Uganda to Block Social Media Sites if Violent Protests Continue

By Beecher Tuttle April 19, 2011

Uganda will look to shut down local communications on Facebook and Twitter if the social networking sites are used to organize violent protests over rising food and fuel prices, a senior official with the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) told Reuters on Tuesday.

Angry protests and riots broke out at the end of last week in the East African country following a “Walk to Work” demonstration, where citizens looked to force the government to respond to soaring consumer prices. Ugandan authorities were said to have used teargas to disperse crowds on several occasions, including on Monday. At least four people have been killed during the protests. Opposition leader Kizza Besigye was said to be shot in the arm and taken into custody for encouraging violence.

Godfrey Mutabazi, executive director of the UCC, told Reuters that the government will have no problem blocking the social media sites if they are found to be responsible for encouraging violence.

“If someone is telling people to go and cause mass violence and kill people and uses these media to spread such messages, I can assure you we'll not hesitate to intervene and shut down these platforms,” Mutabazi said.

“We're very alert and monitoring these mediums and if people start promoting dangerous ideas, we'll act like every country would do,” he added.

Unlike some other governments that control their own networks, Uganda regulators will need to elicit the help of Internet service providers to block communications. In fact, earlier reports indicate that the UCC actually wrote to at least 10 telecommunication companies on April 14, the day of the Walk to Work demonstration, demanding that they block communications on Facebook and Twitter for 24 hours to “eliminate the connection and sharing of information that incites the public.”

However, the Daily Monitor reported that Internet communications remained unhindered throughout the entirety of the day, except for a minor glitch on one network. Mutabazi later told the news source that the letter was a “small error” and was written in his absence.

The Ugandan government has denied allegations that it has committed human rights abuses during its response to the protests, according to Reuters.

Social media tools have been utilized in several countries over the past few months to encourage protests and inspire revolt, making many governments weary of their use.

Beecher Tuttle is a TechZone360 contributor. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

TechZone360 Contributor

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