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[liberationtech] New Report on Uganda's Social Media Tax

Yosem Companys ycompanys at
Mon Nov 12 20:20:42 PST 2018

From: Maria Xynou <maria at>

Today, in collaboration with our Ugandan partners, DefendDefenders, OONI
co-published a new research report: "Uganda's Social Media Tax through the
lens of network measurements".

Our research report is available via:

* OONI site:

* DefendDefenders site:

As of 1st July 2018, Uganda has introduced a new OTT (Over The Top) tax --
commonly referred to as the Social Media Tax - which requires people in
Uganda to pay taxes to the government in order to access several online
social media platforms. Unless this tax is paid, access to these specific
social media platforms is blocked.

Civil society groups in Uganda have expressed concern that this new Social
Media Tax will affect marginalized communities the most.

Thanks to OONI Probe users in Uganda, internet censorship has been measured
in the country since 2014 (previously enabling the detection and
examination of social media censorship during the 2016 elections).

In light of the new OTT tax, we joined forces with DefendDefenders to test
the taxed social media platforms and to run a series of experiments,
testing VPN blocking as well.

Our key findings include:

   - Ugandan ISPs primarily implement internet censorship by means of HTTP
   blocking, resetting connections to taxed and banned sites.
   - MTN appears to block Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and
   Snapchat by means of TCP/IP blocking. The TCP/IP blocking of Snapchat may
   have caused collateral damage, possibly affecting thousands of sites hosted
   on the same CDN. However, even if this is the case, it doesn't affect most
   MTN users since MTN's proxy circumvents IP-level blocking.
   - Social media censorship varies across ASNs. Africell, for example,
   attempts to block Telegram, while MTN doesn't. Different social media sites
   were blocked by different ISPs. Some Ugandan ISPs don't block access to
   social media sites at all (such as Smile Communications and state-owned
   Uganda Telecom).
   - The blocking of circumvention tool sites also varies across ASNs. MTN
   blocks access to VPN servers using the OpenVPN protocol and to, but not to the Tor network.

The above findings are based on the collection and analysis of OONI network
measurements from multiple local vantage points in Uganda:

To reproduce and expand upon our study, you can:

   1. Run OONI Probe:
   2. Use OONI Run to test the sites of your choice:
   3. Download OONI data for your own analysis:

Warm thanks to all the volunteers in Uganda who have run OONI Probe, making
this research possible!


Maria Xynou
Research & Partnerships Director
Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI)
PGP Key Fingerprint: 2DC8 AFB6 CA11 B552 1081 FBDE 2131 B3BE 70CA 417E
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