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Ban on TikTok and Telegram Sparks Outcry in Somalia

Wesam Abo Marq Wesam Abo Marq
30th August 2023
Ban on TikTok and Telegram Sparks Outcry in Somalia
Somalia banned TikTok and Telegram (Getty)

Somalia's communications and technology minister announced that TikTok, Telegram, and the online betting site 1XBet have been banned in an effort to control the dissemination of inappropriate content and propaganda

This decision by the government has led to discontent among the younger generation, who have chosen to express their dissatisfaction through social media platforms.

Somalia Bans TikTok and Telegram Amid Concerns of 'Horrific' Content and Misinformation

Somalia's Minister of Communication and Technology has announced the prohibition of the TikTok video platform, the Telegram messaging app, and the 1XBet online betting website in an effort to control the dissemination of inappropriate content and propaganda. The directive required internet service providers to comply by August 24. 

The communications minister, Jama Hassan Khalif, stated that these applications are exploited by terrorists and immoral factions to circulate disturbing visuals and misleading information to the public. The decision was made in response to the frequent use of TikTok and Telegram by the al-Shabab armed group to share their activities. This move follows closely after Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's declaration of a military campaign against al-Shabab, aimed at eradicating the al-Qaeda-linked organization within the next five months.

“You are being directed to shut the above-mentioned applications, which terrorists and immoral groups use to spread horrific content and misinformation to the public,” the statement reads.

Telegram and TikTok Comments on the Matter

Telegram responded with a statement affirming its continuous efforts to eliminate terrorist propaganda both in Somalia and globally. The platform also emphasized its proactive moderation of detrimental content.

“[Telegram] consistently removes terrorist propaganda in Somalia and worldwide,” the platform said.

In a response to Al Jazeera, TikTok spokesperson Ragdah Alazab revealed that the social platform had initiated a safety campaign in partnership with Somalia's National Communications Authority in June. The platform remains optimistic about finding a resolution in the near future.

“As we stand firmly against violent extremism, we have permanently removed and continue to remove the reported accounts and content depicting hateful and violent extremist behavior,” Alazab said. “There is no place on our platform for those dedicated to spreading beliefs or propaganda that encourage violence or hate.”

Alazab further noted, "We have been in regular communication with the authorities in Somalia and we are hopeful to reach a conclusion."

Content Creators’ Reaction to the Ban

Over time, a substantial number of Somalis, predominantly young individuals, have been joining TikTok to enjoy entertaining content.

Given the nation's high unemployment rate, currently exceeding 35 percent, some individuals even launched businesses on social media platforms. They leveraged these platforms to engage in digital marketing for their products, connecting with potential customers. Now, these individuals are grappling with concerns about the fate of their businesses moving forward.

In a nation where 60 percent of the populace is under 25 years old as per World Bank data, the government's choice has ignited frustration among youthful content creators. They have turned to social media platforms to articulate their dissatisfaction.

“I strongly disagree with the government’s move … the ministry can address the concerns they have raised by taking actions against the individual users instead of collective punishment,”  stated Mursal Ahmed, a prominent Somali TikTok user with over two million followers, in conversation with Al Jazeera.

He expressed that the decision caught many of them off guard, especially those who rely on TikTok earnings to sustain themselves. Sharing his personal experience, he noted, “I signed up to TikTok in 2018 and my livelihood depends on it since there are no job opportunities in the country. I make a minimum of $2,000 a month from advertising local business products, and that is what I use to manage my livelihood and if that is cut off, I will literally remain jobless.”

Bilaal Bulshaawi, a figure in Somali social media, underscored the profound impact the app has had on his life.

"Before, there were many times when I couldn't afford to pay for a tuk-tuk ride but now I drive a car and enjoy my luxury lifestyle. I travel to different Somali regions for tourism," Bilaal told the BBC.

He started using the platform when he was an 18-year-old high school student, making short comedy videos with his classmates. But the popularity of his films snowballed, and they have now become his main source of income.

Bilaal makes money by advertising businesses on his account, which has 1.3 million followers. The adverts generate between $500 (£400) and $1000 a week. He uses the money to pay rent, buy food, and also pay his mother's bills.

A supporting image within the article body
Bilaal Bulshaawi laments the TikTok ban (BBC) 

Hafsa Hilkas is another content creator who is currently experiencing apprehension. She began using TikTok just a year ago, sharing comedy sketches, pranks, and entertainment content on her profile. Within three months, her followers surpassed half a million, prompting her to establish her own online business selling perfumes through the app. "I receive so many orders from all over Somali regions," she noted.

Her accomplishments at the age of 19 have granted her financial autonomy, allowing her to move out of her family home. However, she now harbors concerns about losing her independence once the government's directive is enforced.

Hafsa told the BBC that even her family was initially opposed to her decision to move out and work. "My family told me to get married. My parents said, 'you are a girl, you don't need to go out and work'," she added, "but I want to work and be an independent woman."

Somali Government’s Previous Deactivation of 'Terrorist Accounts'

The current attempt to ban TikTok is not a recent incident in Somalia. Last October, the Somali government took action to deactivate over 40 platforms, including Facebook and Twitter accounts and websites that were identified as "terrorist accounts."

A supporting image within the article body
 A screenshot of the VOA’s article. 

Shortly before the announcement by Mogadishu to shut down TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company, the parliament in neighboring Kenya received a petition urging similar prohibition of the platform. 

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