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Internet shutdowns used to be rare. They’re increasingly becoming the norm in much of the world

An ongoing internet blackout in Indian-controlled Kashmir is now the longest ever in a democracy — at more than 135 days — according to Access Now, an advocacy group that tracks internet freedom. Only the autocratic governments of China and junta-era Myanmar have cut off access for longer… Kashmiris have been without internet access for so long that WhatsApp has reportedly begun deleting their accounts for inaction… India’s increased internet censorship has been greeted with delight in China, however, where state-run media pointed to it as an endorsement of Beijing’s own authoritarian approach. The People’s Daily said this week that India’s example showed “shutting down the internet in a state of emergency should be standard practice for sovereign countries….”

African states have also embraced the tactic, with Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Ethiopia all cutting off internet access in an attempt to rein in anti-government protests. This is in line with a general pattern of increased online censorship. It’s partly due to the spread of more sophisticated technology that makes it easier, and cheaper, to monitor and filter traffic online. It’s also influenced by a shifting perception of internet censorship, which once used to be seen as something of a losing battle. China’s Great Firewall, however, has proved beyond doubt that not only can the internet be controlled, but that doing so can help prop up the regime and prevent opposition movements from getting off the ground…

Shutdowns give police a freer hand to reign in unrest without the type of hyper-scrutiny on social media that has become common in highly-connected societies, and enable the government to ensure that its message is the only one heard on a particular topic. In 2018, there were 196 internet shutdowns globally — mainly in Asia, Africa and the Middle East — according to Access Now. In the first half of this year alone, there were 128, and 2019 looks to be the worst year on record. According to Freedom House, a Washington-based NGO, almost half of the world’s population lives in a country “where authorities disconnected internet or mobile networks, often for political reasons.”

Digital Authoritarianism Is On the Rise Around the World, Report Warns

Internet freedom declined for a ninth consecutive year as governments around the world used social media to monitor citizens and manipulate elections, according to a new study that warned of creeping “digital authoritarianism.” Thirty-three of the 65 countries surveyed were found to have experienced worsening internet freedom since June 2018, compared with 16 that were found to have improving conditions. The study, conducted by Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights advocacy, said domestic disinformation had grown as a threat to democracy with populist leaders and their online supporters using the internet to distort political discussions. The organization found domestic interference in 26 of the 30 countries that held elections over the past year.

The report said internet freedom in the U.S. had declined, in large part because law enforcement and immigration agencies used social media to monitor people, though the country was still deemed “free.” China was dubbed the “worst abuser of internet freedom” for a fourth consecutive year as the government tightened information controls because of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and protests in Hong Kong. Noting that the biggest platforms were American, Freedom House called on the U.S. to lead in the effort to fix social media transparency and accountability. “This is the only way to stop the internet from becoming a Trojan horse for tyranny and oppression,” wrote Adrian Shahbaz, one of the authors of the report.