Cutting off the internet has become a go-to strategy for governments eager to disrupt expressions of dissent. Entire regions and even countries have gone offline, ripped clean from the internet from one day to another. This happened during a coup a year ago in Myanmar, large-scale opposition protests in India, or elections in Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad.
Increasingly, many in Western countries are oblivious when this happens, compounding the isolation endured by people taken offline. Here are some internet blackouts you probably don’t know about:
1) In January, Kazakhstan made headlines because of its mass anti-government protests and the total internet blackout that followed. The Kazakh government has been in the habit of throttling the internet for a while though. For example, on May 9, 2019, the presidential election day, authorities cut off internet access coinciding with detentions of activists and journalists participating in the demonstrations at the time. In 2012, Kazakhstan’s parliament amended a national security law allowing the government to shut down internet and mobile connections during riots or anti-terrorist operations.
2) In April 2019, London police shut down Wi-fi in London’s tube stations to halt the actions of Extinction Rebellion, an environmental activist group whose civil disobedience protests in the UK had caused disruptions on roads, bridges and railways and resulted in hundreds of protesters being detained. “In the interests of safety and to prevent and deter serious disruption to the London Underground network, British Transport Police has taken the decision to restrict passenger Wi-Fi connectivity at Tube stations,” a police spokesperson told The Verge in 2019.
3) One popular tool to combat exam cheating has become the shutting down of the internet. Algeria, Syria, Sudan, Jordan and India have been regularly cutting off the Internet during annual nationwide exams to prevent cheating and the leaking of test questions. Forcing large numbers of people into internet blackouts was not as productive as they wished, however, as questions still got leaked. Uzbekistan cut off internet and messaging services during several hours of exams as far back as early 2010s.
4) In 2020, India shut down the internet 109 times, according to a report by the digital rights organization Access Now. Indian authorities cut off internet access during protests, elections, and religious holidays, like for Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi celebrations in Madhya Pradesh state in 2019. Internet cut-offs during religious holidays are not exclusive to India. In 2018, authorities in Bali asked mobile operators to cut off the internet during Nyepi, a Hindu celebration of the New Year, characterized by observing different prohibitions. Gadgets are getting in the way of introspection, Hinduism Society head Gusti Ngurah Sudiana told the BBC.
5) Over 18 months, residents of a village called Aberhosan in Wales would mysteriously lose their internet connection every morning because of the Good Morning Britain morning TV show, or rather a couple who loved watching it. In September, 2020, after months of exhaustive investigations, a dedicated group of engineers discovered Alun and Elaine Rees accidentally cut off the internet in the whole village when they switched off their old TV to watch the show by hijacking the village-wide network. After the revelation, the accidental culprits decided to not use their old TV again.