Cameroon bans mobile Twitter service

The official Twitter Mobile account announced yesterday that "Twitter SMS on MTN Cameroon has been suspended by the Cameroonian government."

The country's opposition had been planning "Egypt-like" protests against longtime President Paul Biya in February, but those were quickly disrupted and put down by the government's security forces. This latest move seems ill-advised since, as Cameroonian blogger Dibussi Tande notes, if Biya didn't have a problem with Twitter activism before, he likely does  now:

"Before today’s ban, very few Cameroonians were even aware that Twitter was available in Cameroon via SMS, and the majority of those who were did not even grasp its potential as a tool for political activism."

Tande continues

 Obviously, the government has failed to learn the lesson from North Africa, particularly in Tunisia where the Ben Ali regime was still toppled even though it had banned all social media sites for years and had engaged in a sophisticated cyber-war with Tunisian digital activists. The government has also completely misread the lessons of the February 23 protests; even though Twitter played a prominent role in informing the world of what was happening in Cameroon, over  95% of the tweets which the international media relied on for updates did not originate from within Cameroon. It was information obtained via mobile phones, regular SMS and email which ended up on Twitter and not real-time tweets from activists on the ground. Thus, banning the Twitter short code does little to change the balance of power online.

Plus, as Evgeny Morozov argues and as Sudan and Zimbabwe have recently demonstrated, authoritarian regimes are often better off letting social networking sites stay active to gather information on the opposition.  



Chinese blogger: How come Zuckerberg's dog can have a Facebook page and I can't?

Michael Anti, the Chinese journalist and political blogger, had his Facebook account suspended in January because, as representatives of the company told him, "Facebook has a strict policy against pseudonyms and that he must use the name issued on his government ID." So Anti was more than a little miffed to learn that Beast -- the Hungarian sheepdog puppy just purchased by Mark Zuckerberg and his girlfriend -- now has his own profile:  

Anti, a former journalist who has won fellowships at both Cambridge University and Harvard University, said he set up his Facebook account in 2007. By locking him out of his account, Facebook has cut him off from a network of more than 1,000 academic and professional contacts who know him as Anti, he said.

"I'm really, really angry. I can't function using my Chinese name. Today, I found out that Zuckerberg's dog has a Facebook account. My journalistic work and academic work is more real than a dog," he said.

Zuckerberg recently set up a Facebook page for "Beast," complete with photos and a profile. Unlike Anti's, however, the page for the puppy doesn't violate Facebook's policies because it's not meant to be a personal profile page. Rather, it's a type of page reserved for businesses and public figures that fans can "like" and receive updates from on their own Facebook pages.

Facebook said it does not comment on individual accounts, but added that it believes a "real name culture" leads to more accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for people who use Facebook.

Cute puppies aside, Facebook's explanation seems bogus. In just my list of Facebook friends I can find at least a dozen people using pseudonyms, nicknames, or variations on their names. Moreover, Anti is a relatively well known public figure under that name. He's been writing articles under that name for years and his Twitter account has nearly 36,000 followers. 

The timing of Anti's suspension, coming just a month after Zuckerberg's "vacation" tour of Chinese Internet companies, is equally unfortunate. 

Hat tip: China Digital Times