Policy

Tech giants made a home in Ghana. Now they’re quiet on its anti-LGBTQ+ bill.

Twitter and Google have both established a presence in Ghana. A new anti-LGBTQ+ bill would put their local employees — and users — at risk.

Bright Ofosu Amoabeng records a live weekly discussion about LGBTQ+ issues from his home

Bright Ofosu Amoabeng records a live weekly discussion about LGBTQ+ issues from his home in Accra, Ghana, where lawmakers are considering a bill that would criminalize these kinds of broadcasts.

Photo: Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu/Protocol

Sitting in front of a ring light and a phone affixed to a tripod, Bright Ofosu Amoabeng prepared to once again host a live weekly discussion on Instagram. Amoabeng’s show, which he streams from his home in Accra, Ghana, focuses on debunking disinformation about the LGBTQ+ community and sharing resources.

The topic on a recent day in April: What does courage mean for queer and trans persons of faith?

For Amoabeng, the livestream was its own act of courage. Social media has become a crucial safe space in a country where homophobic sentiment is on the rise. In 2021, the newly opened office of the local LGBTQ+ organization that Amoabeng volunteers for, LGBT+ Rights Ghana, was swiftly raided by the police and closed down. “Right now, it is unsafe, the environment is very hostile, so you cannot do advocacy in person and physically,” Amoabeng said.

Now, his online safe space is also facing its own threat: A new proposed law would not only make it illegal to identify as LGBTQ+ or as an ally, but would also prohibit using social media to positively discuss LGBTQ+ life or advocate for the community. The bill, which is expected to pass Parliament — albeit in some modified form — would punish violators with prison sentences between five and 10 years.

The bill would also make social media platforms liable for posts by their users — and that’s not the only problem tech companies face if this law passes. American tech giants including Twitter and Google have set up shop in the capital Accra in recent years. Now, LGBTQ+ advocates in Ghana are calling on those companies to use their global clout to kill the bill.

Their calls are being met with silence.

Google and Twitter did not respond to questions about whether they planned to oppose the bill, and a Twitter spokesperson told Protocol that “there are no changes to our plans in Ghana at this time.” Meta, which doesn’t have a physical presence in Ghana but would be subject to the law if it passes, also wouldn’t say whether it opposes the bill. Adaora Ikenze, Facebook’s head of Public Policy in Anglophone West Africa said, “We want the millions of people in Ghana and around the world who use our services to be able to connect, share and express themselves freely and safely, and will continue to protect their ability to do that on our platforms.”

For local activists, it’s not enough. “They have some influence, so we were expecting them to leverage this influence to argue against the bill,” said Danny Bediako, executive director of Rightify Ghana, a local LGBTQ+ organization. “This is a bill that mentions Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We were hoping that they would do more than just keeping quiet.”

Ghana as a base

Ghana has rigorously marketed itself as a safe destination for investment and tourism. It is an English-speaking country that has achieved relative political and economic stability compared to its neighbors. In recent years, it has leveraged its historical connections to the trans-Atlantic slave trade to court Black Americans to visit, invest and establish residency.

Tech companies have also been drawn to the country as they look to expand in West Africa and the continent at large. Google set up its Africa AI center in Accra in 2018, and GE opened an office there in 2014. In April 2021, Twitter announced that it would set up its first Africa office in Ghana, saying, “As a champion for democracy, Ghana is a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet, of which Twitter is also an advocate.” The move came after co-founder Jack Dorsey visited the country on a tour of the continent in 2019.

A woman makes copies at the Google Artificial Intelligence office in Accra, Ghana. Photo: Cristina Aldehuela/AFP via Getty Images

To activists like Bediako, who uses a pseudonym to protect his identity, that statement sounded naive. It came weeks after the office of an LGBTQ+ organization was shut down, and 21 queer activists were arrested at a human rights training conference soon after. Now, Bediako’s organization, as well as U.S.-based organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are pressuring social media companies, particularly those with a presence in the country, to scuttle the bill before it goes any further.

There’s good reason to believe they would have leverage. Twitter’s decision to put down roots in Ghana was championed from the highest levels of the government, with Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo saying at the time, “This is the start of a beautiful partnership between Twitter and Ghana, which is critical for the development of Ghana’s hugely important tech sector.”

And while specific numbers are hard to come by for the recent tech investment in Ghana, last year, Google announced that it would be investing $1 billion in its Africa operations over the next five years.

The proposed law runs counter to tech companies’ professed belief in free speech, but Bediako argues it’s not just a matter of principle: It’s also about protecting local employees. “Do they think that their staff will be safe in Ghana?” Bediako said.

The calls for a more public stance from Big Tech are also being echoed by the EFF. “I do think that these entities need to come out and say exactly what their position is on this legislation, and what they are going to do to protect users,” said Dave Maass, director of Investigations at EFF.

The Ghanaian bill adds to the growing list of restrictive online speech bills that tech giants are facing around the world. From Russia to India, they often require companies to censor and take down posts prohibited by governments. Tech companies that have attempted to oppose local laws have faced office raids and threats of jail time for their employees. Often, they choose to comply. Even in the U.S., tech giants have recently been reluctant to make overt statements about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Bright Ofosu Amoabeng "Right now, it is unsafe, the environment is very hostile, so you cannot do advocacy in person and physically,” Amoabeng said. Photo: Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu/Protocol

And yet, tech companies do sometimes make moral judgements when it comes to where they do business. Facebook, Twitter and Google do not operate in China because of censorship concerns, and in the past, companies including Google, Apple and PayPal have been vocal in their opposition to anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in North Carolina.

In the case of Ghana, they have an opportunity to push back before it’s too late.

Whatever happens with the law, Amoabeng said not even the threat of a long prison term will deter him from using social media for advocacy. “I have come to a point in my self-acceptance and development stage that I feel I cannot go back to using burner accounts,” he said. “We are the rainbow community, we are relentless. We are willing to give in the fight.”

The question is whether the platforms he relies on will allow his voice to be heard — or whether they’ll use their own voices to ensure it can be.

Reporting for this story was supported by the Pulitzer Center.

Fintech

Upstart has a new plan to sell Wall Street on its loans

The AI-powered lender will hold some loans on its balance sheet as it seeks partners for long-term capital.

Despite the current struggles, Upstart views the marketplace model as the best way to write to keep its loan business growing.

Photo: Upstart

After a revenue drop its CEO called “unacceptable,” the leadership at fintech lender Upstart is making a bet on the strength of its ability to underwrite loans with AI.

The San Mateo company is planning to leave some loans on its balance sheet that investors do not want to buy, as concerns about the economy shift Wall Street away from backing riskier consumer debt. Rather than pull back on its lending in response, the company said it will hold some loans as it seeks longer-term capital partners.

Keep Reading Show less
Ryan Deffenbaugh
Ryan Deffenbaugh is a reporter at Protocol focused on fintech. Before joining Protocol, he reported on New York's technology industry for Crain's New York Business. He is based in New York and can be reached at rdeffenbaugh@protocol.com.
Sponsored Content

How cybercrime is going small time

Blockbuster hacks are no longer the norm – causing problems for companies trying to track down small-scale crime

Cybercrime is often thought of on a relatively large scale. Massive breaches lead to painful financial losses, bankrupting companies and causing untold embarrassment, splashed across the front pages of news websites worldwide. That’s unsurprising: cyber events typically cost businesses around $200,000, according to cybersecurity firm the Cyentia Institute. One in 10 of those victims suffer losses of more than $20 million, with some reaching $100 million or more.

That’s big money – but there’s plenty of loot out there for cybercriminals willing to aim lower. In 2021, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 847,376 complaints – reports by cybercrime victims – totaling losses of $6.9 billion. Averaged out, each victim lost $8,143.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.

Enterprise

Does your boss sound a little funny? It might be an audio deepfake

Voice deepfake attacks against enterprises, often aimed at tricking corporate employees into transferring money to the attackers, are on the rise. And at least in some cases, they’re succeeding.

Audio deepfakes are a new spin on the impersonation tactics that have long been used in social engineering and phishing attacks, but most people aren’t trained to disbelieve their ears.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

As a cyberattack investigator, Nick Giacopuzzi’s work now includes responding to growing attacks against businesses that involve deepfaked voices — and has ultimately left him convinced that in today's world, "we need to question everything."

In particular, Giacopuzzi has investigated multiple incidents where an attacker deployed fabricated audio, created with the help of AI, that purported to be an executive or a manager at a company. You can guess how it went: The fake boss asked an employee to urgently transfer funds. And in some cases, it’s worked, he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@protocol.com.

Fintech

Binance’s co-founder could remake its crypto deal-making

Yi He is overseeing a $7.5 billion portfolio, with more investments to come, making her one of the most powerful investors in the industry.

Binance co-founder Yi He will oversee $7.5 billion in assets.

Photo: Binance

Binance co-founder Yi He isn’t as well known as the crypto giant’s colorful and controversial CEO, Changpeng “CZ” Zhao.

That could soon change. The 35-year-old executive is taking on a new, higher-profile role at the world’s largest crypto exchange as head of Binance Labs, the company’s venture capital arm. With $7.5 billion in assets to oversee, that instantly makes her one of the most powerful VC investors in crypto.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Policy

Trump ordered social media visa screening. Biden's defending it.

The Knight First Amendment Institute just lost a battle to force the Biden administration to provide a report on the collection of social media handles from millions of visa applicants every year.

Visa applicants have to give up any of their social media handles from the past five years.

Photo: belterz/Getty Images

Would you feel comfortable if a U.S. immigration official reviewed all that you post on Facebook, Reddit, Snapchat, Twitter or even YouTube? Would it change what you decide to post or whom you talk to online? Perhaps you’ve said something critical of the U.S. government. Perhaps you’ve jokingly threatened to whack someone.

If you’ve applied for a U.S. visa, there’s a chance your online missives have been subjected to this kind of scrutiny, all in the name of keeping America safe. But three years after the Trump administration ordered enhanced vetting of visa applications, the Biden White House has not only continued the program, but is defending it — despite refusing to say if it’s had any impact.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Latest Stories
Bulletins