An Internet shutdown is an intentional disruption of the Internet or of electronic communications, making them inaccessible or effectively unusable. Shutdowns can be nationwide or location-specific, and are often implemented to exert control over the flow of information. They can also be partial, such as blocking certain websites and/or social media platforms, or take the form of a total Internet blackout, in which citizens are unable to access the Internet in its entirety.
Internet shutdowns directly affect the Internet access required to drive economic activities, preventing businesses from conducting their daily activities and negatively impact foreign investments, employment, productivity, and sales. They also affect traditional fundamental rights such as the right to freedom of expression, right to access of information, right to freedom of assembly, and right to development.
In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council unequivocally condemned ‘measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online’ and called on all states ‘to refrain from and cease such measures.’ Similar calls are regularly made by UN bodies, Internet Without Borders, Freedom House, Access Now, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Data from activist organisation AccessNow for 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 shows an increase in the number of Internet shutdowns. In 2016, 75 Internet outages were recorded worldwide by the organization, while in 2019 the number increased significantly, amounting to a total of 213 shutdowns. The most common official justification for ordering shutdowns in 2019 was ‘fighting fake news, hate speech, or content promoting violence.’ Netblocks, using their Cost of Shutdown Tool (COST) estimated the global cost of major Internet shutdowns for 2019 at US$8.05 billion.