Uganda Temporarily Blocks Access To Social Media Platforms On Voting Day

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has said that access to social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook via mobile phones has been temporarily blocked over “national security” concerns during the election period.
The popular local mobile money transfer network has also been blocked as voting in Uganda’s General Election opened today.
UCC’s director of corporate affairs Fred Otunnu said: “We have switched off but only temporarily because as you know this is a very sensitive period.”
WhatsApp, a popular instant messaging service owned by Facebook, was shut down as
early as 9:00am and was closely followed by mobile Facebook.

Sources however indicated the shutdown was ordered by top officials in the ruling party National Resistance Movement and the military over an avalanche of negative messages—word, audio and video—circulating on the platforms.
President Yoweri Museveni, the incumbent, is seeking a fifth elective term in office after 30 years in power.
Sources also intimated that the president himself had also raised the alarm on the negative messages on social media.

WhatsApp is a popular messaging platform accessed by everyone using a smartphone. It allows internet-enabled users to send text messages, images, video, user location and audio media messages to other users.
Mobile phone users subscribing to the MTN and Airtel networks that command a large following in Uganda are the most affected. MTN had indicated in advance yesterday that its Mobile Money network will be off for some time. Access to the social media platforms via Africell also remain intermittent. It is only via the Vodafone network that access remained active.

Internet-enabled social media platforms can be tampered with or blocked by governments. Last year for example, a judge in Brazil ordered the switch off of Whatsapp for 48 hours after the company (Facebook) turned down the government’s request to eavesdrop on messages of users.

The Ugandan government has also on several occasions logged requests to Facebook for some user information which have been turned down.
Adding to the Election Day connectivity problems was the extremely poor internet bandwidth by nearly all the service providers, which however UCC claimed was not in any way related to the elections.

Voting across the country started as early 7:00am and will close at 6:00pm.
Besides President Museveni, other top candidates in the race include four-time presidential aspirant Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change, and a former prime minister Amama Mbabazi.
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