Internet shutdown or new political weapon to fend off criticism?

Globally, the practice of shutting down the internet has become quite common over the past decade. Over the past five years, countries like Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, and Zimbabwe have shut down the internet in some or all the regions of their country to stem the crisis, but it ends up expanding.

Time and again, governments have justified Internet shutdowns in the name of public safety, precautionary measures to maintain social harmony, or national security.

Rather, the reasons stem from political instability, protests, communal violence, elections, etc.

The setbacks of the internet shutdown:

  • The freedom or ability to express or voice concerns is either reduced or limited.
  • Many trading houses operate from overseas at risk, which can hurt the economy.
  • It is difficult for journalists to verify information and disseminate it.
  • The loss of an education has physical and psychological consequences for a significant number of students, bringing their education and career to a halt.
  • Inaccessibility to consistent health care.

Case studies

  • Internet blackouts are happening in countries like Yemen, a country that is already facing a humanitarian crisis and a series of armed conflicts. Additionally, the closure exacerbates humanitarian crises by making it difficult to verify information on the ground from any source.
  • In August 2020, during the Belarusian elections, the government blocked all social media channels, which made it difficult to verify information.
  • Rohingya refugee camps were cut off from high-speed internet services for about 415 days, in Bangladesh.

Internet shutdown in India

Out of 155 lockdowns globally, India has imposed 109; Internet shutdowns strike at the foundations of digital rights. These 109 internet outages; mainly administered in Kashmir.

The frequent trend of power outages in the region is mainly justified as a “precautionary measure” by the authorities.

In addition, the Indian government’s long shutdown of internet and phones in Jammu and Kashmir is having a disproportionate impact on the population, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to popular belief, one can only think of an authoritarian regime imposing such restrictions on citizens; on the other hand, the largest democracy in the world turns out to be the world leader in Internet shutdowns. According to a study, internet shutdowns are actually counterproductive in deterring violent incidents.

New political weapon

Many countries, including Chad, Sri Lanka, and others, block live streaming traffic through specific social media apps. Others, like Iran, have limited internet speeds to crawl. With so many restrictions and control systems installed, the government managed to navigate the crisis smoothly. However, ironically, people still struggle to voice their concerns.

Despite all the checks and balances in telecommunication services, there is still no way to prevent harassment on social networks.

This growing number of internet outages has prompted several questions about the digitization gadget.

Since the increase in closures in recent years, authorities have used it as a circuit breaker to sweep aside criticism, protests, crises, etc. It undermined democracy and its principles, giving rise to digital authoritarianism.