This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can Sign up here to get it on weekdays.
We have seen the internet magnify the best and the worst of us. Abdi Latif Dahir, who writes on East Africa for the New York Times, has covered the most extreme examples of both.
Governments in the region regularly block internet access or manipulate online conversations to control dissent – Uganda has done both before last week’s presidential election. Citizens also use social media to uncover election manipulation and to spread feminist movements.
In our conversation, a key question was highlighted: Can we have the wonderful aspects of connecting the world online without all of the downsides?
Shira: Why did Uganda block internet access?
Abdi: The government benefited from it Facebook and Twitter remove fake accounts that promoted the government of President Yoweri Museveni. It was an excuse for an internet blackout that many people were expecting.
Will all of this damage be offset by the good that comes from people who gather online?
You can’t ignore the bleak picture, but neither should we underestimate how powerful these technologies are.
In Tanzania, people used Twitter to Gather evidence of election rigging. Kenya’s Supreme Court in 2017 ordered a new presidential electionand some credit goes to people who have documented the manipulation of election results online. The Kenyan writer Nanjala Nyabola wrote a book about it Kenyans exercise new power online, including feminists who thrive on Twitter.
And the first thing I do every morning is check the Kenyan Twitter. It’s full of fun memes and lively conversations.
Should Facebook and Twitter do something else to limit the damage?
The Uganda elections were one of the few, if not the only times, that I’ve seen Facebook stop an African government responsible for the manipulation of online conversations. Mostly as in many countries, East African activists have said Facebook and Twitter do not pay enough attention to online incitement.
Economy & Economy
Groups in Ethiopia asked Facebook last year to take action post that ignited ethnic violence after the murder of a popular singer and activist, Hachalu Hundessa. Facebook had plans to review posts in African languages, including Oromo, but I don’t think enough is being done to mitigate the harm.
(Facebook described Here his answer in Ethiopia.)
In some cases they describe damage from being too reluctant to use the Internet and in other cases from being too reluctant.
I know. When I spoke to friends about the shutdown of the Ethiopian Internet during the Tigray War, many of them supported it in the face of all the terrible things that happened after Hundessa’s death. It’s all complicated.
Amazon offers vaccination aid. Well. In my opinion?
Two conflicting ideas about mammoth tech companies keep rattling in my mind. I worry about how much power they have. I also want them to use this power to save us.
Amazon inauguration day offered to help with President Biden’s plan Vaccinate 100 million Americans against Covid-19 during their first 100 days in office. Amazon said It could impart its “operations, information technology and communication skills and expertise” without being specific.
Vaccinating hundreds of millions of Americans is a logistical challenge in part. Amazon is really good at logistics. So let’s hope Amazon and other companies can help. But let’s also think of this technology and Large companies need effective government – and vice versa – solve complex challenges like these.
Look, the cynical part of me immediately thought that Amazon was just trying to get nice with the Biden administration. My colleagues in the DealBook newsletter It was also noted that Amazon and other companies offering to assist state or federal governments with vaccination may be fishing to prioritize their employees.
But cynical or not, I’m back where I often am: half hoping and half afraid that a tech giant may intervene in a complicated problem.
I felt this way when Google’s sister company looked like it was sneaking in Coordinate coronavirus tests. (That didn’t turn out to be much.) We have seen how Facebook’s actions or inactivity affected ethnic violence in Ethiopia and how Americans felt about our election.
Whether you like it or not what tech companies do has a huge impact on our lives. If they want such power, they should be responsible for using that influence in helpful ways. (Provided we can agree on what’s helpful.)
Before we go …
We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you would like us to explore. you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don’t have this newsletter in your inbox yet, Please sign in here.