Uganda's social media tax: a necessary cost or net neutrality hazard?

Earlier this month, the Ugandan government introduced a social media tax as part of what it says is a way to generate revenue and curb idle online gossip.

The tax means Ugandans now have to pay 200 Ugandan shillings (about $0.05) a day to use platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp (CNN).

But Ugandans aren’t taking the new tax on online services and mobile money transactions lightly. Protests have broken out and tech companies and activists have tried to sue the government (The Guardian). Concerns range from violations of freedom of speech to the imposition of more taxes in a country where nearly a quarter of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

Key facts

  • As of July 1, Ugandan internet users have to pay a tax of 200 Uganda shillings to access any of the more than 60 online platforms chosen by the government because they offer voice and messaging services. The platforms are listed by the government as “Over The Top (OTT)”.
  • President Yoweri Museveni, in his 32nd year of power in Uganda, says the tax is needed to increase revenue to turn the impoverished country into a middle-income one by 2020.
  • Ugandan finance minister Matia Kasaija told Reuters the tax plan will help “maintain the security of the country and extend electricity so that you people can enjoy more of social media, more often, more frequently.”
  • The government recently announced it has collected around $1.8m from the social media tax.

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How should we report on this?

  • A report on the net neutrality and free speech implications – if Ugandans have to pay to use social media, how is their freedom of speech and expression limited? Can everyone afford it?
  • What else?

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