The US might have meekly stood by as private corporations took away the freedom of speech of its sitting President, but tiny Uganda is taking a stand.
The Government of Uganda — which presides over all of 4 crore people — has banned social media and messaging apps, just two days ahead of a highly charged Presidential election. The Government had made it clear to telecom companies that the social media ban was in retaliation for Facebook blocking some pro-government accounts, as per reports. In a letter seen by Reuters dated January 12th, Uganda’s communications regulator has ordered blockage of all social media platforms and messaging apps until further notice.
“The President warns that if the social media channels like @Facebook and @Twitter are not being friendly and equitable to some of the Ugandans, then there is no reason as to why we should have them operate here,” the government of Udanda wrote on its Twitter account.
The race between long serving President Yoweri Museveni and Bob Wine, who is the front runner among the ten candidates challenging him, heated up when Wine claimed that the army raided his home and arrested his staff without giving any reasons.
Twitter was among the first to condemn this blanket ban on social media. “We strongly condemn internet shutdowns – they are hugely harmful, violate basic human rights and the principles of the #OpenInternet,” Twitter wrote.
Ironically, Twitter’s condemnation comes days after it had permanently banned Donald Trump from its platform, and also suddenly suspended thousands of conservative accounts by claiming that they are linked to conspiracy theories and “incite violence”.
Notably, in October, Twitter blocked The New York Post from posting any new tweets, when they published an article about the alleged corruption of Hunter Biden, the son of then-Presidential candidate Joe Biden.
However, Uganda has shown that governments don’t have to stand meekly by as tech companies appoint themselves as arbiters of free speech. Tech companies have no accountability, and little locus standi to decide what is free speech and what is not — Twitter was initially set up to share 140-character updates about your life, and Facebook’s initial avatar allowed college users to rate girls as ‘hot’ or ‘not’. Over the years, these companies have grown in influence, and have now ended up deciding whether the sitting US President can speak to his millions of followers. Uganda has shown, governments too have some tools up their arsenal — including outright bans — to make sure that tech companies don’t overreach their mandates.