THE Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) this week sent letters to the country’s two telecommunications operators requesting them to justify the continued provision of Facebook and Twitter services, a move that could undermine constitutionally guaranteed rights to free expression and communication.
Although LCA Information Officer Tšiu Tšiu refused to shed light on the letter on the grounds that the issue was strictly between the operators and LCA, a high ranking official at the Communications Ministry said the move was part of government’s attempt to control the unchecked usage of the two platforms.
“This is government’s first step towards bringing a certain level of control on the usage of social media platforms as currently there is no control,” the source said, adding, “Anybody can say whatever they want without thinking about the consequences of their statements”.
Vodacom Lesotho acknowledged receiving the letter which requested the communications giant to state its position on the “possible temporary closure of Facebook and Twitter”.
“Vodacom Lesotho (VCL) has noted media reports regarding future access to Facebook and Twitter. We can confirm that the company has not received a directive from the Minister of Communications to shut down Facebook and Twitter access to our customers.
“Instead, we have received a request from the Regulator, the Lesotho Communications Authority, to provide a position on the possible temporary closure of Facebook and Twitter. We will present this to the regulator in due course,” a statement from VCL reads.
“Vodacom Lesotho remains fully committed to ensuring its customers are able to communicate freely while operating in accordance with the law and telecommunications law of Lesotho.”
Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL) Customer and Stakeholder Relations General Manager Mpine Tente also acknowledged receipt of the letter, saying the company was yet to respond.
“We are yet to sit down as the management to make a presentation as requested by the regulator.
“Any decision on the two platforms will be communicated to our customers before they are put in place,” she added.
However, well-known businessman Robert Likhang said the move was not the best way of stemming abuse of social media and would only serve to tarnish the country’s image.
“What we need are ethics on the usage of the platforms in order to avoid their misuse. The authorities do not need to shut down the whole platforms when all they could have done was to simply block those users who misuse them,” Mr Likhang said.
“But unfortunately it looks like they are prepared to throw out the baby with the bath water.”
He said the move would also lead to significant losses of revenue for the two telecommunications operators as well as business that relied on the platforms to market themselves.
“Facebook and Twitter have amassed a significant following and therefore wield an economic power that cannot be overlooked since many businesses depend on them for their survival,” said Mr Likhang.
“Some businesses use the platforms for getting business intelligence while others use them to market their products and these platforms are dominated by youths who represent the current and future market.
“So, shutting down the two platforms is bound to have a negative impact on many businesses that use their services,” he said.
Another economic commentator from the National University of Lesotho who spoke on condition of anonymity said the possible suspension of the two platforms could force many users to switch to more expensive means of communication.
“Social media provides a comparatively cheap avenue for advertising for many businesses, and if it were to be suspended that means businesses would have to switch to other avenues which are more expensive,” he said.