Facebook shuts Uganda officials' accounts ahead of elections

·2-min read

Social media giant Facebook has shut multiple accounts belonging to Ugandan government officials accused of seeking to manipulate public debate ahead of elections scheduled to be held on Thursday.

Facebook's head of communication for sub-Saharan Africa, Kezia Anim-Addo stated in an email to the the news agency AFP that the company had removed "a network of accounts and pages in Uganda that engaged in CIB (Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour) to target public debate ahead of the election."

The East African nation is holding presidential and parliamentary elections after a tense and bloody campaign, with President Yoweri Museveni, 76, facing a stiff challenge from the popstar-turned-politician Bobi Wine, 38.

"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."

Anim-Addo said the network was linked to the ministry of information and communications technology. "Given the impending election in Uganda, we moved quickly to investigate and take down this network."

Social media giants have come under increasing scrutiny over the content they allow to spread on their networks. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook blocked US President Donald Trump over incitement to violence after his supporters stormed the US Capitol last Wednesday, a move his backers see as an assault on free speech.

Museveni's senior press secretary Don Wanyama, who saw both his Facebook and Instagram account shut down, accused the company of seeking to influence the election. "Shame on the foreign forces that think they can aid and plant a puppet leadership on Uganda by disabling online accounts of (ruling party) NRM supporters," he said on Twitter.

"You won't take away President Kaguta Museveni," he added, using the president's second name.

Museveni's online account is still active but many government officials and members of the ruling party have seen their pages taken down, including a well-known blogger and Museveni supporter, a prominent doctor and a senior official in the information ministry.

The president has long accused foreign organisations and elements of backing Wine in a bid to remove his government.

The term Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour was invented by Facebook, which describes it as when "groups of pages or people work together to mislead others about who they are or what they are doing".

The tech giant explained on its website that this is often linked to deceptive behaviour rather than content. Anim-Addo said over 100 such networks seeking to manipulate public debate have been removed worldwide since 2017.

Uganda's election has been marred by numerous arrests of opposition candidates and their supporters, as well as violence which saw at least 54 killed in protests in November.

Wine has a strong following among the poor and a young population who have known only the 35-year reign of Museveni, but the powerful incumbent is seen as almost impossible to unseat.

(AFP)