By Favour Unukaso
SOME 5.7 billion people in 76 countries have experienced both partial and total Internet shutdown since 2015 till date. Also, in the first half of the year, Internet disruptions affected more citizens, about 1.89 billion people compared to 1.54 billion in 2021’H2, though the cases reduced by 14 per cent.
Surfshark’s Internet shutdown tracker, which revealed this, also disclosed that Africa has been one of the most affected by Internet censorship by the proportion of the population. It pointed out that eight out of 10 Africans have felt Internet and social media shutdowns.
Surfshark, a cybersecurity company and Internet watchdog Netblocks, in the report, noted that undemocratic governments around the world are increasingly turning to Internet blackouts and social media censorship to maintain their rule. They use it to prevent the dissemination of information and to impede organizational efforts.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government banned Twitter usage in Nigeria last June. The ban lasted for 222 days with the economy losing N546.5 billion. The president lifted the ban on January 12, 2022 after getting some serious commitment from the management of Twitter, which included having a permanent office in Nigeria.
The government of Sierra Leone last week shut down the Internet in the country following political protests that erupted.
According to Paradigm Initiative (PIN), a social enterprise advocating citizen’s digital rights, while
condemning the shutdown, noted that these shutdowns go against Chapter Three of Sierra Leone’s Constitution, which assures its citizens of their rights to freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association.
Further, Surfshark said of the 72 Internet disruption cases in 2022, social media platforms were targeted twice in Africa and Europe, and once in Asia and South America.
In total, Africa has had 88 Internet restriction cases since 2015 and these were linked primarily to civil unrest and protests.
In the first half of 2022, Surfshark registered 66 Internet blackouts in six countries and territories: Burkina Faso, India, Jammu and Kashmir, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Sudan. Internet was shut down locally in three countries and territories (India, the Jammu and Kashmir region, and Pakistan). In comparison, three countries (Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, and Sudan) chose to cut down Internet connections nationwide, even though it cripples the economy the most.
The report noted that 85 per cent of Internet shutdown cases (61) happened in India and the Jammu and Kashmir region, twice in Burkina Faso, and once in the rest of the affected countries. Therefore, Asia has been considered the most censored continent worldwide for the past six months.
According to the cybersecurity company, “Internet restriction cases decreased by 14 per cent worldwide in the first half of this year – from 84 in 2021’H2 to 72. Internet disruptions and restrictions were recorded in 10 countries, 85 per cent being from India and the Jammu and Kashmir region, making Asia the leading continent in Internet shutdowns. The continent also leads in terms of social media disruptions over the period of seven years. Out of 72 internet disruption cases in 2022, social media platforms were targeted six times: twice in Europe and Africa, and once in Asia and South America. “Despite a decrease in cases, new Internet disruptions affected more citizens in 2022’H1 – 1.89 billion people compared to 1.54 billion in 2021’H2.”
Lead Researcher at Surfshark, Agneska Sablovskaja, said: “We see a positive trend of internet restriction cases going down this half of the year. Nevertheless, the number of countries that use internet disruptions as a weapon to silence citizens’ unrest remains worryingly high. Most cases are of national or local magnitude where the Internet is slowed or completely shut down, leaving its people without most of their communication means.”
To the Chief Executive Officer of NetBlocks, Alp Toker, “the slight decrease in observed nation-scale Internet shutdowns in early 2022 follows a period of unprecedented reliance on the Internet during the pandemic. Yet this is no reprieve — around the world the overall decline in freedoms continues, which is why it is essential to monitor and support human rights and democracy in the digital sphere.”