Facebook Tax? Uganda Levies Social Media Duty To Fight Gossip, Muddying Answer To 'Is Facebook Free?'

Uganda's parliament has passed a law which imposes a social media tax, BBC reports. The new law imposes a 200 shilling ($0.05) daily levy on people using internet platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Viber. It will go into effect on July 1.

However, according to BBC, it remains unclear how exactly this law will be implemented. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has personally pushed for a social media tax, arguing that social media platforms encourage gossip.

Quartz first reported on this in April this year. Apart from curbing gossip, the controversial tax is also meant to raise billions in tax revenue for the African country's government. Museveni, according to Quartz, wrote an open letter to the treasury in March this year, asserting that social media, as a generator of gossip and idle talk, is costing Uganda money and time.

"We're looking for money to maintain the security of the country and extend electricity so that you people can enjoy more of social media, more often, more frequently," Finance Minister Matia Kasaija told Reuters news agency in April. Forty percent of Ugandans use the internet, according to Reuters, which is why this move is unlikely to go down well in the eyes of the general public. Human rights activists have criticized the new tax, characterizing it as an attempt to jeopardize freedom of expression.

Uganda, however, is not the first East African country to regulate internet use, Reuters noted. Tanzania, for example, introduced a law requiring any blog and website owners to pay an annual license fee of one million Tanzanian shillings ($440) in March 2018.

Apart from imposing a tax on gossip, the new Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill will, according to BBC, require Ugandans to pay a 1 percent levy on the total value of mobile money transactions. This will, activists claim, affect the lowest classes of Ugandan society who rarely use conventional banking services.

In an effort to pay off the national debt, Uganda's government has turned to tax increases. However, Ugandan internet service provides, unsure about how the new daily tax on social media will be implement, are wondering how effective it will be.

Of the 23.6 million mobile phone subscribers in Uganda, only 17 million use the internet, so it remains unclear how the government will ensure all mobile phone SIM cards are properly registered. Therefore, it remains unknown how authorities will be able to identify citizens accessing social media sites.

According to BBC, social media platforms have become an important political tool in Uganda; the ruling party and the opposition alike, are struggling to tame social media. For instance, access to platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter was shut down in 2016 during the Ugandan presidential election.