Uganda blocked Facebook before controversial election

NAIROBI, Kenya – Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has for a few days stopped operating Facebook in his country, just days after the social media company asked his government ahead of the general election in a heated election to be held on Thursday Removed linked fake accounts.

On a television address late Tuesday, Mr Museveni accused Facebook of “arrogance” and said he had directed his government, along with other social media outlets, to shut down the platform, although Facebook was only a name.

“The social channel you are talking about, if it is going to operate in Uganda, it should be used equally by everyone who has to use it,” Mr Museveni said. He said, “We cannot tolerate anyone’s ego that it is for us to decide who is good and who is bad.”

The ban on Facebook comes at the end of an election period dogged by A. Breaks down on political protest, Harassment of journalists and Nationwide protests According to officials, there have been at least 54 deaths and hundreds of arrests.

Mr Museveni, 76, who is running for a sixth term in office, is facing 10 rivals, including rapper MLA Bobby Vine, 38. Mr. Vine, whose real name is Robert Kygulaini, has been beaten, sprinkled with tear gas and Charged in court for allegedly tearing down coronovirus regulations On the campaign trail.

Last week, Mr. Liquor Complaint lodged in International Criminal Court Accusing Mr. Museveni and other top current and former security officials of sanctioning a wave of violence and human rights violations against civilians, political figures and human rights lawyers.

Facebook announced this week that it had taken a network of accounts and pages across the East African nation for the purpose of manipulating public debate during the election, calling it “coordinated inhumane behavior”. The company said the network was connected to the Government Citizen Liaison Center, an initiative that is part of Uganda’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and National Guidance.

In a statement, a Facebook representative said the network “uses fake and duplicate accounts to manage pages, comment on other people’s content, impersonate users, re-share posts in groups So that they appear more popular than them. “

Facebook’s investigation into the network started The research The Digital Forensic Research Lab of the Atlantic Council showed a network of social media accounts engaged in a campaign to criticize the opposition and promote Mr. Museveni and the governing party, the National Resistance Movement. After the research was published, Twitter also stated that it had closed the accounts. Election related.

Hours before Mr. Museveni’s speech, Ugandan social media users confirmed a ban on their online communications with digital rights group Netblock. Reporting Those platforms were affected, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter.

The country’s largest telecom company MTN Uganda confirmed this on Wednesday An instruction was received From the Uganda Communications Commission “suspend online or messaging applications on all social media platforms, whether directly or otherwise, on the network until this notice.”

Felicia Anthony, a publicist with Digital Rights Non Profit Access Now, said authorities had blocked more than 100 virtual private networks, or VPNs, that could help users circumvent censorship and browse the Internet safely .

Uganda blocked the Internet during the 2016 elections, and in 2018, it introduced a social media tax aimed at increasing revenue and curbing what the government called online “gossip”. The move was criticized as a critique for freedom of expression Negative impact on internet usage Altogether, millions of people in Uganda are fully offering Internet services.

In hopes of another shutdown this week, a group of organizations that work to end the Internet cutoff around the world Sent a letter Mr. Museveni and leaders of telecommunications companies in Uganda begged him to keep the Internet and social media platforms accessible during the election.

Mr. Museveni did not heed his call. On Tuesday night, he said the decision to block Facebook was “unfortunate”, but “inevitable”.

“I am very sorry about the inconvenience,” he said, adding that he himself is using the platform to interact with young voters. He has nearly one million followers on Facebook and two million followers on Twitter.

Striking a defiant note, Mr. Museveni said that if Facebook was going to “take sides”, it would not be allowed to operate in the country.

“Uganda is ours,” he said.

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