Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cameroon government suspends Twitter mobile

In November 2010, social networking giant - Twitter - partnered with MTN, a major mobile phone operator in Cameroon, in an effort to make Twitter more accessible to people living in Cameroon - many of whom have limited access to internet. Sadly, this effort to give people in Cameroon a voice online through Twitter mobile (Twitter SMS) has been thwarted by the government which has reportedly ordered the suspension of service.

Twitter SMS, as the service was locally called, allowed users to send and receive Twitter updates via SMS, as explained in the video below:

It is unclear why the service was suspended, but earlier today, a source posted on Twitter that it's "Pour des raisons de sécurité" (for security reasons).

The government's decision to suspend Twitter comes two weeks after Cameroonians - inspired by calls for democracy and human rights in the Middle East and North Africa - mobilized online and took to the streets of Cameroon's economic capital to demand an end to a 28-year-old iron-fisted regime. Needless to say - the peaceful protesters were brutally suppressed by security forces.

Mindful of the role of Twitter and other social networking sites in the recent pro-democracy uprisings around the world, its easy to see the suspension of Twitter mobile in Cameroon as an attempt to stifle the free flow of information and co-ordinated calls for democracy and respect for human rights through social media.

The Committee to Protect Journalists recently took the government of Cameroon to task for "obstructing" free reporting on issues of public interest. The suspension of Twitter SMS adds weight to this assertion and highlights state-sponsored limitations on basic freedoms in Cameroon.

Following this suspension, people living in Cameroon can only tweet from internet cafés. This greatly limits the free flow of information - especially if for some reason, users are unable to go to internet cafés.

It remains to be seen whether Twitter (and other social networking sites) will be banned altogether in Cameroon.

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