Tax Facebook use? Now there's an idea

As Uganda president Yoweri Museveni imposes a 20-percent tax on those who tweet and YouTube, is this an idea worth adopting?
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

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Can we agree that we've all gone crazy lately?

My friends are rolling around the basement floor, tweeting and Facebooking, and frankly, I'm getting a little worried.

(Yes, that's enough allusion to obscure Elton John lyrics.)

Somehow, social media has become a peculiar battleground of invective, celebration, denigration, and downright nonsense.

Oh, Facebook and Twitter say they're doing something about it. You know they'll never succeed, don't you? They rather enjoy making money from all the noise.

Read also: Facebook, Twitter are designed to be like 'behavioural cocaine' - CNET

What to do, then? Well, Independence Day saw a fascinating online missive to his people from Uganda president Yoweri Museveni.

In it, he tries to come off as a friendly sort, though I'm not convinced that anyone who's been in power since 1986 can really be all nice guy. Indeed, Forbes slipped him onto its list of The World's 10 Worst Dictators.

The purpose of Museveni's letter to the people was to explain his government's new social media tax.

It was odd that Museveni used social media to explain it, but perhaps he can afford the tax. Still, he explained that Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and the like aren't basic human rights.

Instead: "Social media chatting is a luxury by those who are enjoying themselves or those who are malicious."

I'm not sure about the "or" there. Many are surely enjoying themselves by being malicious. Still, in so many other areas of life enjoyment is taxed, so why not this one?

"The social media users have no right to squander the dollars I earn from my coffee, my milk, etc by endlessly donating money to foreign telephone companies through chatting or even lying and, then, they are allergic to even a modest contribution to their country whose collective wealth they are misusing," explained Museveni.

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Now some might argue that his opponents only have social media to get their message out about how unpleasant they find their president. And, indeed, Museveni has a very wide -- some might even say malicious -- definition of social media.

He's identified WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Yahoo Messenger as taxable social media.

You'll surely be stunned into stupored tweeting when I tell you that Reuters reports Ugandans aren't entirely in favor of this wheeze.

How, though, would citizens of America react if, oh, Facebook and Twitter use was taxed?

Well, nobody likes taxes, do they? But don't governments sometimes step in to curb our worst habits? Don't they make it more difficult for us to buy certain things that might do us harm? No, of course, I don't include guns here. Their existence never influenced anyone to kill anyone else.

But don't governments sometimes use taxes to stop us killing ourselves? You know, taxes on tobacco and sugar-loaded drinks.

You might say it would be absurd to levy a tax on something that's free. But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself said only recently that "there will always be a version of Facebook that is free." So the company might start charging for, what, a more sophisticated version?

Read also: Twitter bug exposed passwords; here's how to change - TechRepublic

There's plenty of research that suggests Facebook and the like really aren't good for our brains and souls. Why, even Star Wars star Daisy Ridley says it's bad for your mental health.

And, lo, here's Salesforce CEO muttering that Facebook should be regulated like tobacco.

The thing with taxes, some believe, is that they could at least make us consider whether what we're doing is wise. Or even worth it.

Then again, would our president be prepared to pay taxes on his masterful Twitter use? I fear not.

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