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Internet, social media disrupted ahead of Thursday polls

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | A number of social media sites have been blocked ahead of the general election on Thursday, January, 14. Ugandans will go to the polls to elect president and Members of Parliament.

Many Ugandans are now unable to access Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or even connect to some Virtual Private Networks-VPN, which initially bypassed government blockades and the Over the Top-OTT taxes.

For some people with access to WhatsApp, internet in general was problematic. For close to two hours, several people especially using the Airtel lines attempted in vain to connect to Facebook while those with MTN stayed connected until later in the afternoon.

Blocked! Access to @Facebook using both @Airtel_Ug and @mtnug ISPs is blocked in Uganda. We urge the government to #KeepItOn” a social media user posted.

The incidence comes days after Facebook blocked hundreds of accounts of people who used to manage pages, comments on other people’s content, alleged impersonate users, and re-share posts in groups to make them appear more popular than they were.

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA-Uganda) posted earlier that in a similar fashion to the 2016 elections, access to Facebook has been blocked by at least two internet service providers.

Juliet Nanfuka, a digital expert with CIPESA says that ideally, internet disruptions should not be happening in order to ensure that communication avenues are maintained for the sake of holding a democratic election.

“For many, social media is a primary source of information and an avenue for engagement.” CIPESA posted on Twitter.

Some Ugandans using Wi-Fi continued posting normally on Facebook but the responses and further postings continued to slow down as the day progressed. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information and communications Technology Vincent Waiswa Bagiire said that he was not aware of any decision to switch off social media, but told Uganda Radio Network that he was still on, especially on telegram.

Attempts to speak to Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the regulator for comment was futile by press time. Duncan Abigaba, the Deputy Director of the Government Citizens Interaction Centre which was at the centre of the Facebook blockage linked the blockage to Facebook action against pro-government users.

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