ghana to the list social media ban countries.
“The IGP cannot arbitrarily ban social media on election, day unless there is an order from the court, the ban must be backed with evidence of threat,” Mr Jerry Ross Akuettey, a private legal practitioner,” said.