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Facebook blocks Uganda accounts ahead of elections

By , Sub Saharan Africa Business, Tech, News and Development Journalist
Uganda , 12 Jan 2021

Facebook has banned accounts linked to Ugandan government officials ahead of the country’s general elections scheduled for Thursday 14 January 2020, and cited Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour (CIB), including posting false information and duplicating posts.

The run up to the election has lit up social media, with Ugandans expressing their frustration over alleged rights abuses at the hands of Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986.

Facebook believes that some accounts – which the social network has linked to the Information Ministry – are being used to spread fake news and manipulate public discourse ahead of the election.

“This month, we removed a network of accounts & pages in Uganda that engaged in Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour to target public debate ahead of polls," Facebook clarified in a statement.

"Given the impending election in Uganda, we moved quickly to investigate and take down this network."

The social network added that the suspended accounts operated through “fake and duplicate accounts to manage pages, comment on other people's content, impersonate users, re-share posts in groups to make them appear more popular” than they are.

According to Facebook, the suspended accounts constituted a network linked to the Government Citizens Interaction Centre at the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology in Uganda.

Local officials, including cabinet ministers, have criticised the suspension.

Frank Tumwebaze, Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, called it an “abuse of communication platforms by tech giants” and urged Facebook to unlock the accounts.

Museveni’s press secretary, Don Wanyama, wrote on Twitter that the communications authority in Uganda should act on the suspension of the accounts “to ensure a fair digital playfield”.

At the same time, digital rights campaigners and advocates at the Access Now lobby group have expressed concern over what they have described as threats to the internet.

The organisation stated on Monday that voters’ right to access online information could be under threat. They have called on Museveni’s government to keep the internet on during the election.

“Shutting down or blocking the internet while reports of state violence and oppression are emerging is incredibly worrisome,” said Felicia Anthonio, a #KeepItOn campaigner with Access Now. “Uganda disconnected voters during the 2016 elections, and the #KeepItOn coalition is imploring authorities to set a new standard in 2021 by ensuring reliable, accessible internet to all - during this critical time, and hereafter.”

There are eight other candidates running for the presidency, with Museveni’s main opponent being Bobi Wine.

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