India ‘Beats’ Pakistan, Iran In Internet Shutdowns; Leads Infamous Rankings For 6th Year In A Row: Access Now

A recent report released by Access Now, a global non-profit organization focusing on digital civil rights, revealed that India continues to lead the world in internet shutdowns, marking the sixth consecutive year at the helm. 

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The report “Shrinking Democracy, Growing Violence” highlighted that India accounted for a staggering 41% of the 283 global internet shutdowns in 2023. With 116 recorded instances of internet shutdowns in 2023, India surpassed even countries like Myanmar and Iran in enforcing information blackouts. 

The report shed light on the alarming trend of rising internet shutdowns globally, with a 41% increase compared to 2022. It attributes this surge to ongoing conflicts and escalating geopolitical tensions.

Access Now’s data disclosed that of the 1,458 shutdowns recorded since 2016, India alone accounted for 53% of them, showcasing the country’s reliance on this drastic measure in response to various crises. 

In recent years, internet shutdowns have been imposed for reasons ranging from quelling protests to managing academic exams and preempting civil unrest.

The economic ramifications of these shutdowns are substantial, with the report estimating a cost of $1.9 billion to India’s economy and a loss of $118 million in foreign investment in the first half of 2023 alone. 

The report, citing the Internet Society’s NetLoss Calculator, pointed out that even a single-day shutdown can lead to unemployment for up to 379 individuals in the country. In 2023, 64 shutdowns in India affected more than one district, with Manipur and Punjab experiencing some of the most prolonged shutdowns. 

From May 3 to December 3, Manipur experienced a staggering 212 days of internet suspension, which significantly impacted the region’s population. 

The report highlighted the severe repercussions of such shutdowns, particularly for vulnerable groups like women, who found it increasingly challenging to document and report gender-based violence.

Furthermore, the report revealed that 13 states in India witnessed either local or statewide internet shutdowns in 2023, marking a significant increase from previous years. Additionally, the duration of shutdowns in India saw a substantial uptick, with 41% of all shutdowns lasting five or more days, compared to just 15% in 2022.

Internet Shutdowns  

Following closely behind India, Myanmar implemented 37 shutdowns, while Iran enforced 34. The report highlighted that a total of 39 countries experienced internet shutdowns during the same period, with notable figures including Pakistan with 7 shutdowns and Iraq with 6.

The report underscored the troubling trend of authorities employing internet shutdowns as a means to facilitate and escalate violence, war crimes, and other atrocities. 

Notably, Palestine and Ukraine, embroiled in border conflicts, experienced 16 and 8 shutdowns, respectively, imposed by external parties rather than their own governments.

Conflict and protests emerged as primary triggers for internet shutdowns globally, with 74 shutdowns across nine countries and 63 shutdowns across 15 countries, respectively, in 2023. 

“Tens of thousands of lives have been taken — from Palestine to Myanmar, Sudan to Ukraine — by attackers using internet shutdowns to shield their actions from accountability. We cannot allow them to succeed,” Access Now said. 

Myanmar police patrolling in Maungdaw - PICRYL - Public Domain Media Search Engine Public Domain Image
Myanmar police patrolling in Maungdaw – PICRYL – Public Domain Media Search Engine Public Domain Image

It added, “For the first time since 2016, conflicts emerged as the leading driver for internet shutdowns, and shutdowns intersecting with natural disasters surfaced as a concerning new trend.” 

Additionally, 12 shutdowns in six countries, including India, were instituted to combat exam cheating. Natural disasters also emerged as an “emerging trigger,” with four shutdowns across four countries ordered in response to such events.

Furthermore, the report highlighted the concerning correlation between internet shutdowns and documented human rights abuses, with 51 shutdowns in 11 countries occurring alongside grave human rights violations. 

The number of platform blocks also witnessed a significant increase, rising from 39 blocks in 29 countries in 2022 to 53 blocks in 25 countries in 2023.

File Image: Modi

Beyond India, the report shed light on the targeting of specific platforms, notably Grindr, a location-based social networking and dating application popular among the LGBTQ community. 

Grindr ranked as the second-most blocked messaging platform after Facebook, which itself faced 23 blocks in 11 countries. Twitter followed closely with 21 blocks in 10 countries, while WhatsApp and YouTube experienced 19 and 17 blocks, respectively, in multiple nations.

Access Now cautioned that the actual number of platform blocks may be underestimated due to factors such as localized platform preferences, limited measurement data, discrepancies in government implementation of blocking policies, and individuals’ use of VPNs to circumvent blocks.