Connectivity, Colonialism, and Content Moderation: the International Politics of Internet Shutdowns in Africa

And Online via Zoom, ERI 149
Wednesday 14 February 2024 (13:00-15:00)

Africa Talks Seminars 2024

Speaker: Professor Jonathan Fisher, IDD, University of Birmingham

One in four Africans were impacted by internet shutdowns and restrictions in 2022. Scholarly analysis has generally analysed these developments through a domestic lens, understanding state-imposed internet disruptions in Africa as part of broader authoritarian regime maintenance strategies (Access Now 2023: 12). In this presentation, Jonathan Fisher nonetheless argues for a conceptual shift in how these, often highly-damaging, incidents are understood by scholars of International Relations. Drawing on research undertaken in Nigeria, Uganda, and Burkina Faso, together with interviews with former staff of Facebook/Meta and Twitter/X, he argues for a more international, and historically-centred understanding of digital disruption in Africa. Neo-/colonialism, political authority, and technological connectivity have, he underlines, been intertwined across modern African history, influencing, to a significant extent, how the contemporary flow and curation of digital content is viewed, experienced, and articulated by different actors and communities. In this context, social media platforms often manifest not as technological vectors of exchange, but as distant, Western, and (largely) unaccountable political authorities themselves.

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