Ethiopia Developing Local Social Media Platform to Rival Twitter, Facebook

Ethiopia’s communications security agency says the East African country is developing its own social media platform to rival Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, though it does not plan to block the global services.

It’s believed the Ethiopian government wants its local platform to “replace” Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Zoom with the director-general of the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), Shumete Gizaw, accusing Facebook of deleting posts and user accounts which he said were “disseminating the true reality about Ethiopia”.

The country has been engulfed since last year in an armed conflict pitting the federal government against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Tigray region in the country’s north.

Supporters of both sides have waged a parallel war of words on social media.

International human rights groups have criticised the Ethiopian government for unexplained shutdowns to social media services including Facebook and WhatsApp in the past year. The government has not commented on those shutdowns.

Facebook is yet to comment on Ethiopia’s plans and has not also responded to Shumete’s accusations.Ethiopia, a country of about 115 million, has about 6 million Facebook users according to Statista.

But in June, days before national elections, Facebook said it had removed a network of fake accounts in Ethiopia targeting domestic users. Facebook linked these accounts to individuals associated with INSA, which is responsible for monitoring telecommunications and the internet.

Twitter and Zoom are also yet to comment on the development. Shumete declined to specify a timeline, budget and other details, but told Reuters: “The rationale behind developing technology with local capacity is clear … Why do you think China is using WeChat?”He said Ethiopia had the local expertise to develop the platforms and would not hire outsiders to help.Social messaging app WeChat is owned by China-headquartered Tencent Holdings. It is widely used in the country, and is considered to be a strong tool by Chinese authorities for monitoring its population.

Shumete also referred Reuters to comments he made on Friday to a local language media outlet in which he accused Facebook of blocking users who were “preaching national unity and peace”.

He also told Al-Ain Amharic that authorities were working on the platform to replace Facebook and Twitter, while a trial has already been completed of a platform to replace WhatsApp and Zoom and that platform will soon be operational.

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