Social media and messaging restricted, internet shut down for Uganda elections

Network data from the NetBlocks Internet Observatory confirm Uganda is in the midst of an internet blackout continuing from 13 January 2021 up until the 18th, following prior social media and messaging restrictions recorded Tuesday 12 January 2021. Findings below reveal the extent of restrictions issued by order of the Uganda Communications Commission before, during, and after presidential and parliamentary elections held on the 14th.

Update: Basic network connectivity has returned as of the 18th, reaching 90% of ordinary levels by the evening. However, an extensive list of social media and messaging restrictions remain in place, similar to that observed prior to the elections:

Internet service was shut down across major providers as of 7 p.m. Wednesday 13 January 2021 leaving citizens in an information vacuum that has remained in place during the preliminary announcement of results:

As polls closed and vote counting began, national internet connectivity fell further to just 12% of ordinary levels:

Previously, from Tuesday to Wednesday evening metrics showed that Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Skype, Viber, Google Play Store, some Telegram servers and link shortening services were among a lengthy list of pre-selected online platforms unavailable via Uganda’s main cell network operators:

Adding to this body of technical evidence, investigative reporting from AFP identified an order issued to providers requiring the restriction of access to some 100 VPN services in Uganda, a figure that is difficult or impossible to obtain through network measurement alone.

Findings are drawn from a set of 400 NetBlocks Web Probe metrics.

Further reading:

With thanks to CIPESA, Nasawali Phame, Fahad Amir and Internet Society Uganda for contributions.


Methodology

This report follows the NetBlocks Election Pathfinder Rapid Response methodology which defines a set of core principles, workflows and benchmarks for network measurement and evaluation during elections and referenda.

Internet performance and service reachability are determined via NetBlocks web probe privacy-preserving analytics. Each measurement consists of latency round trip time, outage type and autonomous system number aggregated in real-time to assess service availability and latency in a given country. Network providers and locations are enumerated as vantage point pairs. The root cause of a service outage may be additionally corroborated by means of traffic analysis and manual testing as detailed in the report.


NetBlocks is an internet monitor working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives to deliver a fair and inclusive digital future for all.

[Β press | contact ] Graphics and visualizations are provided for fair use in unaltered form reflecting the meaning and intent in which they were published, with clear credit and source attribution to NetBlocks. Intellectual property rights are protected including but not limited to key findings, facts and figures, trademarks, copyrights, and original reporting, are held by NetBlocks founder Alp Toker. Citation and source attribution are required at the point of use.