Face­book, Twit­ter black­out looms

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Bereng Mpaki

THE Le­sotho Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Au­thor­ity (LCA) this week sent let­ters to the coun­try’s two telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions op­er­a­tors re­quest­ing them to jus­tify the con­tin­ued pro­vi­sion of Face­book and Twit­ter ser­vices, a move that could un­der­mine con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed rights to free ex­pres­sion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Al­though LCA In­for­ma­tion Of­fi­cer Tšiu Tšiu re­fused to shed light on the let­ter on the grounds that the is­sue was strictly be­tween the op­er­a­tors and LCA, a high rank­ing of­fi­cial at the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­istry said the move was part of gov­ern­ment’s at­tempt to con­trol the unchecked us­age of the two plat­forms.

“This is gov­ern­ment’s first step to­wards bring­ing a cer­tain level of con­trol on the us­age of so­cial me­dia plat­forms as cur­rently there is no con­trol,” the source said, adding, “Any­body can say what­ever they want with­out think­ing about the con­se­quences of their state­ments”.

Vo­da­com Le­sotho ac­knowl­edged re­ceiv­ing the let­ter which re­quested the com­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ant to state its po­si­tion on the “pos­si­ble tem­po­rary clo­sure of Face­book and Twit­ter”.

“Vo­da­com Le­sotho (VCL) has noted me­dia re­ports re­gard­ing fu­ture ac­cess to Face­book and Twit­ter. We can con­firm that the com­pany has not re­ceived a di­rec­tive from the Min­is­ter of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions to shut down Face­book and Twit­ter ac­cess to our cus­tomers.

“In­stead, we have re­ceived a re­quest from the Reg­u­la­tor, the Le­sotho Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Au­thor­ity, to pro­vide a po­si­tion on the pos­si­ble tem­po­rary clo­sure of Face­book and Twit­ter. We will present this to the reg­u­la­tor in due course,” a state­ment from VCL reads.

“Vo­da­com Le­sotho re­mains fully com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing its cus­tomers are able to com­mu­ni­cate freely while op­er­at­ing in ac­cor­dance with the law and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions law of Le­sotho.”

Econet Tele­com Le­sotho (ETL) Cus­tomer and Stake­holder Re­la­tions Gen­eral Man­ager Mpine Tente also ac­knowl­edged re­ceipt of the let­ter, say­ing the com­pany was yet to re­spond.

“We are yet to sit down as the man­age­ment to make a pre­sen­ta­tion as re­quested by the reg­u­la­tor.

“Any de­ci­sion on the two plat­forms will be com­mu­ni­cated to our cus­tomers be­fore they are put in place,” she added.

How­ever, well-known busi­ness­man Robert Likhang said the move was not the best way of stem­ming abuse of so­cial me­dia and would only serve to tar­nish the coun­try’s im­age.

“What we need are ethics on the us­age of the plat­forms in or­der to avoid their mis­use. The au­thor­i­ties do not need to shut down the whole plat­forms when all they could have done was to sim­ply block those users who mis­use them,” Mr Likhang said.

“But un­for­tu­nately it looks like they are pre­pared to throw out the baby with the bath wa­ter.”

He said the move would also lead to sig­nif­i­cant losses of rev­enue for the two telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions op­er­a­tors as well as busi­ness that re­lied on the plat­forms to mar­ket them­selves.

“Face­book and Twit­ter have amassed a sig­nif­i­cant fol­low­ing and there­fore wield an eco­nomic power that can­not be over­looked since many busi­nesses de­pend on them for their sur­vival,” said Mr Likhang.

“Some busi­nesses use the plat­forms for get­ting busi­ness in­tel­li­gence while oth­ers use them to mar­ket their prod­ucts and these plat­forms are dom­i­nated by youths who rep­re­sent the cur­rent and fu­ture mar­ket.

“So, shut­ting down the two plat­forms is bound to have a neg­a­tive im­pact on many busi­nesses that use their ser­vices,” he said.

An­other eco­nomic com­men­ta­tor from the Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity said the pos­si­ble sus­pen­sion of the two plat­forms could force many users to switch to more ex­pen­sive means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“So­cial me­dia pro­vides a com­par­a­tively cheap av­enue for ad­ver­tis­ing for many busi­nesses, and if it were to be sus­pended that means busi­nesses would have to switch to other av­enues which are more ex­pen­sive,” he said.

ETL Cus­tomer and Stake­holder Re­la­tions Gen­eral man­ager mpine Tente.

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