On 9 February 2023 access to social media platforms (TikTok, Facebook, Telegram, YouTube) was reportedly blocked in Ethiopia amid church split tensions and calls for anti-government protests.
While those able to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to circumvent the block can still access these sites, citizens without the means to do so are unable to access these sites. Internet shutdowns during protests or civil unrest impact the ability of citizens to get accurate information from government or other trusted sources when they need it most. It also becomes harder for citizens to contact family members and friends in other parts of the country, or in other countries.
Internet shutdowns are a tactic commonly used in Ethiopia. The government has resorted to total national blackouts, rendering the vast majority of the countries 120 million citizens offline for days at a time, as well as localized shutdowns and sweeping social media bans.
OONI data collected from Ethiopia provides signals of these blocks. Specifically, OONI data shows the blocking of Facebook and Telegram (since 9th February 2023) and YouTube (since 10th February 2023). Reports and OONI tests showed that access to services was restored as of 16 July 2023.
The following chart aggregates OONI measurement coverage from the testing of `www.facebook.com` in Ethiopia between 11th January 2023 to 17th July 2023.
Chart: OONI Probe testing of Facebook (www.facebook.com) in Ethiopia between 11th January 2023 to 17 July 2023 (source: OONI MAT).
While the measurement coverage is rather limited, it’s worth noting that we start to observe a spike in anomalies (resulting in connection timeouts) from 9th February 2023 onwards, which coincides with the timing of the reported block, the services seem to be accessible as of mid July. When inspecting the raw data of anomalous measurements, we observe that connections time out after sending the first TLS handshake message (ClientHello). The TLS handshake timeouts observed in anomalous measurements suggest that access to Facebook is blocked by means of TLS-level interference. The latest measurements from the testing of Facebook continue to show that TLS handshakes result in timeout errors.
The following chart aggregates OONI measurement coverage from the testing of Telegram in Ethiopia between 11th January 2023 to 17th July 2023.
Chart: OONI Probe testing of Telegram in Ethiopia between 11th January 2023 to 17th July 2023 (source: OONI MAT).
Specifically, we observe that all measurements collected from 18:52 UTC on 9th February and 17th July 2023 present anomalies. Through the raw data of these anomalous measurements, we see that while TCP connections to tested Telegram endpoints were successful, HTTP POST requests timeout after sending the request, and that the testing of Telegram Web (web.telegram.org) resulted in timeout errors. Based on OONI’s Telegram testing methodology, this suggests that access to both Telegram’s mobile app and web interface was interfered with.
Starting from 17:28 UTC on 10th February 2023, OONI data collected from Ethiopia started presenting anomalies every time YouTube (www.youtube.com) was tested, providing a signal of blocking. The following chart aggregates OONI measurement coverage from the testing of YouTube (www.youtube.com) in Ethiopia between 11th January 2023 to 17th July 2023.
Chart: OONI Probe testing of YouTube (www.youtube.com) in Ethiopia between 11th January 2023 to 17th July 2023 (source: OONI MAT).
Similarly to the testing of Facebook, access to YouTube appears to be blocked by means of TLS-level interference as the connection times out after the first TLS ClientHello message is written.
Learn more through OONI’s report.
OONI @OpenObservatory stated results show social media platforms that were blocked since February 9, 2023 are now accessible without a VPN. Ethio Telecom chief previously expressed to the parliament that customers were experiencing difficulties due to the blockage. #Ethiopia pic.twitter.com/gi3hiqvnnq
— Atnaf Brhane 🇪🇹 (@AtnafB) July 17, 2023
- Ethiopia Orthodox Church Split: Social Media Restricted – BBC
- Ethiopia’s Social Media Blocked Amid Church Split Tensions – AP
- Ethiopia: One Month On, Authorities Must Immediately Lift Blockade on Selected Social Media Access in the Country – Amnesty International
- Social Media Restricted in Ethiopia After Church Rift Turns Violent – Reuters