By Staff Writer Sawyer Pollitt.
In May of 2018, the nation of Uganda imposed a tax on the use of social media services citing a need to increase revenue for public services. Almost nine months later, public services remain underfunded and concerns over freedom of speech and government censorship continue.
The Ugandan tax on social media imposes a fee of five cents per day on the use of services such as Facebook, Whatsapp, and Skype. Although a tax of five cents may not seem like much, it impacts the average Ugandan significantly.
Most data usage in Uganda is purchased in small bundles that can cost between 15 and 30 cents. A tax of 33% to 16% on the service can make someone less likely to participate in social media.
Since the implementation of this tax, millions of Ugandans have simply stopped using social media and other websites that the government of Uganda deems to be “over the top.”
This is impacting many who utilize these websites to make a living. Business owners who run banking services or who sell data are reporting reduced income since the tax was introduced and have had to cut staff and services.
Critics of the tax claim that the Ugandan government wants to reduce social media usage in the country.
A public who is unable to access information that can be damaging to the current regime.
After the election of the popular Ugandan musician, Bobi Wine, via a grassroots social media campaign, the government of Uganda has been cracking down on internet usage.
In 2016 during the last Ugandan presidential election, the use of social media was curtailed by Uganda’s communications regulator. This was seen as an attempt to silence voices that spoke out in opposition to the incumbent running for reelection. The government framed this as an action to thwart the spread of inaccurate information to the public.
News, whether it be political, or cultural, fact or fiction is shared widely on social media. Websites like Facebook are some of the main avenues for the consumption of information in the modern age.
It should go without saying that the restriction of information by a government is a dangerous thing. What Uganda is doing can definitely be classified as government censorship, whether intentional or not.
We here in the United States often take our (relatively) free access to the internet for granted and rely on it for nearly every aspect of our lives. There is nothing wrong with relying on the internet, many of us are of a generation that only experienced a few sweet years before the internet consumed our very lives.
While a tax on social media wouldn’t go over very well in the states, one should still be wary of attempts to censor or otherwise control the media that is being consumed by the masses.
We are only a few years out from the national crises that were SOPA and PIPA, and we are now contending with an FCC that does not seem to have the best interests of the public in mind.
It is unlikely that our internet will ever be completely censored. Internet culture has gotten too big in the United States and online culture has become such a powerful social force that any attempt to peel us away from it could result in complete revolution.
However, other forms of disinformation need to be recognized and stopped. Propaganda and lazy, inaccurate reporting plague internet news.
Much like identifying a scholarly source for a research paper, knowing the origin of your media is one of the first steps in determining if what you’re reading is credible.
It is important to be wary of the fragility of the series of tubes that we hold near and dear to our hearts. The internet is a resilient beast, but it is not unstoppable.
The United States is far from having its social media completely controlled and even disabled as was the case in Uganda, but we still must be wary of threats to the independence of the internet.