Control over the internet has once again taken center stage as Uganda heads to the polls on Jan. 14. with technology giants including Facebook, Google, and Twitter sucked into the bitter fight.
On Jan. 9 reports emerged that Facebook had disappeared hundreds of accounts associated with president Yoweri Museveni supporters in Uganda. Some of the accounts belong to pro-government online publications while others belong to civil servants and socialites turned Museveni advisers.
Facebook has confirmed in a statement to Quartz Africa that it carried out the purge because the affected individuals and groups where using the platform to manipulate voters ahead of the elections. The tech giant says it is constantly working to find and put an end to coordinated campaigns that seek to manipulate public debate on the platform through what it calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB).”
“This month, we removed a network of accounts and Pages in Uganda that engaged in CIB to target public debate ahead of the election. They used fake and duplicate accounts to manage Pages, comment on other people’s content, impersonate users, re-share posts in Groups to make them appear more popular that they were,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
Facebook says the operation was linked to the Government Citizen Interaction Centre at Uganda’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology. Duncan Abigaba, a manager at the center was among the first government officials to cry foul about Facebook’s move.
“Given the impending election in Uganda, we moved quickly to investigate and take down this network,” the Facebook spokesperson said.
All eyes are on the growing influence and importance of social media platforms on local and national politics and governance around the world. A few days earlier, on Jan. 7, Twitter and Facebook led other social media and e-commerce platforms in banning US president Donald Trump in the last few days of his presidency to prevent him potentially using their digital reach to further incite his supporters. Twitter’s ban was upgraded to a permanent ban.