How would you like to pay taxes on your social media usage? You’re either laughing right now, or are getting angered by the sheer audacity with which I asked you that question.
While you and I might be sitting right now, spending our time on Facebook and WhatsApp, the Ugandan government has put into effect a law that will hinder (and in some cases completely stop) its citizen’s access to social media websites.
Social Media Tax: The What and The Why
So what is the Social Media Tax? Simply speaking, Ugandans will now have to pay a daily sum of 200 Ugandan Shillings (roughly equivalent to 5 cents, or Rs. 3) to access a whole host of websites (some of which aren’t really social media websites at all).
A tax, that by no metric makes any sense, and is as weird in its reasoning as it is in its inception in the first place.
The Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, who ordered the tax in the first place has some choice words of reason to offer for this new tax. Reasons, that just like the tax itself, are as dumbfounded as they can be.
Here are some of the reasons the Ugandan President offered for this tax, and why he thinks its only fair for the people to pay it. As reported by BBC, back in March, the Ugandan President complained to the Finance Minister of the country about online gossip and suggested that a tax be introduced to “cope with consequences.”
He also said on Twitter, “[Social media is a] luxury by those who are enjoying themselves or those who are malicious…all the moral reasons are in favor of that tax.” I just wonder if he paid the 200 Shillings in tax or not.
He further added that Ugandan social media users were “endlessly donating money to foreign telephone companies through chatting or even lying.”
Needless to say, none of the reasons make any sort of sense. For one, governments don’t really ‘cope with the consequences’ of online gossip. Especially not in a country with an internet penetration percentage of 22% by World Bank’s 2016 estimates. For another, claiming that social media is a luxury, and for those who are malicious is rather baseless. In today’s day and age, social media is one of the most used services on the internet. These reasons given by the Ugandan President are clearly not for the good of the country or the economy, but for the President to maintain his reign over the country without having to deal with his citizen’s disapproval of his policies.
Human Rights, Net Neutrality, This Tax Screws Everything Over
Understandably, people are protesting against the tax. There are a huge number of Ugandan people who are using the hashtag “#SocialMediaTax” to voice their unhappiness with the new tax.
Young citizens of Uganda including journalists and artists -musicians, actors, writers, bloggers, civil society representatives and entrepreneurs to issue press statement on social media and mobile money taxes #NTVNews #SocialMediaTax pic.twitter.com/sQ2bUa8lLu
— NTV UGANDA (@ntvuganda) July 3, 2018
Those saying 200/- is little money or that VPNs cost more forget that people are not protesting the amount being paid, but the principle behind taxing every little thing from an already suffering economy so a corrupt government can get even more money to steal.#SocialMediaTax
— Solomon King Benge (@solomonking) July 1, 2018
If you decide to pay social media tax using mobile money, you’ll be charged Ugx 200 plus 1% tax on the transaction. Therefore, you'll be charged tax on a tax.
We are such a shithole country! #SocialMediaTax
— Wilfred Businge (@MrBusinge) June 30, 2018
Along with that, individuals, tech companies, and human rights organizations are suing the Ugandan government for impeding its citizens’ basic human rights of free speech.
Join me to thank these patriotic Ugandans who have filed a #SocalMediaTax petition today at the constitution court. @SilverKayondo @qataharraymond @BillOpio @Cyber__Line @iambaguma and Okiror Emmanuel. You have given us a strong foundation for the future of our digital industry. pic.twitter.com/jyEgV57lgV
— Ugaman01 Official 🔱🔱 (@Ugaman01) July 2, 2018
The Ugandan President, who thinks that social media is being used by people to spread lies and gossip, is clearly trying to trample on the voice of dissent in a country that has struggled with a corrupt government for years on end.
The Ugandan government has a history of silencing the voice of its critics. Back during the 2016 elections, the government banned Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp saying that the opposition would use these platforms to organize protests.
What’s more, the Ugandan government is also being blamed by many for breaking the laws of net neutrality by levying taxes on social media websites.
Social Media Tax in Perspective
Let me put things into a little bit of perspective. According to the World Bank, Uganda’s Gross National Income for 2017 is $600. If a person is paying 5 cents a day for social media, they’ll end up paying approximately $18 a year. That’s 3% of the GNI.
In India, the GNI for 2017 is $1820. 3% of that is $54.6 which is roughly equivalent to Rs. 3,740. Every year. Just for accessing social media. By the way, that’s on top of the money you’re paying for internet access anyway.
What Can You Do, and Why You Should Do It
If you’re wondering how any of this affects you, well, honestly it doesn’t unless you’re in Uganda. However, as responsible citizens of the world, and as responsible netizens we should be raising our voices against what’s happening in Uganda.
For people in Uganda, there aren’t many viable options left right now. While you can use VPN services to get around the tax, the Ugandan government and telecom companies have already started blocking a number of VPNs in the country. However, there are a huge number of VPN services out there, so if one service gets blocked out, you can always switch to another. You can take a look at our list of VPNs to avoid Uganda’s social media tax, and use the internet tax-free while you still can.
So go ahead and raise your voice against the Social Media Tax. After all, the more number of people protesting this baseless, totally stupid and hostile tax, the more pressure it’ll put on the Ugandan government, and the faster we can expect this tax to go away.
Net neutrality is already dead in the US, let’s not let the world devolve into this absolute shitstorm now.