Minister Talks Tough on ‘illegal Access’ of Facebook, WhatsApp

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Uganda’s State Minister for Information, Communication Technology (ICT) and National Guidance Peter Ogwang has warned Ugandans accessing social media platforms illegally.

The government through the Uganda Communications Commission ordered Internet Service Providers to shutdown social media platforms and eventually the internet on January 13, hours to the country’s general elections.

Whereas internet was switched back on January 18, Ogwang said social media and messaging platforms remain closed. Many Ugandans are accessing these platforms using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), an application that encrypt one’s internet traffic and disguise his/her online identity.

He justified the internet shutdown, saying the opposition political parties had created parallel tally centres which they wanted to use to broadcast fake results.

“We switched off internet to enable us manage the elections. It was a national security issue. We restored it but social media has not yet come back. We are analysing the situation and will be restored with time, on a case by case basis,” Ogwang said. Minister Peter Ogwang.

He made the comments while appearing before the ICT and national guidance committee in Kampala. He told the committee that some members of the public had threatened to use social media to incite others.

However, many journalists who follow the Minister on social media wondered how he accessed Twitter on the same day at 5:55PM, when he announced the resumptions of his duties.

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He said that Ugandans’ post-election behaviour will determine when social media will be switched back on. Uganda has about 2.2 million active Facebook users.

In the run up to the polls, social media giant Facebook shutdown dozens of accounts belonging to top government officials over manipulating public debate.

“This month, we removed a network of accounts and pages in Uganda that engaged in Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour (CIB) to target public debate ahead of the election,” Facebook’s head of communication for sub-Saharan Africa, Kezia Anim-Addo, told AFP in an email.

“They used 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 that they were.”

Anim-Addo said the network of fake accounts was linked to the government’s ICT ministry.

Speaking to the media this week, Uganda’s Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa said: “We asked Facebook and Twitter to restore the closed government and NRM accounts but they didn’t heed. In response, we shut them down to ensure equity.” 

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