It is increasingly common for governments to shut down the Internet on a national or sub-national level in an effort to solve specific problems, including control of civil unrest, stem the flow of misinformation, or prevent cheating on national exams.
As of the end of June 2023, governments and other actors across 15 countries have intentionally disrupted Internet connectivity or blocked access to specific Internet services to their citizens. Of the 35 instances Pulse has tracked in the first six months of the year, including four that continued from last year, 19 have been nationwide disruptions lasting from a couple of hours to a week, culminating in nearly 1,000 days of disruptions.
What is an Internet Shutdown
An Internet shutdown is an intentional disruption of Internet-based communications, making them inaccessible or unavailable for a specific population, location, or type of access. It is often a state’s attempt to try to control the flow of information within a region by preventing people from accessing the global Internet. Internet shutdowns are different than application-level or content censorship/blocking, where Internet connectivity is available but access to selected websites or applications is limited.
Shutdowns are a disproportional reaction that often only hides – instead of solving – a perceived problem, and can result in significant collateral damage.
Internet Shutdowns so far in 2023
In Africa, Internet users in Ethiopia have been the hardest hit by Internet disruptions, with popular social media and messaging services (TikTok, Facebook, Telegram, YouTube) being blocked nationally since 9 February amid religious tensions and calls for anti-government protests. At a regional level, many of the six million people living in Ethiopia’s Tigray region continue to live through the longest-running Internet shutdown, now well over 960 days long.
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In the Middle East, Iraq authorities have ordered the greatest number of national shutdowns so far this year the majority of which have been enacted as part of the government’s strategy to curb cheating during its national curriculum exams. Its neighbor, the Syrian Arab Republic, also enacted a similar strategy during its recent exam period, which like Iraq and other countries that are engaged in the practice of exam-related Internet shutdowns, will continue into July 2023.
In Asia, India continued to add to its growing reputation as the leading Internet shutdown offender, accounting for more than 50% of all documented shutdowns since 2016. Residents living in the state of Manipur have been experiencing the longest-ordered Internet restrictions in India, lasting nearly two months! However, it was across the border in Pakistan that we saw the biggest economic impact related to a government-ordered shutdown, with the country losing nearly US $17 million in GDP revenue across a four-day nationwide shutdown in May.
Europe was not immune to shutdowns either, with Russian authorities not yet lifting their orders to block popular international Internet services that they imposed at the start of its invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, which in turn has destabilized the resilience of the Internet in the region. And in Türkiye, local mobile providers were ordered by the government to block Twitter for a day to curb online criticism of its response to the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the country on 6 February.
Keep the Internet on and Strong
Internet shutdowns harm societies, economies, and the global Internet infrastructure. We urge governments and decision-makers everywhere to support policies that keep the Internet on, and strong, in order to build strong economies and give people an opportunity for a prosperous future.