Minister wants  Facebook shut down

Minister wants Facebook shut down

Staff Reporter

MASERU  – THE government is aggressively pushing to close down Facebook and Twitter as it battles to win the propaganda war.
thepost can reveal that the government has now gone beyond just threatening to shut down the two media platforms.
Several letters seen by this paper reveal that the government had now put its plan into action and has been trying to push Vodacom Lesotho and Econet Telecom Lesotho to comply with the order.
Two weeks ago former Communications Minister Khotso Letsatsi, who has since been moved to energy, summoned the bosses of Vodacom Lesotho and Econet Telecom Lesotho.
In that meeting, held at his office, Letsatsi ordered the companies to shut down the media platforms.
This was after he had allegedly complained bitterly about people abusing the platforms to spread lies against the government and cause alarm.
The bosses are however understood to have refused to comply with his instruction, saying they don’t report to him as the minister but the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), the industry’s regulator.
After failing to make headway with the mobile network companies Letsatsi redirected his instruction to the LCA through a letter on November 2.
“I therefore instruct you to close both Facebook and Twitter in Lesotho with immediate effect,” said Letsatsi in his strongly worded letter seen by thepost.
It is however the preamble he gives before getting to the instruction that makes for interesting reading.
“Facebook and Twitter, for quite some time have been a nuisance to both Basotho at large by being used to attack, defame and slander,” he said at the beginning of the two-page letter.
“Most shocking of them all, was the announcement made about the ‘death or passing away of His Majesty King Letsie III’ over one of the same social media platforms mentioned about”.
Letsatsi said the “ulterior motive” of that announcement was not “hard to guess” and the government cannot take such a “serious offence lying down”.
“It is a fact that in the midst of such political tension Facebook and Twitter are being used to propel instability and to undermine good governance.”
He said the government was left with no option but to do “all in its might and power to protect government and people against this onslaught waged through Facebook and Twitter”.
The LCA reacted by calling a Special Board Meeting to discuss the minister’s order.  The board resolved to ask Vodacom Lesotho and ETL to make representations to the LCA before a decision is made.
In a letter dated November 3 Thabang Mokela, LCA chief executive, reiterates that the minister has ordered the closure of Facebook and Twitter.
Mokela said the companies are “requested to make exhaustive representations on the matter – to inform how the Authority moves forward with the matter”.
The representations, Mokela wrote, should reach the LCA by November 18.
On the same day Mokela wrote to Letsatsi to inform him about the Special Board Meeting.
“After due consideration, the Board noted that implementation of the directive would involve other parties external to the Authority,” he said.
“As such, there is need to thoroughly consider the best implementation mechanisms within the confines of the law, and taking into account rights and interests of directly affected licensees.”
“The Authority, therefore requests the indulgence of the Honourable Minister to advise on the progress within a month.”
It is not clear if the new Minister of Communications, Serialong Qoo, will pursue the issue.
What is known is that the coalition government has become increasingly frustrated with Facebook and Twitter.
Unlike radio stations whose licences it can easily withdraw and newspapers that it can intimidate by withholding advertising support, the government has no control over Facebook and Twitter.
The only option it has is to arm-twist mobile companies to block the social media platforms from the networks.
But that move is likely to face stiff resistance from the companies to whom social media platforms are a major source of income through data usage.
The majority of the two mobile companies’ subscribers use most of their data for the social media platforms.
As revenues from voice and text messages have plunged the mobile companies have turned to data, with social media platforms being the core of their data driven revenues.  Closing the platforms would hurt their bottomlines that are already under pressure.

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