Facebook has always been the most used social media platform in Uganda but it drops to fourth place due to the ban that has been imposed on it since the 2021 Uganda general elections. The aftermath has seen micro-blogging website, Twitter taking over the first place as the most popular social media site as of June 2021, according to statistics by Stat Counter. The drop is because of using virtual private networks (VPNs) which affect the geo-location of the user.
In this article, we talk about how this has affected businesses in terms of social media marketing.
As mentioned before, Facebook is a highly popular social media network with a varied audience, with over 2.8 billion active monthly users (as of Q1 2021) according to Statista. As such, every business needs to have a Facebook Page and when used correctly, the page can be invaluable to the business. With no doubt, we can say the platform as the top social media site in the world, is a safe bet for any business looking to boost sales because of their large audience and room to customize your social media marketing.
According to Oberlo, there are more than 65 million businesses using Facebook Business Pages. Plus, more than 6 million businesses using Facebook advertising. However, these numbers are for 2020, which means the numbers are likely to be a bit higher now.
Part of these millions of Facebook Business Pages include ones from Uganda. But with now the ban on Facebook since Jan. 13th, 2021, how could this have affected businesses? In this article written with an author from Sautitech, we spoke to a few stakeholders in the Ugandan digital space to find out their opinions on how the ban could have affected businesses in Uganda.
But first, where it all began
During the 2021 general campaign rallies, the Ugandan Electoral Commission (EC) made it clear for presidential candidates not to hold rallies that exceed over 200 people — as a way to combat the spread of coronavirus. The commission also suggested that the presidential candidates should hold their campaigns on various media channels, including social media as another way they (EC) were trying to fight the spread of the virus.
With only days left to the 2021 general elections, Facebook shut down several accounts it called ‘fake and duplicate’ that the social media network said they were connected with the Ministry of ICT to impersonate users and boost the popularity of posts.
In a televised address, hours later, President Museveni accused Facebook of being arrogant and instructed the government to close the platform, along with other social media outlets. The latter would later be reopened for use after the conclusion of the election period but only Facebook remained closed. Six months on, Facebook remains blocked in Uganda.
So, our question was, What has been the effect of the ban on businesses?
John Ivan Kisekka, a digital marketer, said that apparently, the ban on Facebook has affected large-scale companies the most. He believes the big corporate companies are afraid of being on the wrong side of the government and therefore have resorted to using other platforms to market their products or services.
“I think corporate companies stopped posting on Facebook afraid of being on the wrong side of the government. This means that they are losing out on some leads,” says Kisekka. Arthur Musinguzi, a Digital Media practitioner agreed with Kisekka’s point of view. Musinguzi says these companies have been affected a lot and if only could the government work on its differences directly with Facebook than affecting everyone.
Roger Kaweesa, a digital media practitioner, noted that social media rumors are hard to curb as the large companies and government agencies can’t respond via Facebook since they blocked it themselves. “They have to resort to Twitter and traditional media. This is why we have seen a fall in the usage of the platform in the country,” Kaweesa said.
While for small-scale businesses, Kiseeka believes that they haven’t been affected that much. He says that small businesses should be operating normally because everyone is using VPNs. According to him, VPN usage doesn’t affect ad targeting and people still see posts as usual (but they won’t be seeing posts as users from Uganda because of the change in their geo-location). Unlike these big companies who don’t want to be on the wrong side of the government, small-scale businesses would go ahead to use VPNs to access Facebook in order to sell their products or services.
Musinguzi said that some small-scale traders who were using Facebook as their shop are now renting out a physical shop to sell their products or services.
Collins Canpara says there are a few people using Facebook and this is affecting the exposure and growth of Facebook Business Pages which often results in getting more followers. “To access Facebook right now you have to use a VPN, but they consume a lot of data and yet the biggest percentage of Facebook users in Uganda are teens who don’t have a stable source of income to finance their data bills,” said Canpara.
The effect on Facebook as a company
Gerald Musoke, a telecom Value Added Services engineer does not believe the effect on Facebook is any much since Uganda is not among Facebook’s major markets. In his argument, this is the reason why the social media giant never challenged the decision in courts of law.
“Facebook has very little revenue from Uganda, which implies that the number of advertisers from Uganda or those targeting the Ugandan Facebook consumer is very low,” said Musoke.
Musoke adds that because the advertisers from Uganda over the platform are very few, it means blocking Facebook is not a show stopper for the majority of the businesses in Uganda. So, blocking Facebook cannot disrupt the small and non-tech-leaning economy like that of Uganda.
There has been no mention of when the ban on the platform will be lifted.