Fear of sup­pres­sion as govts rein in use of so­cial me­dia with laws, taxes

The East African - - NEWS - Pic: Macharia Mwangi

The use of so­cial me­dia in East Africa is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a re­stricted and costly affair as gov­ern­ments in­sti­tute stricter laws to reg­u­late ac­cess and use of so­cial net­works, amid fears of grow­ing sup­pres­sion against In­ter­net free­dom and free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

Two court rul­ings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and a par­lia­men­tary ses­sion in Kam­pala in a space of three days de­liv­ered mixed for­tunes for so­cial me­dia users in the three coun­tries: Re­prieve for some, and a blow to oth­ers.

In Uganda, leg­is­la­tors passed the con­tro­ver­sial Ex­cise Duty (Amend­ment) Bill, which slaps so­cial me­dia users with a manda­tory $0.05 daily levy to ac­cess What­sapp, tak­ing the an­nual cost of us­ing the mes­sag­ing application in Uganda to nearly $20.

The What­sapp levy is part of an ini­tially pro­posed wider daily tax on all so­cial me­dia plat­forms in or­der to raise rev­enue and tame the spread of gos­sip and hate mes­sages, but op­po­nents say it aims to sti­fle crit­i­cism against the gov­ern­ment.

On Tues­day, Tan­za­nia or­dered on­line con­tent providers to be­gin com­ply­ing with its new cy­ber­crime reg­u­la­tions which were pub­lished in April, mo­ments af­ter it won the first round of case seek­ing to block the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the laws.

“Fol­low­ing this rul­ing ... own­ers of so­cial me­dia plat­forms that are used to dis­sem­i­nate news such as blogs, on­line TV and ra­dio are re­quired to con­tinue with the regis­tra­tion process and ob­serve ethics out­lined in the rel­e­vant reg­u­la­tions,” gov­ern­ment spokesman Has­san Ab­basi said in a state­ment.

The Elec­tronic and Postal Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (On­line Con­tent) Reg­u­la­tions 2018 re­quires on­line con­tent providers in­clud­ing on­line ra­dio sta­tions and video web­sites to pro­vide the au­thor­i­ties with a lengthy list of de­tails in­clud­ing share cap­i­tal, tax cer­tifi­cates, es­ti­mated in­vest­ments be­fore be­ing ac­cred­ited.

Any­one found guilty of breach­ing the law will be fined about $2,500, or im­pris­oned for “not less than 12 months or both.

In Nairobi, the courts handed out a tem­po­rary re­prieve to Kenyan blog­gers and so­cial me­dia users by sus­pend­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of 26 sec­tions of a new cy­ber­crime law.

The new laws in Tan­za­nia, Kenya and Uganda which al­ready have sev­eral cy­ber reg­u­la­tions in place will help step up in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia reg­u­la­tion, in the wake of grow­ing in­ci­dents of fake news and cy­ber pro­pa­ganda, but ac­tivists be­lieve there is just more than what meets the eye.

“Free­dom of ex­pres­sion is un­der tremen­dous at­tack in the East­ern Africa re­gion un­der the guise of at­tacks on cy­ber­crimes,” ,” said Henry Maina, the East­ern Africa Re­gion Direc­tor of Ar­ti­cle 19, a global rights lobby that de­fends free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

Mem­ber of the Kenya Sec­tor Work­ing Group in Naivasha, where they asked Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta not to as­sent to the Com­puter and Cy­ber­crimes Bill 2018.

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