Rwanda slaps restrictions on social media for presidential campaigns

KIGALI, MAY 25 – Rwanda’s electoral commission has announced curbs on use of social media during campaigns for the August 3 Presidential elections with candidates and their campaign teams barred from posting un-authorised messages on social media platforms.

Addressing media today, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda’s National Electoral Commission Mr. Charles Munyaneza said a team of analysts had been created to receive and authorise or reserve authorisation of campaign messages via social media by all candidates.

Munyaneza said only messages passed by the EC’s censors would be published on the platforms.

“We have a media team that will receive messages and give feedback to the candidates. They will be responsible for clearing all messages and telling the candidates which messages they can post on social media,” he said.

Rwanda goes to the polls on August 3 but campaigns don’t open until about three weeks to the date.

Barred messages include photographs and videos on popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Whatsapp, Instagram, or candidates’ websites.

It will take candidates 48 hours to get their messages to their intended audience since according to Munyaneza they will have to send the messages to the EC’s censors’ atleast 24 hours ahead of publication and allow the commission another 24 hours to respond.

The restrictions have already been published in the official gazette although political party leaders said they were not consulted on the issue.

Candidates are also barred from displaying campaign posters in school premises, market areas, bus parks, churches and hospitals. They are also required to submit the particulars and telephone contacts of their campaign team members. Only those accredited will be allowed to post approved messages on social media platforms on behalf of the campaign.

Munyaneza who says an initial team of four experts was already in place to filter the messages denied the move amounted to censorship. Saying it was it was a “necessary regulation when it comes to elections,” he compared it to the editing process in media houses.

“You have editors, before you publish a news story, the editor must look at it first. I don’t think you can say that your editors censor you. Why shouldn’t we first look at the messages that people want to post on social media,” he asked.

“We just want to make sure that the messages posted on social media are not poisoning the minds of our people,” he added.

The restrictions are likely to add to the financial burden faced by small political parties and independent candidates who will now have to rely more on conventional media to put their messages across.

Candidates who defy the regulations risk having their accounts blocked says Professor Kalisa Mbanda, the President of the NEC.

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