Uganda blocks social media ahead of presidential elections

Uganda has blocked access to social media platforms in the East African country just two days before Jan.14’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

In a Jan. 12 letter, the Uganda Communications Commission ordered internet service providers in the country,  to “immediately suspend any access and use” of all messaging apps and social media platforms until further notice.

With open air political rallies restricted on the premise of curtailing the Covid19 pandemic and candidates and their supporters brutalized, the internet and social media has been a vital arena of politicking for either side of the political divide.

Some of the affected platforms include WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which are the most popular  in the country. Others are Signal and Viber and Telegram.  There are also reports the regulator has provided a list of virtual private networks (VPNs)—often used to circumvent local internet restrictions—and ordered telecom operators to block them.

The Ugandan government has in the past month launched a series of targeted measures on the internet prior to the social media shutdown. It started with requests to tech companies to block some anti-regime users to complaints from users of a slowed internet network. On Jan.9, it emerged that digital distribution platforms such as Google’s Play Store had been blocked in attempts to prevent people from downloading VPNs which can bypass local ISPs.

In the 2016 polls, the shutdown of social media happened on polling day sending citizens in a rush to download VPNs to continue accessing the affected platforms.