DIGITAL SIEGE: INTERNET CUTS BECOME FAVORED TOOL OF REGIMES
Techlife News|Techlife News #485
When army generals in Myanmar staged a coup last week, they briefly cut internet access in an apparent attempt to stymie protests. In Uganda, residents couldn’t use Facebook, Twitter and other social media for weeks after a recent election. And in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, the internet has been down for months amid a wider conflict.

Around the world, shutting down the internet has become an increasingly popular tactic of repressive and authoritarian regimes and some illiberal democracies. Digital rights groups say governments use them to stifle dissent, silence opposition voices or cover up human rights abuses, raising concerns about restricting freedom of speech.

Regimes often cut online access in response to protests or civil unrest, particularly around elections, as they try to keep their grip on power by restricting the flow of information, researchers say. It’s the digital equivalent of seizing control of the local TV and radio station that was part of the pre-internet playbook for despots and rebels.

“Internet shutdowns have been massively underreported or misreported over the years,” said Alp Toker, founder of internet monitoring organization Netblocks. The world is “starting to realize what’s happening,” as documenting efforts like his expand, he said.

Last year there were 93 major internet shutdowns in 21 countries, according to a report by Top10VPN, a U.K.-based digital privacy and security research group. The list doesn’t include places like China and North Korea, where the government tightly controls or restricts the internet. Shutdowns can range from all-encompassing internet blackouts to blocking social media platforms or severely throttling internet speeds, the report said.

Internet cuts have political, economic, and humanitarian costs, experts warned. The effects are exacerbated by COVID-19 lockdowns that are forcing activities like school classes online.

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