Facebook and its sister company Instagram have Saturday morning deactivated hundreds of accounts used by Ugandans.
The two U.S.-owned accounts, which boast about 3 million users in Uganda, on Friday night deleted accounts of more than 500 users, some of whom are supporters of the NRM government.
These include popular blogger, Ashburg Kato and ICT Ministry official, Duncan Abigaba among others.
“Shame on the foreign forces that think they can aid and plant a puppet leadership on Uganda by disabling online accounts of @NRMOnline supporters,” said Wanyama in a Tweet this Saturday morning.
“You can take away your platforms, you won’t take away @KagutaMuseveni votes,” he tweeted.
Several other users who were not linked to government or rarely used their Facebook and Instagram pages had their accounts also deleted.
A one Titus Magoba, a doctor, said, “I am apolitical. I woke up to find my account was gone.”
Several online media houses including ChimpReports also had their Facebook accounts suspended for 30 days pending review.
Facebook is yet to issue a statement on today’s development.
Users affected by Facebook’s actions are being told that, “Your Account Has Been Disabled. For more information please visit the Help Center.”
One of the messages to a user reads in part: “Your account was disabled on Jan 9, 2021. If you think your account was disabled by mistake you can submit more information via the Help Center for up to 30 days after your account was disabled. After that, your account will be permanently disabled and you will no longer be able to request a review.”
The development comes at a time Uganda is preparing for the January 14 election.
Both the ruling NRM party and opposition, especially Robert Kyagulanyi’s camp, have been actively using social media to rally support for their presidential candidates and also attacking each other.
It remains unclear why NRM-leaning users were the most affected by Facebook’s actions.
This has raised fears of the big tech’s plans to influence public opinion in Cavour of their preferred candidates in next week’s general election.
On the same night, Twitter banned U.S. President Donald Trump’s account, sparking fury from his supporters and praise from opponents.
Experts say Africans need to build their own social networks as a long term measure against over reliance on foreign social media.
Danger of monopoly
Barry Malone, the executive producer of Al Jazeera’s Stream show, says the public should be careful about cheerleading the unprecedented political power of unaccountable tech companies who hold a near monopoly on the distribution of information.
“Both Twitter and Facebook knew which way the wind was blowing and they acted out of self-interest, as they always do. It’s not about accuracy of information. Facebook, in monopolizing distribution and then strangling news organizations with its algorithms, has already proven that,” argues Malone.
“To accept that unelected, billionaire tech overlords should have the power to decide who does and who doesn’t have access to the most powerful information platforms in human history is dangerous,” he added.
“And now we expect them to police the flow of global information? To sit in judgment about who gets heard and who doesn’t? To rein in the huge destructive potential of their platforms? It’s absurd.”
Both Instagram and Facebook are owned by Mark Zuckerberg.
Trump has since criticised the big tech for banning “free speech,” saying, “We have been negotiating with various other sites, and will have a big announcement soon, while we also look at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future.” He emphasised: “Twitter is not about FREE SPEECH.”