Ugandan Leaders Create a Social Media Tax 'to Stop Gossip'
Uganda's latest tax forces its users to think very carefully about what they type, text or tweet to others. The Ugandan parliament just passed a law charging 200 shilling (roughly $0.05) on social media messaging platforms each day they use it.
The platforms affected include social media giants like Facebook, Viber, Twitter, and WhatsApp.
The reason for such a tax, however, is one rarely heard before: to reduce gossip. Earlier this year, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni pushed for the tax's implementation as he argued that social media encourages gossip. (Museveni has been in power since 1986.) A daily tax would in theory force people to consider what they type -- as those words now come at a daily cost.
There's also some hope that social media could become a form of revenue for Uganda.
"The government is trying not to over-rely on donor funding, said Parliamentary spokesman Chris Obore in an interview with CNN. "It is just a redistributive tax as the government is out to look for money from those who have to finance projects."
But what about the tax itself? Will Ugandans be able to consistently pay the tax? Obore thinks so.
"The tax is very small. 200 shillings in Uganda to a dollar is very negligible," he told CNN. "People in Uganda will not find it too expensive."
However, in a country that has a gross domestic product per capita of $615 a year, a $19 fee each year could become too much for Uganda's poorest social media users.
The tax won't be implemented until July 1, and the bill instituting it includes various other taxes as well. The bill is called the Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill, and it will also impose a 1 percent levy on the total value of a mobile money transaction.
However, the tax is getting pushback from Ugandans and from citizens of surrounding countries.
@ntv #AmLiveNTV Uganda's action to tax social media is not only aimed at spread of fake news for fake news can be handled by court of law but just to limit people's freedom of expression in expressing evils by the leadership social media is live in most countries worldwide why ug.— Samuel N Orutwa (@orutwasam) June 1, 2018
Reuters reported the tax could be implemented through cell phone operators on individual SIM cards. This would give the government access to track social media usage. Government interference with technology has been an issue for Uganda for several years. In 2016, a report from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) argued the Ugandan government was stifling the digital rights of its citizens.
In Uganda alone, there are over 2 million active Facebook users.
Uganda is not the only African nation to test the waters with unique social media legislation. Neighboring country Tanzania recently installed a controversial $930 fee on bloggers and online publishers. That decision is currently being fought in the courts by activists saying it stifles an independent press and free speech. There's also a hotly-contested cybercrimes bill in Kenya that would impose heavy fines and a two-year jail term for fake news.