The difficult relationship between WhatsApp and politics

whatsapp and politicsIt’s not a secret that with its one billion users WhatsApp is the most used instant messaging app in the world. We use it every day to communicate with our friends, family, colleagues, and it is safe to say that the app is rapidly changing our lives. WhatsApp is also a powerful way to spread news, and today the app is used around the world for many purposes.

For example, in some countries people use WhatsApp to let the world know about their lack of freedom, or to seek help in emergency. But the present scenario is quite complicated, and many governments often try to ban WhatsApp (we already talked about this on this blog), and the introduction of the end-to-end encryption has even worsened the situation. To give you an idea, let’s see what happened just in the last few days.

Last Wednesday WhatsApp has been blocked all over the country. People blamed the government, which instead replied that the service was inciting people to protest. Supa Mandiwanzira, Minister for Information, Communication Technology and Courier Services, strongly denied that the government was involved in the block of the service, adding that it could have been simply a problem of the network. That’s what he said: “I as minister and on behalf of the government have resisted these demands because we see their value to Zimbabweans. So there is no basis that I as minister or government will work up to ban them when we are on the forefront of denying the request by operators. We know there are elements, very few of them, who abuse the platform but they must not be allowed to spoil its very good use by the majority of citizens”. Despite what the government said, citizens decided to carry on their protest and did not go to work.

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In Brazil the situation is particularly crucial and controversial, because this is one of the countries where WhatsApp is used the most. So, what happened? In May a judge has ordered Facebook to shut down WhatsApp since the company refused to release data to the government as part of an ongoing drug trafficking investigation. For this reason the government has decided to freeze $6 million from a local bank account of Facebook (WhatsApp doesn’t have any assets in Brazil). Why $6 million? Tech Crunch reported that this sum ($19.5 million Brazilian reais) corresponds to the total amount of fines that WhatsApp accumulated in Brazil for refusing to consent to the government’s demands. In fact in December 2015 WhatsApp was banned in Brazil for a similar reason.

And we can’t ignore the obnoxious usage that ISIS is doing of WhatsApp. The Islamic State (Isis) instead of banning WhatsApp, is using it to sell women, some of them extremely young (12 years old). An activist (on the condition of anonymity) told Associated Press that the militants post advertisements with pictures of the women with a price tag for each, along with the names of the women’s “owners”.

The growth of WhatsApp around the world seems unstoppable, and with it, of course, there will be several downsides.

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