Who are the dictators? Governments, social media or both?
Despite the fact that social media platforms are considered private companies, in Uganda, its President has stopped Facebook from operating. In America, in reverse action, the US Government has shutdown its President's Twitter social media account. How much influence should the government of any nation have over social media?
In the United States, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are blocking President Trump. In the US, large tech companies found a way to turn servers off from rival social media networks like Parler.
In Uganda, a 76-year-old President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of the ruling NRM party who is seeking a sixth consecutive term, orders social media networks to stop operation in Uganda to avoid criticism.
Since social media platforms are considered private companies with no public mandates, the danger is in such for-profit tech giants controlling public opinion. In Uganda, by not allowing such large private companies access, it means governments can secure votes by eliminating public access to political rivals.
This is a dangerous situation not only for freedom of speech in the United States, but it has a global trend and has been used for years by dictatorships.
During a televised address to the nation two days ago on the General Elections to be held in Uganda on January 14,2021, while outgoing US President Donald Trump was facing a social media ban, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni who had ordered a ban on Facebook social media had the support of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) which issued a directive requiring all telecommunications companies and operators to stop the access and use of all online messaging applications and social media platforms effective immediately until advised otherwise.
Several operators accordingly posted statements to their esteemed customers via their social media platforms. Local operators including Airtel, MTN, Roke Telkom, and others obliged premised on the terms and conditions of their operator licenses issued by UCC.
This development is a culmination of a spat between the ruling party in government – the National Resistance Movement (NRM) – and Facebook following the removal of accounts of government agents for allegedly engaging in CIB (Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior) to target public debate ahead of the election according to Facebook’s Head of Communication for sub-Saharan Africa, Kezia Anim-Addo.
President Museveni said “We don’t need lectures from anyone. … I warned them [Facebook] and said if it has to operate in Uganda, then it should be non-discriminatory. The government has closed Facebook. It is unavoidable and intolerable. They can’t decide for us what is good or bad.”
The blocking of social media would have happened regardless considering that it happens every election cycle, the last being in the 2016 general elections. Ugandans have become accustomed to similar shutdowns only to bypass it by downloading a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Museveni faces 10 other candidates following a torrid campaign, with his closest rival being the youthful Robert Kyagulanyi AKA Bobi Wine.