Was DRC internet shutdown by officials after elections wrong or right?
So after a chaotic election on 30 December 2018 in which both the opposition and the ruling party claimed victory, officials shutdown the internet and even SMEs communications. Was this wrong or right? It is very easy for one to quickly say it was very wrong because many think it was an attempt to rig elections. But before we jump to such conclusions we need to look at what usually happens in most African countries in the period of waiting for elections. What are the implications of having the internet available to citizens during this period?
Common events while waiting for election results
Let's look at what happens online awaiting elections results. These activities and experiences were witnessed in other countries including Zimbabwe.
Circulation of false results-While waiting for official election results, there is a lot of false results circulating as grapevine on social media media. We saw this happening in many African countries such that some candidates declared winners online were later proven to be the losing candidates by official results.
A lot of threatening, even nationally-Usually there will be so much threating going on online during this period of waiting. It could be the supporters of the main parties threatening each other. Sometimes it could be officials of the contesting parties threatening that they will not accept a defeat. Some even threaten war in response to defeat.
Online arguments/fightning-The period of waiting for election results is also characterized by social arguments and verbal wars on social media and online. With more waiting usually it becomes more and more emotional.
Unofficial circulation of election papers in digital form-I used to wonder how this happens and how electoral officials fail to handle this. I thought phones and cameras were not allowed without permission around voting centers without permission. But after elections, election papers are seen circulating all over in digital form. Sometimes before the officials get hold of them.
Video recordings of election processes- Similar to the above point, just after voting, loads of video recordings circulate online. Some people taking selfies etc. This may not give dignity to the electoral processes.
A lot of disinformation - The other problem that happens during the period of waiting for official results is disinformation. The masses are disinformed by unscrupulous individuals on elections results and winning candidates such that they become prepared for war if what they have heard is different from official results.
Early celebrations- Dinformation may lead to early celebrations by individuals believed to be winners based on circulating results. That is why it becomes harder to accept any other different news.
All the events above, most electoral officials argue that may interfere with counting and results verifications, consequently delaying election results. They also argue that such activities may eventually trigger violence.
How public interprets it
The public believes that it is their right to stay informed, and the internet is their major means of communication through social media and online newspapers. Some officals may argue to announce results via official broadcasters, the problem is that most of the officials control media. As a result masses rely on the internet and social media.
By shutting down internet acess for everyone and withholding election results at the same time, the masses conclude that something fraudulent needs to be done by officials without their knowlede like falsifying election results and consequently, it triggers violence.
A similar situation happened here in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe officials threatened to close or monitors online activities and government (and top politicians) felt threatened by online users. They however did not shutdown the internet but responded by putting in place strict cyber control measures.
Is social media a political enemy?
Social media is not a political enermy. I actually think, it gives voices to the voiceless. Democracy is never complete without online freedom. However internet and social media abuse by masses must be appropriately attended to as well.
In conclusion, I personally think shutdown internet connection at such a crucial time was very wrong as it can trigger violence and reduce credibility of the election results.
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