“The United States condemns the ongoing suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian government and subsequent threats to arrest and prosecute Nigerians who use Twitter,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday, adding that “unduly restricting” people’s right to “report, gather, and disseminate opinions and information has no place in a democracy.”
It was the first official reaction from the Biden administration on the issue, and comes almost a week after the government in Abuja announced a suspension of Twitter in Nigeria and a push to have all social platforms licensed through the National Broadcasting Commission, same as the legacy media.
Price’s statement also echoed Twitter’s own, issued on June 5, calling access to their platform “an essential human right in modern society.”
However, the San Francisco-based service was quickly pilloried by critics who pointed out that Twitter literally censored then-sitting US president – it banned Donald Trump after the January 6 Capitol riot over concerns how his comments might be “received and interpreted” online and off – and many others.
The current standoff began when Twitter invoked the same pretext it had used to censor Trump during the 2020 riots in the US – that he “glorified violence” or threatened harm to a known individual or group – to take down a tweet by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari warning separatists against setting police stations on fire.
The State Department did not comment on the censorship of Buhari. Within 48 hours, however, Abuja had announced a ban on Twitter’s operations in Nigeria, saying the US social media platform was endangering its integrity as a state.
Claiming that the US supports Nigeria “as it works towards unity, peace, and prosperity,” Price argued on Thursday that “freedom of expression and access to information both online and offline are foundational to prosperous and secure democratic societies.”
His comments come two days after Trump praised Nigeria’s actions, arguing that “more countries should ban Twitter and Facebook for not allowing free and open speech.”
“Who are they to dictate good and evil if they themselves are evil?” Trump added in a statement posted on his website, since he has been banned by every major Silicon Valley platform.
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