2023 internet shutdowns: 4.24 billion affected, and the rising threat to dissent

Surfshark provides key data on the state of internet shutdowns in 2023 but also highlights that the relevance of understanding these statistics is actually about human rights at stake.

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Internet shutdowns are intentional disruptions of internet or electronic communications for a specific population or within a location. It basically entails a form of control over what people say or do over the internet or mobile apps. Internet restrictions affected 4.24 billion individuals globally in the first half of 2023.

According to the data collected by Surfshark, 82 cases of internet restrictions affected 29 countries in the first half of this year. Out of these 82 incidents, 40 were ongoing before the start of 2023, while 42 started this year. So far, Iran imposed the largest number of internet restrictions during 2023, with 14 cases in total. India, a world leader in internet shutdowns in 2022, followed with 9 cases.

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Source: Surfshark

Most of these happened during protests, as shown by the recent examples in Senegal, Mauritania and Guinea. Protests were the number one cause of government-imposed internet restrictions, evidencing that the internet is a battleground for vital information during periods of civil unrest.

Regarding social media, Facebook led the ranking of the most frequently blocked platforms. Surfshark’s data show that 46% of the global population has experienced government-imposed Facebook restrictions. In 2023 Facebook was restricted in Ethiopia, Guinea, Senegal, Pakistan, and Suriname. Telegram, Instagram, and YouTube shared the second spot on the list, followed by WhatsApp and Twitter closely behind.

The severity of internet shutdowns has intensified over the years, and it represents a powerful tool for digital authoritarianism to silence dissent. Access Now, an organisation at the forefront of the fight against this form of censorship, explains that internet shutdowns impact plurality and harm many stakeholders. These include emergency services, human rights defenders, businesses, journalists, demonstrators, and public services. Hence the importance to shed light on internet restrictions and keep track of how the phenomenon evolves.