18 February 2016

Uganda: Social Media, Mobile Money Switched Off Over National Security Concerns

Photo: Daily Monitor
As Ugandans go to the polls, the Uganda Communications Commission says they have blocked social media platforms over security concerns.

Kampala — The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has said that access of social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook via mobile phones and the popular mobile money network has been temporarily blocked over "national security" concerns during the election period.

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 9am and was closely followed by Facebook.

There has been speculation however, that the shutdown was ordered, to control the avalanche of negative messages--word, audio and video--circulating on the platforms.

WhatsApp, is a popular cross message platform that can be 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, are the most affected.

MTN, 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 access via the Vodafone network that remains active.

Because they are 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 of eavesdropping on messages of users.

There are also concerns over the poor internet bandwidth by nearly all the service providers, which however UCC, said was not in any way related to the elections.

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