In a shocking display of an acute lack of self-awareness, and or being completely out of touch with the modern day, the government of Uganda has recently passed a “social media tax”. This tax involves users paying the equivalent of around five cents USD upfront per day, in order to access social media websites. This is in addition to any data fees that the user is charged through their service provider. While the government insists that this tax is being levied in order to bolster government spending, as this tax is expected to bring in around $100 million in the current fiscal year, citizens decry it as an infringement on their freedom of speech. This is especially troubling, considering the country’s history of questionable electoral outcomes.
The outrage is not exclusive to the interior of the country itself, either. International human rights organization Amnesty International made a public statement, pointing out that “By making people pay for using these platforms, this tax will render these avenues of communication inaccessible for low-income earners, robbing many people of their right to freedom of expression, with a chilling effect on other human rights.” In addition, this could increase tensions between the people of Uganda and their government, as this directly brings questionable spending practices and potential corruption to the forefront, in light of direct taxation being brought on a routine, yet preciously held daily activity. Readers may remember the key part that social media played in the fateful Arab Spring of 2010, highlighting the importance of citizens’ access to social media in national and international politics.
But there is a far more important lesson to take away from this story, and that is that the average citizen is always in danger of a government stepping in and influencing or throttling the rights of the citizen. Whether it be taxes, licensing, fees, etc, monetary prerequisites are the easiest, but far from the only, way that government can accomplish this. Dis is not de way, my bruddas.