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Somalia Orders TikTok, Telegram Shut Down

FILE - A person holds a smartphone as Tik Tok logo is displayed behind in this picture illustration taken Nov. 7, 2019.
FILE - A person holds a smartphone as Tik Tok logo is displayed behind in this picture illustration taken Nov. 7, 2019.

Somalia’s Ministry of Communications and Technology is ordering the country’s internet service providers to turn off access for social media companies TikTok, Telegram, and the gambling site 1xBet.

The Minister of Communications and Technology, Jama Hassan Khalif, gave the order in a statement issued Sunday, citing security and fighting terrorism as reasons for blocking the companies.

The statement said constant violations by terror groups using social media sites affected the safety and stability of society.

In addition, the Ministry said it’s working to protect the moral conduct of the Somali people when using communication and internet tools that have affected the way of life and have increased “bad practices," according to the statement.

“You are being ordered to shut down the applications mentioned above by Thursday August 24, 2023 at 11:30 evening, at the latest,” Khalif said in the statement. “Anyone who does not follow this order will face clear and appropriate legal measures.”

The al-Shabab militant group regularly uses Telegram’s messaging service to publish its videos, press releases, and posts audio of interviews with their commanders.

Al-Shabab often posts news about its attacks within minutes on Telegram and websites. The group regularly creates new accounts as soon as their Telegram accounts are taken down.

TikTok is believed to be fastest growing site in Somalia. It is used by young people and even government officials.

Last week, TikTok posted a statement saying it has hosted a series of workshops with various stakeholders in Somalia aimed at keeping the platform safe.

“In Somalia, our team removed over 280,000 videos during the same period that violated its guidelines,” the statement said.

“We detected and removed 98.7% of these violating videos before they were reported. Our proactive approach showcases our commitment to maintaining a safe and compliant platform for our users.”

The Ministry’s move was criticized by social media users. Abdulkadir Ali Mohamud who is popularly known as Bilaal Bulshaawi, with 1.2 million followers on TikTok said the order will not be implemented.

“It’s not going to work because the [internet] companies have the power to allow this shut down,” he said. “It’s not in the interest of the companies to stop the services because it’s the most used application and the customers use a lot of data.”

Another prolific social media user who did not want to be identified described the government’s move as a “Ridiculous knee-jerk reaction to a serious issue.”

“Rather than create policy around how to target immoral social media accounts, they have settled for a blanket ban,” he said. “A normal government would have engaged the platforms in question and established communication protocols to target specific accounts. There are hundreds of Somali TikTok celebrities that make decent living from TikTok who now have to look elsewhere.”

Khalif defended the move in an interview with VOA Somali, insisting the sites are “hurting the state.”

“These sites are misused, they have created security problems, they are used to destroy the security and society, they promote immoral behavior,” he said.

“Due to this great need to ban them it is the right time to take this decision.”

Somali authorities did not give the number of people who are using betting sites in the country, but said they believe the sites are repatriating large amount of money out of the country.

Khalif said betting on 1XBET is even distracting government soldiers who are fighting defending the nation.

“We know the use is expansive,” he said.

He said the government does not know the people behind these sites in the country.

“That kind of money is not Halal (permissible), no one taxes it, no one knowns what they are and where they come from; and it’s crime.”

Last year, the Somali government ordered internet service providers to block al-Shabab websites, but some of the sites remain to accessible globally to date.

“The federal government of Somalia recognized as crime the dissemination of terrorist messages and encouraging their acts of brutality - by any media or person on social media. Action will be taken according to the law to any[one] who failed this resolution,”the government statement said at the time.

The Ministry Communication and Technology said it has launched a public awareness campaign to warn the public about the dangers of communication and the Internet, which makes it easy to spread news and unfounded information that harms innocent people or incites the community.