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Facebook Shuts Down Accounts Linked to Ugandan Information Ministry

By Halima Athumani January 11, 2021

Facebook has shut down several accounts of a network in Uganda linked to the country's Ministry of Information. The social media company accused the network of using fake accounts to promote the ruling party and the president.

The Facebook accounts shut down were allegedly linked to the "Citizens Interaction Center" at the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology.

In a statement, Facebook accuses the account holders of using fake and duplicate accounts to manage pages, comment on other people's content, impersonate users and re-share posts in groups to make them appear more popular than they were.

Duncan Abigaba, the deputy head of the center, said the accounts were targeted because of their support for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement or NRM.

Abigaba said the action by Facebook is unfair since members of the opposition National Unity Platform party, led by singer-turned-politician Bobi Wine, have been using social media to promote Wine's presidential candidacy.

"So, NRM had to try and sell our candidate as well in the social media space. By selling the candidate, it means you have to employ different tactics including you put out content. And this content you must share it in different groups for it to have as much reach as possible," said Abigaba.

The Uganda Communications Commission wrote to Facebook and Twitter late last year, demanding it shut down several accounts it said were being used wrongly by members of the opposition National Unity Platform.

Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo says the commission received a response from Facebook, saying it would investigate the claims.

But instead, said Opondo, without any due process, accounts of NRM supporters have been shut down.

"They have not told us the nature of the complaint. They have not written even to say we are going to switch you off. And so, it's a double standard. And that ties very well with what our intelligence is telling us that some of the opposition is working with foreign interests," he said.

The Ugandan government is already disabling some social media platforms. Currently, unless one is using a virtual private network, videos on Facebook cannot be played.

The Uganda Communications Commission has also ordered app stores to block over 100 virtual private networks being used by citizens to bypass the blockage.

Joel Ssenyonyi, the National Unity Platform spokesperson, denies the party has a hand in the account shutdowns.

"We actually wish we had a hand in it. We would actually love to see all the government accounts blocked, because they are using them to justify all the ills that are happening. You know that people get killed and then you see government officials and regime apologists and functionaries go on social media and they justify the killing of people and so on," said Ssenyonyi.

Ugandans go to the polls Thursday with Museveni seeking to extend his 34-year run as president. Bobi Wine has called off his final campaign appearances, due to multiple arrests and police breaking up his rallies.

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