The Biden State Department on Thursday called on Nigeria to restore its citizens’ access to Twitter after the government blocked the site in retaliation for deleting a tweet posted by the Nigerian president.
The U.S. “condemns the ongoing suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian government and subsequent threats to arrest and prosecute Nigerians who use Twitter,” the State Department said in a statement.
Free expression and access to information are “foundational to prosperous and secure democratic societies,” the agency added.
The department called on the Nigerian government to “respect its citizens’ right to freedom of expression by reversing this suspension.”
The Biden administration statement is a noticeable contrast with former President Donald Trump, who on Tuesday called on other countries to follow Nigeria’s lead and ban Twitter, as well as Facebook. “More COUNTRIES should ban Twitter and Facebook,” Trump said in a statement, adding “perhaps I should have done it while I was president.” Trump was kicked off of Twitter and Facebook in January following the Capitol riot. Facebook last week said Trump would remain off the platform for two years, before his ban would be revisited. Twitter’s suspension of Trump is permanent.
Nigeria is one of four countries that have banned Twitter, including China, North Korea, and Iran.
“Unduly restricting the ability of Nigerians to report, gather, and disseminate opinions and information has no place in a democracy,” the State Department said.
The Nigerian government banned Twitter on Friday after the social media platform deleted a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari that it said violated its “abusive behavior” policy. The tweet compared the brutal Nigerian Civil War of the 1960s to the slew of attacks by Nigerian separtist groups against offices in the southeast area of the country. “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War,” Buhari wrote in the now-deleted tweet. Those “who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.” Twitter blocked Buhari’s access for 12 hours and ordered him to delete the tweet. After access to Twitter was restricted by the government, Nigerian Attorney General Abubakar Malami ordered the Ministry of Justice to prosecute those who violated the ban.
40 million. That’s the estimated number of Nigerians who used Twitter before the ban. Buhari’s account, which is still active, has 4.1 million followers.
“We are deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria,” Twitter said in a statement. “Access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society.”
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