UCC to Regulate Social Media Advertising

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The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is in the process of “reviewing” and “updating” its regulatory frameworks to cover advertising on social media, we have learned.

The revelation is contained in a letter to Lawyer and media enthusiast Aziz Kitaka of Nabasa & Co Advocates who wrote to the communications sector watchdog complaining about Airtel Uganda’s “extensive” use of social media influencers to promote its products without requiring the influencers to disclose the content posted on their platforms as advertisements.

This lack of transparency, Mr. Kitaka told the commission misleads consumers and undermines the Advertising Regulatory standards of the Commission.

In a response via its in-house Legal Counsel Dennis Kakonge, Airtel Uganda denied Mr Kitaka’s complaint describing it as “misconceived and unwarranted.”

The lawyer, among other prayers against Airtel Uganda, asked the Commission to issue a “general declaration” that: “social media influencers who are paid to promote content online should include hashtags such as #Ad, #Advertisement, #Sponsored, or similar indicators to inform the people online that the content posted is an Advertisement.”

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According to him – a position agreed to by the communications sector watchdog, the UCC Advertising regulatory standards already in existence are not comprehensive enough for their focus on traditional advertising media such as radio, TV and newspapers while negating the online communication channels such as Social media.

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Julianne Mweheire/UCC Photo
The current UCC Advertising Standards primarily focus on traditional advertising Media says Julianne Mweheire/UCC Photo

While the UCC Advertising Regulatory Standards mandate traditional media players to ensure that: “Advertisements must be obviously distinguishable from editorial content, especially if they use a situation, performance or style reminiscent of editorial content, to prevent the audience being confused between the two. The audience should quickly recognize the message as an advertisement,” there is no similar requirement on the part of social media advertisers and their contractors.

“As you rightly noted in your letter, the current UCC Advertising Standards primarily focus on traditional advertising media (radio, television, and newspapers) and lack specific provisions concerning online and social media advertising, and this is posing a challenge to the whole communication industry.” Julianne Mweheire, the Acting Executive Director of the Uganda Communications Commission writes in her response to Mr. Aziz Kitaka.

“To address the above challenge, the Commission is in the process of reviewing and updating the regulatory frameworks for Content (which will cover online and social media advertising as well).” She added, noting that:

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The remedies the lawyer sought could not be granted at the moment in the absence of an updated regulatory framework whose development, she said, involves “wide stakeholder consultations to ensure that the final standards to be adopted are suitable for the purpose and offer the desired protection to all stakeholders.”

It should be noted that recently on May 27, 2024, UCC held an “engagement” with “online data communication providers” such as bloggers, podcasters, and “people who hold regular or scheduled talk shows on online platforms such as Facebook Live and Twitter Spaces” with one of the objectives of the engagement being to: “raise awareness about the legal framework that governs the communication sector to ensure compliance & foster a cooperative relationship between all stakeholders.”

The Expanding Social Media Advertising Market in Uganda

Uganda’s nascent online and social media advertising market is growing according to the latest UCC report on internet usage trends, as millions of Ugandans use and rely on the internet for news, information, entertainment, etc. This makes internet platforms such as websites and social media platforms an indispensable tool for businesses seeking to push their products in the marketplace.

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Well-known social media influencers like television presenter Faridah Nakazibwe, Singer Spice Diana, and Comedienne Anne Kansiime respectively are often contracted by business brands such as the money transfer platform “Chipper Cash” to push their products./ Courtesy Photo.

Risks of Unregulated Social Media Advertising

While the growth of social media advertising presents substantial opportunities that should be harnessed, unregulated social media advertising like all other advertising forms harbors risks especially on the part of the consumer as I highlighted in this Article.

As we saw in the case of the collapsed crypto exchange FTX where thousands of people lost their hard-earned money, social media and social media influencers can be exploited to push misinformation and consumers may struggle to differentiate between editorial/personal content and paid promotions.

This lack of transparency erodes consumer trust, fosters skepticism and reduces engagement for otherwise genuine or legitimate products in the marketplace.

Deceptive advertising practices can also harm consumers by misleading them to uninformed or harmful decisions based on misleading or incomplete information.

Without clear regulations, therefore, the integrity of advertising as an industry is surely to be compromised.


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