Uganda orders block on social media, messaging apps

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A Facebook user accessing the social media platform via a cellphone. 

Photo credit: File | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Several Ugandans said they could only access some social media platforms through a VPN.

Uganda has ordered internet service providers to block all social media platforms and messaging apps until further notice.

This is according to media reports, which cited a letter from Uganda's communications regulator. The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) reportedly asked all major telecom companies to block access to the iOS AppStore, Google PlayStore and YouTube.

Additionally, several social media users in the country say they are unable to access Facebook as the country braces for a tense election on Thursday that has been marred by violence.

By Tuesday morning, several Ugandans said they could only access the social media platforms through a virtual private network (VPN).

However, UCC spokesperson, Mr Ibrahim Bbosa, said the slow internet could be a result of too much traffic online because many people around the world are interested in the elections.

"So far, there is no directive to switch off the internet," he said.

"If there are instances of misuse, the means of communication may be restricted. The slow internet could be a result of too much traffic online because many people around the world are interested in the elections," Mr Bbosa added. 

The Minister of Defense and Veteran affairs Adolf Mwesigye and his Internal Affairs Counterpart Gen Jeje Odongo last week told journalists in Kampala that the government was working on how to best manage social media, which they claimed has been misused in this election.

“We are now having a challenge of citizen journalism. Social media propaganda is certainly not in the best interest of this country’s security. We are looking for a way of dealing with it,” Mr Mwesigye said on January 8.

Restriction to Facebook access comes a day after the internet giant on Monday confirmed that it had shut a slew of accounts belonging to Ugandan government officials accused of seeking to manipulate public debate ahead of elections Thursday.

Uganda is holding presidential and parliamentary elections after a tense and bloody campaign, with President Museveni, 76, facing a stiff challenge from popstar-turned-politician Bobi Wine, 38.

"This month, we removed a network of accounts and pages in Uganda that engaged in CIB (Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour) to target public debate ahead of the election," Facebook's head of communication for sub-Saharan Africa, Kezia Anim-Addo, said.

"They used fake and duplicate accounts to manage pages, comment on other people's content, impersonate users, re-share posts in groups to make them appear more popular that they were."

Anim-Addo said the network was linked to the ministry of information and communications technology.

"Given the impending election in Uganda, we moved quickly to investigate and take down this network."

Social media giants have come under increasing scrutiny over the content they allow to spread on their networks.

This is the second election where the government is blocking access to Facebook.

In 2016, Uganda moved to block access to Facebook and Twitter when former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was running against Mr Museveni.

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