How Governments Shut Down the Internet: A Short Primer
In the year 2021 alone, there have been at least 50 internet shutdowns in 21 countries, all orchestrated by these countries’ governments.
Whenever a ‘crisis’ occurs within a country, especially in places where the law rarely protects the citizens, the government can switch it off the internet or even ban a social site or an application from being used by its citizens.
The “official” reason for restricting internet access is typically “public safety” or “to reduce the spread of misinformation.” In reality, of course, it’s a way to control citizens, limit freedom of speech, and retain power for the ruling government.
Once the internet is shut down in a country, it’s hard for the rest of the world to know what is going on with the country’s borders. And further, the lack of connectivity isolates different regions of the country from each other, which reduces the chance for people to organize themselves.
How Do Governments Shut Down the Internet?
URL-Based blocking - This is a filter that prevents access to any site a government bans or considers as a “threat to national security”. In this instance, when a user tries to access these sites, they may see a “server not found” or “this site has been blocked by the network administrator” message.
Throttling - Here, the government limits traffic to specific sites, making its citizens believe that the service is too slow, and thus discouraging access. Often, the citizens don’t even realize that they are being restricted and can instead blame poor internet connectivity for a site’s lack of access.
Complete shutdowns - As a desperate “remedy,” a government may order the telecommunication companies within their country to shut down their services, preventing all access to the internet. These internet service providers have no choice since the governments are the ones who hand out operating licenses and may shut down the companies that go against their orders.
Countries That Have Had Internet Shutdowns in 2021 and Why
Earlier this month, Cubans took to the street to protest the 62-year-old communist regime, which they want to come to an end. Cuba is facing a food, Covid-19 vaccine, and freedom shortage, which is sparking protests around the country, and by Cubans around the world.
To contain the spread of mass demonstrations, authorities intermittently cut internet services, along with the fixed phone lines of some activists on the island, for a two-day period. The shutdown made it hard for Cubans to organize or to get news of the demonstrations out to the rest of the country.
The president and government of Nigeria ordered the shutdown of Twitter services in the country after the social media site took down a tweet by Muhammadu Buhari- Nigeria’s president.
This happened on June 5, 2021, and the social media site remains banned in the country until today.
The Myanmar military restored connectivity in eight townships in Rakhine and Chin states on February 3, 2021, but before then, the nine townships had been under some form of shutdown since June 2019. Today, the junta is “whitelisting” — giving only some institutions, companies, and individuals the freedom to connect via fiber optic and fixed cable internet, while blocking mobile services and essentially blacklisting everyone else.
Whenever a government shuts down the internet or silences specific sites, it takes away the fundamental right of free speech. It puts their people in ways harm by denying them access to services such as education and healthcare, which are essential for survival. And it degrades the democratic freedom that every human is entitled to.
If you live in a country that has never experienced an internet shutdown or social media blockchain, count yourself lucky because not all of us are.
Peace, love & anarchy,