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From Digital Authoritarianism to Platforms’ Leviathan Power: Freedom of expression in the digital age under siege in Africa


The right to freedom of expression on the internet is under constant siege in Africa due to the actions of States and social media platforms. Many African States have been implementing various authoritarian techniques to trammel freedom of expression in the digital age, including internet shutdowns, repressive national security laws, internet censorship and digital surveillance. Social media companies, on the other hand, exert unbridled power over user-generated contents on their platforms. Their discretionary power to moderate content continues to threaten the right to freedom of expression in Africa. For example, the tug of war between the Nigerian government and Twitter following Twitter’s removal of President Buhari’s speech epitomises how social media platforms are policing free speech in Africa. I argue that African States must end the practice of digital authoritarianism and robustly respect and protect freedom of expression on the internet based on a human rights-based approach in limiting speech. Beyond superficial human rights vocabulary, platforms must also take human rights seriously and ensure that content moderation practices are guided by human rights-based approach.