Research & Reports

In July 2018, the government of Uganda implemented a tax on individual users of social media platforms. In the first three months following the introduction of the tax in the country, internet penetration dropped from 47 percent to 35 percent. Given that a significant amount of news circulation now happens via social media and messaging apps, how might this new tax impact the news media ecosystem? The negative effects on news media are less direct and arguably more pernicious than might be expected.

  • Internet penetration in Uganda dropped from 47 percent to 35 percent in the first three months after social media tax introduction.

  • Journalists noted a significant decline in the level of engagement with readers and sources via social media platforms.

  • Traffic to new sites has been only minimally impacted, indicating that sites were not reliant on social media to begin with and/or that many individuals have turned to VPNs to avoid the tax.

In many countries, mobile operators have teamed up with social media platforms to offer free access to specific websites or internet services—including news websites. The most well-known of these offerings, Facebook’s Free Basics, has been explicitly pitched as a way to give citizens in developing countries greater access to news, but Facebook is not the only company touting these so-called “zero-rated” arrangements as a bridge across the digital divide. This report examines whether these arrangements are broadening access to diverse sources of news, as promised, and whether they might have broader consequences for the news market.

  • Little evidence exists that zero-rating alone has been a successful strategy to grow audience reach.

  • Technical hurdles jeopardize news media inclusion, especially for smaller outlets.

  • Zero-rated news is a concern for fair markets and pluralism as it might strengthen the dominance of large internet platforms.

The digital convergence means that how the Internet develops going forward — both in terms of policy and technology — will shape the very environment in which all other media operate. This report makes the case to this community that they can, and must, engage in the decision-making bodies that are shaping Internet governance (IG) to ensure that the Internet — and the growing media sphere it sustains — remains open, pluralistic, and democratic.

  • The media development community can work to improve the global enabling environment for media by actively engaging in Internet governance.

  • Policy issues being discussed at ICANN, IGF, ITU, IETF, and IEEE could greatly benefit from the input of those with media development experience.

  • Multistakeholder Internet governance presents a unique opportunity for the media development community to actively shape the future media ecosystem.

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