Social Media, Election fever and how to protect yourself online during the 2016 elections

That social media has become the main driving force behind the 2016 Presidential Campaigns in Uganda comes as no surprise. The dissemination of information whether by the ruling NRM government or by the Opposition is a do-or-die for the various parties concerned as public opinion hinges strongly on how positively or negatively the citizenry views the Presidential candidates in this rat race. Below are some of the points of contention that have rocked the country and what message one should glean from between the lines.

The Uganda Political Scene and why you need to pay attention

Okay let’s face it, the political scene in Uganda right now is what one would call a pregnant pause—that calm before a torrential El Nino downpour. Elections are upon us and such are trying times for a young democracy like ours. Take an example of these misguided macho heroes who stuck their fingers into the Leopard’s backside. To cut the long story short, the Leopard sneezed and it evidently didn’t end well for the limbs and torsos to which the fingers were attached. Matter of fact, one of these heroes is currently MIA and feared dead.

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Nandala_Mafabi and a Supporter

Nandala Mafabi an Opposition leader next to a supporter in a T-shirt of president Museveni the Incumbent. Image: Kiiza Besigye Facebook Page

Recently, this Ex-spy cum political activist posted an unconfirmed unsavoury image of said local hero (who by all indication was very dead) on his Facebook. This prompted the ever vigilant Uganda Police (only where dissent is concerned) to seize this ex-spy and lock him up, freedom of expression notwithstanding. The gory evidence was tossed aside without thorough investigation one would expect from a Police force of our calibre. (You know how these things go). And the message is clear, next time the general public has reason to believe they have viable evidence of an injustice, they may as well shove it up the Leopard’s backside where it so rightly belongs. Refer to this news story from the Guardian website about political intimidation by the ruling party and how things are going to get bloody!

Moral of the story (Make sure you learn something)

  • Formulate an exit strategy must you attend that political rally. Have bottled water and a first aid kit in preparation of any eventuality.
  • Listen to the political debates with a grain of salt. Don’t believe everything you see on TV, read in the papers or online. Propagandists are busy at work on both sides of the spectrum.
  • Be 100% certain of your information before you post that expose on your Facebook or Twitter; make sure that your bwino has dried. And your source is as solid as Golola’s biceps.
  • Restock your food supplies. Who knows what the near future holds.
  • Befriend a lawyer

Gov’t is Watching You(Yes, you!)

Not so long ago, International Tech website TheVerge posted this report purporting that the Uganda government has purchased FinFisher, ‘a highly invasive form of spyware capable of remotely monitoring computers, smartphones, and other equipment in real-time, and has been sold on the open market to repressive governments.’ With the unlikely scenario that this purchase never happened when this story broke, what is to say FinFisher isn’t now snooping around our interwebs at this volatile moment in time, creating files on everyone spewing anti-government rhetoric? I mean it isn’t like the NRM Government is fighting for its survival or anything, or is it?

Young South Sudanese by Isaac Kasamani

Young South Sudanese by Isaac Kasamani

Some ways to protect yourself online

  • Use these browser extensions to fortify your online presence: HTTPS EVERYWHERE and  Disconnect (To start with). Make your government minions work for their pay before they can access your computer.
  • Stay off free and unsecured Wi-Fi networks. When it can’t be helped, turn on your firewall, password protection in networks and turn off file sharing.
  • If you must do those exposes, invest in a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN hides your computer’s IP address, so when State House begins hunting for you, it won’t be a walk in Centenary Park. FYI, good VPNs come with a monthly charge. Be sensible nonetheless. Defamatory sensational stories are in bad taste.
  • Download and install TOR. The Onion Router (TOR) is a ‘a group of volunteer-operated servers that allows people to improve their privacy and security on the Internet’. This comes in handy especially for whistle-blowers who wish not to be identified contacting journalists and just about anyone who would like to be anonymous online. The downside is that all that network hopping strains internet speeds.
  • Throw your smartphone and PC in the toilet and go back to the village. Problem solved.

Tech to the Rescue (but tread carefully)

The upcoming Presidential elections will see a multitude of tech-savvy Ugandans turn citizen journalist and pick up their smartphones and other gadgetry to report what is on the ground as is and not whatever concoction the government should shake up for public consumption. Unsure as we are of government tech capabilities, we should assume the worst and take necessary precaution where it’s due.

Social media, the darling of most Ugandans unfortunately isn’t the safest avenue for free expression as shown by the arrest of the Ex-spy and another supposedly well-informed individual critical of government (Look him up here). Both were arrested for comments posted on Facebook. If and when citizen journalism becomes your niche in these troubling times, use some online protection as stated above. Here’s more:

  • Use anonymous image upload-and-share websites like Imgur and  imgreview without having to sign up before sharing your sensitive images online to limit prosecution.
  • Air out your views in person between trusted friends. The government can’t touch this.
  • Download the NTV Mobi smartphone app to keep abreast with breaking news stories in the election period.
  • Join sensible WhatsApp Groups for live information sharing but beware of scare mongers. Alternatively, join the more secure WhatsApp clone, Telegram which allows one to delete messages from both ends.
  • Unplug from the internet. Switch off your phone and the TV until this quagmire is over and done with. What’s the worst that could happen?

Photo Credit: jaros 2(Ron) via Compfight cc