Facebook has defended its unpopular decision to disable accounts belonging to hundreds of Ugandans, saying they were engaged in “Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour (CIB) to target public debate ahead of the election”, despite many users saying they were apolitical and had nothing to do with the January 14 polls.
“This month, we removed a network of accounts and pages in Uganda that engaged in CIB (Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour) to target public debate ahead of the election,” Facebook’s head of communication for sub-Saharan Africa, Kezia Anim-Addo, was quoted by AFP as saying.
“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,” he added.
The decision has negatively impacted Ugandans who were using the platform to share non-political content such as entertainment and travel.
Ugandans took to social media to express their outrage.
Others who were not even actively using their pages were not spared.
A one Titus Magoba, a doctor, said, “I am apolitical. I woke up to find my account was gone.”
Pamela Ankunda blasted Facebook: “Liars!!! Manipulators!! Let them show me just one post that @JustClickUg put out that was political, partisan or abusive. Just one!!”
Liars!!! Manipulators!! Let them show me just one post that @JustClickUg put out that was political, partisan or abusive. Just one!!
Facebook explains why it blocked NRM supporters https://t.co/VmsBbzAI6J via @DailyMonitor
— Pamela Ankunda (@Pamankunda) January 11, 2021
Facebook did not give the number of affected accounts but it is thought to be in hundreds.
Presidential press spokesperson Don Wanyama slammed Facebook for meddling in Uganda’s election.
“Shame on the foreign forces that think they can aid and plant a puppet leadership on Uganda by disabling online accounts of (ruling party) NRM supporters,” he said on Twitter.
“You won’t take away President Kaguta Museveni’s votes.”
President Museveni has previously accused western elements of supporting his rival Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine.
Facebook and Twitter are under pressure over censorship of free speech, with senior government officials in the developed world including Britain calling for more regulation of the big tech.
Anim-Addo said the network which was taken down in Uganda was linked to the government ministry of information and communications technology.
“Given the impending election in Uganda, we moved quickly to investigate and take down this network,” he said.
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.
Facebook’s decision came hours after Twitter banned U.S. President Donald Trump’s account after his supporters stormed the Capitol.
Barry Malone, the executive producer of Al Jazeera’s ‘The Stream’, 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.”