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Why governments should build diplomatic relations with Big Tech companies

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Anna Reismann, the Country Director Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung gives her remarks during the Uganda Social Media Conference on Wednesday.

Anna Reismann, the Country Director Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung gives her remarks during the Uganda Social Media Conference on Wednesday.

By Our Reporter

Governments, especially on the African continent, have been urged to forge diplomatic ties with the Big Tech companies such as Facebook and Apple.

This was during a panel discussion at the Uganda Social Media Conference that was held on Wednesday at the Kampala Serena Hotel.

The discussion is timely as it comes when Facebook is currently banned in Uganda. The ban on the social media platform was in retaliation to a takedown of several pro-government accounts on the platform which were accused of trying to manipulate voters online during the general election that was held early this year.

Awel Uwihanganye, the Founder and Senior Director LéO Africa Institute, emphasized that African governments need to be intentional in their diplomatic efforts towards building vibrant relationships with Big Tech companies.

“Government or any other institutions can’t actually disregard the idea of building a vibrant sort of diplomacy with big tech companies,” Awel Uwihanganye said. “The level of how much influence these companies increasingly have on our operations, activities, and now informing public perception is huge.”

He further cited how governments are losing a lot out in revenue as they have failed to secure concessions with these tech giants and thus are not part of the financial transactions happening on their platforms.

“We don’t have much of a choice. We need to find strategic ways of engaging these companies in a way of protecting ourselves, but also making sure we are pushing our own interests.” Uwihanganye added.

The significant role played by these tech companies in our day-to-day lives was reechoed by Anna Reismann, the Country Director Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, who revealed that social media today is being used to inform audiences, increase business opportunities as well as advocating for good causes and seeking support.

She, however, advised users to apply caution while on these platforms. “Data has become a valuable source, and the way we use the data can empower or destroy.” Anna Reismann said. “We should teach everyone in society to be critical with what they do and see online. I think this is the only way to know where their data goes, who uses it and for what.”

Commenting on the social media censorship, Moses Owiny, the ED Centre for Multilateral Affairs Uganda said, “Content regulations should not imply censorship. Good regulation must be able to take into account the competing and diverging interests and requirements of all actors and not be biased and intrusive.”

However, Neema Iyer, the Founder Pollicy Org expressed skepticism on how governments can create effective regulation for emerging technologies as technology is fast changing.

“I think that the way the current legal system is set up does not work with the speed at which technology moves. The legal process to make these laws takes a long time, and by the time you make the law, the tech has changed and the law becomes irrelevant.” Neema Iyer said.

The Uganda Social Media Conference, now in its 6th edition, is organized by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in a bid to bring together key stakeholders from the government, civil society, academia, media and the general public to exchange ideas on the state and impact of social media on politics and society, highlighting both the opportunities and challenges it brings.

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