The Spinternet goes global: the Nigerian chapter
I coined the term "spinternet" to describe how governments are increasingly hijacking the democratic potential of the Internet. I have evidence that this is happening in China, Russia, and Iran, and I am sure that it’s happening in many other countries as well. Curiously, some Western governments are also experimenting with various Spinternet techniques as ...
I coined the term "spinternet" to describe how governments are increasingly hijacking the democratic potential of the Internet. I have evidence that this is happening in China, Russia, and Iran, and I am sure that it's happening in many other countries as well.
I coined the term "spinternet" to describe how governments are increasingly hijacking the democratic potential of the Internet. I have evidence that this is happening in China, Russia, and Iran, and I am sure that it’s happening in many other countries as well.
Curiously, some Western governments are also experimenting with various Spinternet techniques as well; a few months ago, it was reported that the British foreign service was training moderate and pro-Western Islamic groups in how to use search engine optimization to make their ideas more visible (i.e. easier to find) on Google. Of course, in the broader context, this fits with the ubiquitous culture of astroturfing that has flourished thanks to the inventive publicity efforts of American and European corporations.
So I am not surprised to find that similar tactics are now being used by the government in Nigeria. Via Ethan Zuckerman’s Twitter feed comes this very interesting write-up in Sahara Reporters on a $5 million effort by Umaru Yar’adua’s government to "create and sponsor “friendly,” pro-government websites":
Details gathered during a two-week investigation found that the bogus “rebranding project” designed by Information Minister Dora Akunyili was taking a turn into a scheme to undermine top foreign-based Nigerian websites and blogs critical of the Nigerian leadership. Several sources within the Yar’adua government told our correspondents that Saharareporters.com was at the top of the regime’s “targets.” In the words of one security source, “The whole idea is to do everything to ensure that websites like yours and others are stopped from taking root in Nigeria.”
Three security sources, who are privy to the plan, revealed that Yar’adua last week approved the covert operation to stop websites and bloggers from influencing public opinion in Nigeria. The president’s Chief Economic Adviser, Tanimu Kurfi will source the funds for the operations.
This where it gets really interesting:
A major plank of the Yar’adua regime’s “anti-bloggers project “ is to fund the setting up of new websites designed to deceive unsuspecting readers with “patriotic rhetoric.”
“The government has decided to mobilize a few individuals to set up online forums that promise to extend the frontiers of online journalism,” said a security source. He added that, in the initial stages, these websites would release a few detailed and seemingly credible stories calculated to garner credibility for them as well as a wide readership. “But the ultimate objective is to fully divert the websites to the task of acting as attack dogs for the government’s online critics,” said a source. She added that the government plans to fund and roll out about 50 of such new websites between now and the beginning of serious campaigns for the next round of elections scheduled for 2011. “The idea is to use these websites to counter negative publicity trailing the Yar’adua regime preparatory to the 2011 elections,” said the source. She said Yar’adua’s handlers were aware that negative publicity linked to poor performance would affect his chances of winning the election due.
“The amount of $5 million is going into the project to create the impression that the president is popular among Nigerians,” said one of them. He added that part of the plan was to recruit 700 Nigerians at home and abroad to counter a growing critical blogging culture that is taking the Nigerian nation by storm and effectively replacing the mainstream local media.
We learnt that the government has already enlisted more than 200 people in Abuja, Port Harcourt and Lagos, amongst them local journalists, to register on popular Nigerian listservs, chatrooms, comments sections and website forums to counter negative publications against the Nigerian authorities by presenting opinions that appear neutral and demanding “objectivity in the reports of bloggers.”
Our sources disclosed that the paid commentators are given cyber café tickets as well as blogging allowances based on the number of comments they are able to make daily.
Once again, this only proves that we should stop treating cyberspace as a government-free zone. Governments, having observed their critics powerfully embrace new media, will be increasingly relying on the same techniques to spread their own propaganda and spin. Welcome to the Brave New World of the Spinternet.
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.