2021 . 06 . 23

Twitter needs India and Nigeria to grow. It's running into trouble in both

Twitter is under siege in two countries that are critical for its global growth plans.

The social media giant has been ensnared in a battle with the Indian government for months over free speech and other issues, and is contending with restrictive new rules pushed by New Delhi. If that wasn't enough, even more dramatic events are unfolding thousands of miles away along Africa's Western coast.

Nigeria last week "indefinitely" blocked Twitter (TWTR) after the company deleted a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened a brutal clampdown on unrest in Africa's most populous nation. The Nigerian government also ordered federal prosecutors to arrest users of the app.

The restrictions in India and the ban in Nigeria are troublesome for Twitter. While the company does not break down user data for these countries, independent research suggests India is among its top five markets. Asia's third-largest economy — with its 700 million internet users and many more yet to come online — is also Twitter's top growth market. Meanwhile, nearly 20% of Nigeria's population of 200 million have Twitter accounts, according to NOI Polls.

Now that Nigeria has shown it isn't afraid to ban Twitter, some worry India might be next if the tussle between New Delhi and the company can't be resolved.

"If this continues, the Indian government's China Envy will become Nigeria Envy," tweeted internet activist Nikhil Pahwa, the Delhi-based founder of tech website MediaNama.

"You may see more calls for banning Twitter in India, if it continues to defy the government," Pahwa told CNN Business.

The Silicon Valley-based company's response to political pressure in these countries will decide its trajectory in fast-growing economies that are critical to any global expansion strategy. Successfully navigating the tensions could give other American technology firms a roadmap for dealing with governments that have increasingly authoritarian tendencies.

New challenges abroad coincide with strains at home, where Washington has shown a willingness to rein in American tech giants. And it doesn't help that former US President Donald Trump — who is currently banned from Twitter and Facebook (FB) — has urged other countries to follow Nigeria's example.

'Undermining' Nigeria

Months of tensions have led to Twitter's problems in both Nigeria and India.

Nigerians felt snubbed by Twitter when the company decided earlier this year to set up its first Africa base in Ghana, instead of the continent's largest economy.

Even though almost 40 million Nigerians have a Twitter account — more than the entire population of Ghana — there are some geopolitical considerations that might have influenced Twitter's decision. Ghana ranked 13 places higher than Nigeria in 2019 on the World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business Index." When announcing the decision in April, Twitter described Ghana "as a champion for democracy, a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet."

Tensions escalated this month when Twitter deleted the post by Buhari for violating its policies on abusive behavior.