Resources

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.”