Globally, the practice of shutting down the internet has become quite common over the past decade. During the last five years, countries like Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, and Zimbabwe have shut down the internet in some or all parts of their country to curb the crisis, yet it ends up widening.
Time and again, governments have justified internet shutdowns in the name of public safety, precautionary measures to maintain the social harmony, or for national security.
On the contrary, the reasons have stemmed from political instability, protests, communal violence, elections etc.
Setbacks of internet shut down:
- The freedom or the ability to express or voice out one’s concerns either get curtailed or limited.
- Many business houses operate from abroad at a risk, which can adversely affect the economy.
- It is difficult for journalists to verify information and broadcast it.
- The loss of an education has physical and psychological consequences for a significant number of students, halting their education and careers.
- Inaccessibility of consistent health care.
- Internet blackouts occur in countries like Yemen, a country which is already dealing with a humanitarian crisis and a series of armed conflicts. Moreover, the shutdown exacerbates humanitarian crises by making it difficult to verify information on the ground from any source.
- Back in august 2020, during Belarusian elections the government blocked all the social media channels, making it difficult to verify the 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 shutdowns globally, India imposed 109; Internet shutdowns strike at the foundations of digital rights. These 109 internet blackouts; mostly administered in Kashmir.
The frequent trend of blackouts in the area is primarily justified as ‘precautionary measure’ by the authorities.
Furthermore, Indian government’s lengthy shutdown of internet and telephones in Jammu and Kashmir, inflicts a disproportionate impact on the population, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to popular belief, one can only think of an authoritarian regime putting these sorts of restrictions on citizens; on the other hand, the world’s largest democracy turns out to be the global leader in internet shutdowns. According to a study, shutdowns of the internet are actually counterproductive in deterring violent incidents.
New political weapon
There are many countries, including Chad, Sri Lanka, and others, that block livestreaming traffic through specific social media applications. Others like Iran throttled internet speed to crawl. With so many restrictions and check-systems installed, the government managed to sail through the crisis smoothly. However, ironically, people still struggle to express their concerns.
In spite of all the systems for checking and balancing in tele-communication services, there is still no way to prevent harassment on social media.
This rising number of internet blackouts has prompted several questions about the gimmick of digitalization.
Since the rise in shutdowns in the past few years, authorities have used it as a kill switch to sweep away criticism, protest, crisis, and so on. It has undermined democracy and its principles, giving rise to digital authoritarianism.