Clearly, George Orwell’s 1984 wasn’t enough of a warning to the world of the dangers of totalianarism. This past week, the Ugandan government issued a new tax that would now charge citizens for using social media services. These services include the popular international messaging app WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter, and Ugandans will now have to pay 200 shillings in order to use such services.
Of course, government members have adamantly defended the tax. Parliamentary spokesman Chris Obore said in defense of the tax, “The government is trying not to over rely on donor funding. It is just a redistributive tax as the government is out ot look for more money from those who have to finance projects.”
What is the most troubling about this tax, however, has to do with the rationale behind imposing it in the first place. President Museveni- who has ruled Uganda since 1986- has been quoted as saying that social media is a negative influence that encourages “gossip”. But we’ve seen this same scenario happen plenty of times. Dictatorships and totalitarian regimes have been shown to repeatedly restrict television, radio, and now, social media, as a means to control the population.
And other critics of the tax have also brought attention to this issue. Twitter users have spent the past week vehemently criticizing the new law.
@ntv #AmLiveNTV Uganda's action to tax social media is not only aimed at spread of fake news for fake news can be handled by court of law but just to limit people's freedom of expression in expressing evils by the leadership social media is live in most countries worldwide why ug
— Samuel N Orutwa (@orutwasam) June 1, 2018
Uganda’s new social media tax law is an indirect attempt to gag the press and free speech https://t.co/K0nyMrr7yb
— Entre' Bond (@EntreBond) June 4, 2018
So Uganda has passed a law to tax social media users. pic.twitter.com/nS6fKFvXsd
— Ye Xolani (@LaniBlahnik) June 1, 2018
So actually Uganda taxing social media is against international law! That’s why UN shifted its base away from us 🤔 https://t.co/CpoUhYsoNm
— kabaka🇺🇬 (@metallicosama7) June 7, 2018
The new tax will negatively impact many Ugandans. According to CNN, over two million Ugandans are active on Facebook. It is unclear how many of these people will even be able to afford the tax.
We’ve seen attempts to control social media carried out by other state regimes. Most notably last year, the FCC ruled against net neutrality in the U.S., which will ultimately force people to subscribe to internet companies if they would like to use a certain social media site. This change has been compared to how cable companies function.
We can only hope that the Ugandan government will see what a grave mistake this is and actually listen to critics slamming the tax on media outlets. This law will do nothing but further alienate citizens from government and suppress freedom of speech and expression.