Social media are computer-mediated tools that allow people, companies and other organizations to create, share, or exchange information, career interests, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks. The variety of stand-alone and built-in social media services currently available introduces challenges of definition; however, there are some common features: (1) social media are Web 2.0 Internet-based applications, (2) user-generated content (UGC) such as text, digital photo or digital video posts are the lifeblood of the social media organism, (3) users create their own profiles for the website or app, which is designed and maintained by the social media organization, and (4) social media facilitate the development of online social networks by connecting a user’s profile with those of other individuals and/or groups.
Social media depend on mobile and web-based technologies to create highly interactive platforms through which individuals and communities share, co-create, discuss, and modify user-generated content.
The Ethiopian government has blocked all access to social media websites amid fears that the university entry exam process could be compromised.
Exams were cancelled earlier this year because questions had been posted online. While the mainstream media is controlled by government, social networking sites have made it easy for Ethiopians to communicate easily.
But the country-wide ban, which prevents people from accessing social media through computers and mobile devices, began Saturday and will be in place until the national university entrance exams concludes on Wednesday.
Government officials said the sites had been blocked for the first time ever to ensure an “orderly exam process” and to prevent students from becoming “distracted”.
Censoring the media
Recently proposed legislation, which seeks to criminalise spamming, is feared by many to be an indirect way to censor journalists and activists online.
Daniel Berhane, an Ethiopian blogger, pointed to the impunity with which the social media ban was implemented, and was quoted as saying: “This is a dangerous precedent.”
“There is no transparency about who took the decision and for how long. This time it is for few days, but next time it might be for a month or more,” he wrote on his Facebook timeline.
Last year, a report by Human Rights Watch detailed how the Ethiopian government has curtailed independent reporting since 2010.
A half a dozen privately-owned publications closed after continuous government harassment, while nearly two dozen journalists, bloggers and publishers were criminally charged, and more than 30 journalists fled the country in fear of being arrested under repressive laws, the organisation said.
It said social media was also heavily restricted, with many blogs and websites run by Ethiopians in the diaspora being blocked inside Ethiopia.
The social media ban comes a week after the United Nation Human Rights Council passed a non-binding resolution which condemns countries that block internet access, and almost two weeks after the Ethiopia was elected to the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member for two years, along with Bolivia, Kazakhstan and Sweden.