The Dangers of Viral Silence

“VIRAL silence might have as many dangers as viral noise”

Recently I’ve been left in awe at how far some peers go ahead to justify every action of the government, the latest was the shutdown of social media by the Ugandan government during the elections, for the record I’m not anti-government, I’m just a journalist who loves my profession way too much. 

After the social media shut down in Uganda, I read an opinion piece by country mate Junior Sabena Mutabazi where he argued that the action was right and this is where I beg to differ. 

The writer using the London 2011 riots as an example argued that it, “would be hard pressed to ignore the possibility of opportunists taking advantage of the election fever to launch their agendas using Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to galvanise support,” well here is where he gets it wrong.

After the blockage of social media, Ugandans circumvented the shutdown by switching to VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). A VPN enables users to access servers outside the country, over which the Ugandan authorities had no control, the statistics show that there were more than 1.5 million VPN downloads in Uganda on polling day.

Such a number is big enough to organise protests or galvanise support by any opportunist but there was none, all it did was affect an already struggling shilling. By shutting down the likes of mobile money, the revenue body is presumed to have lost at least shs 8 billion per day as the country’s currency stumbled to its lowest against the dollar since the year began.
And for the record the same report that noted the role of social media in fueling the London protests warned of the dangers of shuting down such a tool, “viral silence may have as many dangers as viral noise”.

Social media has become a target, excuse for the ruling political class world over. What happened in Uganda has been happening in Niger and Chad with the latter also expected to go through the same in their upcoming elections thus the tool becoming a justified excuse for our politicians. Social media is a tool, a powerful one but just that, a tool.

It is laughable to think that in this millennial age and era it’s possible to suppress the information flow, just like how Ugandans found a way around with the VPN’s, resourceful and determined citizens in any country will find a way around these internet blockages. Are authorities trying to hold a balloon under water?

Pre-election, one would argue that the government’s position was credible but apart from turning a great majority of social media enthusiasts into mini-hackers even the previously apathetic Ugandan became politically active cause of the decision. And do our governments want this? Your guess is as good as mine.

By giving up individual rights in the sacrifice of social media being shut down we are not only giving in to the information blackout but majorly ignoring the pros of this tool, For every Egypt, there is Haiti. And in case of any uprisings the authorities can still use social media as a monitoring tool to tackle the riots.

More from aKoma