Internet and Social Media Lockdowns During Election Time

Social media and the internet are one of the ways that people connect, express themselves and engage with others in Uganda, like in the United Sates and other countries around the world. The day before the election, the internet was shut down by the Museveni government. The shutdown lasted for over 100 hours, impacting businesses and people’s lives. Information was cut off and communication was halted. Social media was also switched off, but for longer than the internet. Museveni feared that there would be interference with the election, so he took the whole country off-line. Some experts say that this shutdown cost the Ugandan economy $9 billion.

Many human and digital rights advocates say that the blackout was a deliberate attempt by the government to keep the people of Uganda, and those all around the world, in the dark during the election period. They said that this was similar to the other crackdowns on political leaders, the media and civil society organizations.

This is the first time that Ugandan leaders shut off the internet, but not the first time that online regulations have been imposed on the country. Regulations, especially during election time has become more and more common. In 2016 during the election, social media and money transfers were halted. In 2011, SMS were blocked by the government. Before that, in 2006, the government started blocking websites that were critical of the government.

Many say that this erodes trust on technology that was being built during the COVID pandemic. People also fear how the government has ratcheted up the restrictions on the internet and social media every election. As more people rely on technology to communicate and take part in discussions that are important to civil society, this is an area of growing concern. Internet and social media blackouts suppress the freedom of information and the freedom of speech or expression that are necessary in a free and democratic society.