When you try to access some facebook pages if it reads “The requested URL could not be retrieved”…that’s a kind of censorship, isn’t it?

First they went for some blogs on blogspot platform , then it was some selected websites, followed by IP addresses of specific  facebook pages … use your head after that…

For some reason these days my internet connection is so intermittent and usually I keep getting an error message; “The requested URL could not be retrieved”. I can’t get into facebook or use twitter as frequent as I used to before say three or four weeks. This is apparently due to the recent Egyptian revolution. I know everybody can certainly read about these revolutions in the state-approved and monitored media. I assume creating such irritations continuously to get in to facebook has to do with preventing discussion threads about what is really going on to leak out Ethiopia. Such incessant irritating connection to get in to facebook also slows online groups forming whose views would be contrary to the government’s wishes. Some of my readers might not get my sarcasm and irony but I hope you get my point unless you are one of my semi-literate visitors. This blog will most probably be read by slanted eyes as well. Therefore, I would like to make it clear that I believe Ethiopia is not currently ready for Egyptian type of revolution for countless reasons.

I don’t much care for facebook, but it might be surprising for Ethiopians residing abroad to note that most Ethiopians don’t see it quite that way. Which ought to make the only telecom service provider in the country to think twice about trying to slow the growth of facebook population in Ethiopia, because slowing facebook users’ in Ethiopian counts for the reputation of the country as a muffler of dissent opinions.      .

A friend of mine, who himself is a facebook addict, claims “we like facebook so much that some people even claim that in Ethiopia these days all online activities are for these  sort of entertainment. So people might not take the act to block facebook lightly. He adds “My reasons for visiting facebook are of course perfectly innocent. I just chat with friends and find old ones. Facebook has been great for me. It is really wonderful. I have met up with old mates from my high school days and even connected again with some of my best school cliques.

Then there’s the question of defining “perfectly innocent use of facebook”. This is notoriously difficult. That said, it’s safe to assume that you can expect people in power to rule that anything that are related with pages which has got something to do with dating does is all right for general release, while some political pages such as http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=131603333574873 should be blocked at source. Then you have to ask in this era of proxy server if that is possible at all. And for sure, there are free proxy servers that allow one to surf anonymously in Ethiopia. But they are forever being found out and blocked by you can guess who.

Next, it is worth remembering that plenty of Ethiopian social media networks are already available although you have to go the trouble of connecting each other with these social media networks. Which should make any sane person makes wonder whether blocking access to select facebook pages is the way to go? The point that is often made is that the serious seekers of  some facebook pages and other social networks can find what they want online, regardless of whether a any kind of technical difficulties are created or if I may use the word “blocked” – which is why we got what we want online every day. But there is a more important argument: whether banning political websites is really proportionate. As many people have pointed many times, governments may not like social media networks such as facebook, but banning them or creating some havoc to access them quickly becomes an important freedom of speech issue.

Filtering out facebook pages would certainly provide legitimacy to the suggestion that says Ethiopian government follows Chinese style route of blocking every dissident opinions, and then you have to ask what else should be banned next? The whole social media networks including facebook or twitter of course, and perhaps any other website that is involved in leaking/releasing confidential information of a government.

To “like” or “not to like”

“Egypt protests” —- 11 people like this.

Tahrir Square cleanup –23 people like this.

“What the world is saying about Egypt”—230 people like this

“Mubarak Leaves at Last”— 505 people likes this

Doesn’t this appear disconcerting to Ethiopians residing home that facebook is going to be banned? I believe it is alright if you ‘liked’ any of the pictures, comments, or news about the Egyptian revolution as long as you keep it on facebook. But must we fear that something terrible (banning) is coming to Ethiopians who are fond of facebook?  Are we witnessing an abrupt shift in liking and sharing links amongst our facebook friends?

Yes, I know since Tunisians overthrow their president and inspired Egyptians to oust Hosni Mubarak, many facebook friends of mine have posted their reactions on their facebook pages and most of them hit available”, like” button  for appreciation . But that’s how it appears to readers and I do not think these will make people in power to shut facebook in Ethiopia. They should know how insensitive facebook’s like button is. Even if it is sensitive as people fear and post the menace of facebook to authority’s power people might have liked that specific link to seek information about a page/company/product on Facebook not to have an Egyptian type of facebook social media initiated revolution .Beside this one must ‘like’ a certain page or ‘become a ‘fan’ if he/she wants to get more information, if he or she doesn’t, I’m afraid one can’t know more. By the way though I understand privacy when it comes to private information, but why must public information be hidden behind a ‘like’ button? Facebook should consider this point seriously and let us know some information without hitting the “like” button.

I know, this fear of facebook interdiction is a reasonable panic for many reasons and if the speculations and fears of my fellow Ethiopians come to be true I can only describe the act as an insult to the only available opportunity of Ethiopians interaction regarding some issues. Before they decide to prescript out facebook people in power should consider these points –   What if companies want to be able to put commercials on facebook? What if Ethiopian students want to hook up with their equals in some parts of the world for scholarship or any other business reasons through facebook? After all, all people on facebook are not political activities. If they decided to shut down the social network it is downright despicable. Why? Because for a platform that thrives on positive social interaction amongst Ethiopians living in or outside Ethiopia that would make things desperate.

“Like” online but not dare enough to “like” offline

Ethiopians usually the diasporic blogs and facebook pages emphasize the symbols of the nation state –maps, flags, symbolic geographic features, or indigenous plants and animals. Often the

Facebook posts of exile emphasize the links to homeland, Ethiopia. But last three or four weeks

a day-to-day facebook posts focus on the new Egyptian revolution and no one dislikes this event   Imagine the fuss when someone publicly ‘dislikes’ your  comment on a certain  news item regarding Egyptian revolution .I am sure  facebook would turn into a battle ground as a blogs and pal talk had been with burly comments.

As some of you know platforms, like blogs and pal talk are battle grounds for politics. Why?  Because they allow you to maintain anonymity. It is the lack of anonymity that restricts social networking platforms like Facebook to give some rude comments on friends. Thus, these days’ facebook comments of some Ethiopians cannot truly ever represent Ethiopians feeling on the Egyptians revolution.  In Ethiopia, no one may be brave enough to publicly ‘like’ strong opinions regarding Egyptians which are reflected online, but the anonymity afforded by the some platform encourages people opinions.

I know, I may be exaggerating, but this most certainly seems a step in using facebook proper way. Ironically, I am posting this with an apprehension of being accused of something, but feel free to “like” this one!

New FM-Radio stations in Addis. Why are you shy?

The newly emerging “private”FM Radio stations in Addis Ababa and somewhere else in Ethiopia including the much-heralded Sheger FM is often accused of indulging in self-censorship. Given that we live in a country plagued by endemic violence and threats to journalists, this may well be true to some extent

There has been FM Radios expansion and explosion in our country since the turn of the Ethiopian millennium in Addis alone there are more than six radio stations besides there are more to come as Ethiopian Broadcast Authority indicated recently. These FM radios are disseminating an influx of information to millions of listeners in the capital.But the question is besides fulfilling their business interest whether this radio stations are fulfilling their functions in the society as a responsible actor? Do they regulate and improve themselves to be more responsible with the speed they are expanding? Are they playing their role as the fourth pillar of state and a watchdog of the society?

These questions are worth considering because radio as a mass media is the double-edged sword of any society. It has effects, both positive as well as negative, depending on its contents.

However, unfortunately, these newly growing FM radio stations are neither responsible nor people-centric. Prime significance is given to entertainment issues. According to my rough estimation throughout my two weeks stay in Addis Ababa over 100 radio talk shows aired every week on all FM Radio stations during the prime hours have set their agenda to discuss nothing but football, film, fashion, sex  or music. Moreover, theses shows are overcrowded with the so called famous or “debutant “artists” & “journalists”   who deceive the public with hollow analysis of art, music or football and traditional rhetoric. The so called “artists” have nothing to do with Ethiopia’s problems; they are concerned only about their gains and public attention.

Ethiopia is in a quagmire of crises ranging from education to electricity and from food security to economic woes. The list is long and unending. So, it definitely has something that deserves to be highlighted in these radios beyond “cheap popular entertainment issues”.

Shouldn’t these radios conduct shows on the real issues being faced today? For instance, a debate on the Egyptian crisis with the participation of experts in the field proposing ideas and giving perspective to the problems Egyptians facing.

However, one thing that caught my attention this past weekend was how various privities   newspapers had covered the revolution of Egypt and Tunisia .Awereba Times gave through analysis while Addis Admas covered the story with a reasonably enough analysis by their own standard. But not “private” FM radio stations. Why?

Inconsequential posting & sharing links as a fashion on facebook is over; serious facebooking arrives!

Ethiopian facebook users’ posts and shared links of the past two weeks tell a story most eloquently.

Facebook is the big internet fashion in urban Ethiopia specifically in Addis Ababa and in some big towns. Seemingly from nowhere, in the middle of the Egyptian social network driven uprisings the number of Ethiopians who post their feelings and their expectations regarding the revolutions in Egypt exploded. This past week facebook users’ attention around blogs and media that are seriously reporting the uprising in Egypt is increasing. This is being reflected on their shared links and tagged photos. It is all so sudden; it naturally carries all the features of a    new fad: if I may coin a word for it –serious facebooking.

But underpinning it was an apparent tipping point for social media and social networking in Ethiopia with most of the facebook users’ posts and shared links were generally apolitical and trivial. Most of the posts on the walls of many facebook users were information in the form of selected photographs and textual descriptions of likes and dislikes regarding movies, European football clubs like Arsenal or Manchester United, clothes, cosmetics, friends, food, and more.

The key moments for serious facebooking included the launches of Addis Neger newspaper facebook page; the first mainstream newspaper (though closed in Addis) to embrace blogs and the social networking environment; individual journalists with more one thousand facebook friends such as Ermias Amare and Abiy Teklemariam and some others who are residing abroad gives comprehensive tracking service of information in Ethiopia.

From my preliminary assessments of some fifty walls of my online friends’ facebook pages I have observed that, after a slow and intermittent build-up, an explosion of posts and sharing links regarding politics occurred in past two weeks of January 2011, representing a tipping point for the phenomenon. But what if that turned out to be hype and momentary excitement because of Tunisian and Egyptian revolution? Would the new trend be sustainable?

The new data, collected and collated by the Facebakers web site for facebook usage in Ethiopia from December 31 2010 to January 31 2011, provides a clear indication. The facebakers web site does not provide information regarding the contents of the facebook users’ pages but from the preliminary survey of my facebook friends’ pages I have observed that there is a strong tendency of shift in posts and link sharing of facebook pages that participated in this mini research of mine.

The November-December tipping point for facebook in Ethiopia, chronicled in this blog, also appeared to be the period during which facebook users in urban Ethiopia began to increase in number.

Unlike my previous posts I hope, no animals will be harmed in the compilation of this facebook data for Ethiopia.

The most significant items of data are represented by the following table:

  • Total Facebook Users:  253 020. It was 210,000 previously
  • Penetration of population: 0.29 %. It was 0.24 % previously
  • Position in the global country ranking: 100. It was 105  previously
  • Penetration of online population in Ethiopia: 56.81    It was 47.13%
  • Male facebook users : 69%  Did not change
  • Female facebook users : 31%  Did  not change

Source: http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics/ethiopia

The numbers show that the total number of facebook users grew fairly highly if not exponentially in just two months from December to January 2011 — 9.6 % — quite a leap forward for facebook for a country like Ethiopia.

Aside from the number of facebook users increasing in January the Ethiopians facebook posts shared links shifted their focus from mere entertainment issues to more serious political issues. I will ask again would the new trend be sustainable?.