The role of government legislation in curbing online harassment and hate speech on Twitter in Uganda.

The role of government legislation in curbing online harassment and hate
speech on Twitter in Uganda. Due to the emergence of Web 2.0 and the increased accessibility of middle-class Ugandans to smartphones and the internet, we see that many have been able to join social media platforms like Twitter. On Twitter, we see that opinions are championed and reshared or liked without inhibition.

Academics argue that platforms such as Twitter foster freedom of speech which fundamentally reflect the state of a society and its people. (Achol 2019)
Based on these findings we see that Twitter (Uganda) fosters an environment where
information is heavily shared by most Ugandans. Because of this, we see that the nature of the huge amount of (information) public opinion shared daily on the platform is filled with prejudice, fake news, misinformation, and hostility that fosters online hate speech and harassment on the platform. A recent survey showed that 67% of internet users encountered hate speech and hateful comments online. (Cassim,2015). In Uganda specifically, 24.8million Ugandans own mobile phones which enables them to access these platforms and engage with and contribute to this information exposing them to potential online harassment and hate speech.

The government of Uganda through the Uganda Communications Act 2013 has created
several legal bases for regulation these including the Computer Misuse Act of 2016 and the Access to Information Act, of 2005. These Acts however have created concerns and issues of privacy and integrity, and protection of internet freedoms such as freedom of expression and access to information (Lugalambi & Bernard, 2011) This has created a level of public mistrust and resistance from most Ugandans regarding abiding and making use of the regulations that governments make available intended to curb online harassment and hate speech since that are viewed as control systems. For example, the government shut down social media platforms citing the maintenance of public order and national security. (Lugalambi &Bernard, 2011)

The table below shows a conceptual framework of the role of regulation on social media

CASE STUDY: Online Harassment and Hate Speech on Twitter Uganda
Firstly, we will examine interviews conducted with a group of Ugandan women who actively use Twitter. The interviews uncovered that a vast amount had an experience on the platform where their opinions and ideas they shared were ignored, However, several unwanted and abusive comments were made towards them focusing on their physical appearance. If they ignored these comments, they were further abused. This highlights a vast gap within the Ugandan legislation where minority groups like women are not considered and protected from online harassment based on their gender. A young woman interviewed said “A lot of people on social media will not even relate or pay attention to the information you give.

They will instead look at how you are dressed. They comment nasty things, and some will
even come to your inbox. (Personal communication 11/01/2022). It is vulgar, someone
would even go ahead and send you their pictures. I do not know what comes into their heads when they look at us. It’s really bad. The language itself is obscene and they become so angry when you request them to be formal in their communication. They resort to insults like “oli nakibi, mbadde nkuyamba,” [loosely translated as You are even ugly, I was just helping you]. This hurts because the language is abusive and vulgar. (Personal communication

Within Ugandan Twitter, we also see that a huge number of young Ugandans on Twitter have no regard for political figures and their families and make comments that are highly abusive against them especially when they die which is a form of online abuse against grieving family members. Regulations within the law do not cover this specific area therefore highlighting regulatory gaps within the hate speech and online harassment parameters. Grieving family members on the platforms are bombarded with more emotional and psychological distress through derogatory comments made against their loved ones. For example, the tweets that circulated after the death of the Ugandan speaker of parliament Oulanyah Jacob were filled with hate speech.

A major concern of the Ugandan Communications Act legislation is the major concerns of its oppressive nature. The legislation completely misses the opportunity to address online hate speech and harassment within the Ugandan Twitter space and rather causes control measures that monitor and restrict freedom of speech from Ugandans especially when they make political commentary about the evident political issues within the society can be highlighted by the shutdown of Twitter during the 2021 general elections. With telecommunications companies announce the directive on social media where citizens could not access the announcement.

MTN Uganda, 2022

On the contrary, we see that the online hate speech and harassment by political leaders and figures within the Ugandan political system on the Twitter platform is ignored and the legislation seems to ignore and not be concerned with these incidents. For example, GeneralMuhoozi is known to go on rants declaring war and military prowess against various neighboring countries inciting tension.

Twitter, 2022

Twitter, 2022

Ugandan politicians on Twitter engage in various amounts of online harassment and hate
speech against their constituents in retaliation against the elections not going their way. This again highlights the shortcoming of the Communication Act which it protects the political elite from online abuse and harassment however perpetuates this type of harassment against everyday constituents and protects its perpetrators. An example of this is the elected member of parliament Anita Among who reclaimed an ambulance donated to a medical facility within her constituent because she lost an election. The official further went on to gloat about her actions on Twitter, yet they carried real-life consequences for the members of her community who were left without adequate medical assistance.

Twitter, 2022

In summary, we see that the Ugandan Twitter space is filled with a vast amount of
information where free speech, online harassment, and hate speech are evident. The Ugandan Communications Act and other variations of its legislation. The legislation however needs an adjustment of its framework to curb and monitor certain specifications or loopholes that are neglected where hate speech and online harassment happen within specific groups. I would suggest a remodel or reframing of the framework to accommodate these areas and to create a twitter environment within Uganda where online hate speech and harassment are curbed to avoid algorithm spaces that reinforce these prejudices and divisive ways of thinking.

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