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.

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee mobile application. When we arrive at the coffee shop, we expect that our chosen brew will be on the counter a few minutes later. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as streaming data “in motion” instantaneously, you, and millions of customers, won’t have the in-the-moment experiences we all expect.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.
Policy

How the internet got privatized and how the government could fix it

Author Ben Tarnoff discusses municipal broadband, Web3 and why closing the “digital divide” isn’t enough.

The Biden administration’s Internet for All initiative, which kicked off in May, will roll out grant programs to expand and improve broadband infrastructure, teach digital skills and improve internet access for “everyone in America by the end of the decade.”

Decisions about who is eligible for these grants will be made based on the Federal Communications Commission’s broken, outdated and incorrect broadband maps — maps the FCC plans to update only after funding has been allocated. Inaccurate broadband maps are just one of many barriers to getting everyone in the country successfully online. Internet service providers that use government funds to connect rural and low-income areas have historically provided those regions with slow speeds and poor service, forcing community residents to find reliable internet outside of their homes.

Keep Reading Show less
Aditi Mukund
Aditi Mukund is Protocol’s Data Analyst. Prior to joining Protocol, she was an analyst at The Daily Beast and NPR where she wrangled data into actionable insights for editorial, audience, commerce, subscription, and product teams. She holds a B.S in Cognitive Science, Human Computer Interaction from The University of California, San Diego.
Fintech

How I decided to exit my startup’s original business

Bluevine got its start in factoring invoices for small businesses. CEO Eyal Lifshitz explains why it dropped that business in favor of “end-to-end banking.”

"[I]t was a realization that we can't be successful at both at the same time: You've got to choose."

Photo: Bluevine

Click banner image for more How I decided series

Bluevine got its start in fintech by offering a modern version of invoice factoring, the centuries-old practice where businesses sell off their accounts receivable for up-front cash. It’s raised $240 million in venture capital and about $700 million in total financing since its founding in 2013 by serving small businesses. But along the way, it realized it was better to focus on the checking accounts and lines of credit it provided customers than its original product. It now manages some $500 million in checking-account deposits.

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.
Enterprise

The Roe decision could change how advertisers use location data

Over the years, the digital ad industry has been resistant to restricting use of location data. But that may be changing.

Over the years, the digital ad industry has been resistant to restrictions on the use of location data. But that may be changing.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, the likelihood for location data to be used against people suddenly shifted from a mostly hypothetical scenario to a realistic threat. Although location data has a variety of purposes — from helping municipalities assess how people move around cities to giving reliable driving directions — it’s the voracious appetite of digital advertisers for location information that has fueled the creation and growth of a sector selling data showing who visited specific points on the map, when, what places they came from and where they went afterwards.

Over the years, the digital ad industry has been resistant to restrictions on the use of location data. But that may be changing. The overturning of Roe not only puts the wide availability of location data for advertising in the spotlight, it could serve as a turning point compelling the digital ad industry to take action to limit data associated with sensitive places before the government does.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins