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Why Uganda taxed social media gossip



  A screenshot of the popular WhatsApp smartphone application

Image copyright
AFP

Caption

The revenue is also expected to help pay off the nation's growing public debt

The Ugandans have complained on Twitter about the introduction of a tax of 200 Ugandan shillings [$0.05, £0.04] on the use of social media.

Some have also used virtual private networks (VPNs) to be solvent.

The parliament approved the tax in May after President Yoweri Museveni pushed for the changes on the grounds that social media encouraged gossip.

However, some argue that this is a limitation of critical commentary on the government.

Why did the government do this?

President Museveni has talked about people who use social media to spread gossip, which he calls "opinions, prejudices, insults [and] friendly talks".

In a letter to the finance minister in March, Museveni said a social media tax could boost government revenues and reduce borrowing and aid.

He added that he generally does not support a tax on the Internet as this would affect its use for "educational, research or reference purposes". [1

9659007] Uganda's ICT minister Frank Tumwebaze has also defended the tax, declaring that money will be used to invest in more broadband infrastructure .

image copyright
AFP

Caption

President Museveni says there will be no tax on internet data as this is useful for education

What was the reaction?

Many say the tax is politically useful as social media is often used for critical commentary on the government, BBC reporter Catherine Byaruhanga in the capital Kampala

says complains that her freedom of speech is being curtailed.

The government has a form in this area. In February 2016, during the presidential and parliamentary elections, access to social media was blocked for security reasons. But critics argued that it limited the ability to monitor the vote.

Ugandan Internet rights activist Juliet Nanfuka is concerned that the government's move could be copied elsewhere. "If one country does one thing, other countries follow," she says.

Can the Ugandans afford it?

Two hundred Uganda shillings may not sound like much, but activists argue that they represent a significant slice of poorer people

Social media handset packages costing 500 or 1,000 shillings are becoming increasingly popular, leaving the new tax up to 40% of these costs.

Some companies are withdrawing these offers, according to Ms. Nanfuka

How do you pay?

The tax targets the use of OTT services (Over The Top), which include Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.

These are services that, according to a statement by telecommunications companies, offer "voice and messaging over the Internet".

Users are asked to make an electronic payment before they can access the websites.

Are people trying? to avoid the tax?

Some Ugandans use a VPN connection, which makes it look like they are accessing the Internet from another country where the tax is not levied.

But that could cost more than tax in the first place because it could consume more data.

BestVPN, which advises people on the services to be used, reported an increase in visitor numbers of Uganda by 966% on the day the tax was introduced.


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