Governments Loved To Shut Down The Internet In 2016 — Here’s Where

In a banner year for the censorship tactic, India and Turkey were the worst offenders

Illustration: Diana Quach
Dec 23, 2016 at 9:10 AM ET

Even as the number of internet users worldwide continues to increase, 2016 was also a big year for governments shutting off Internet access to their citizens. 

That’s the finding of an ongoing project from the internet policy advocacy group Access Now. Since 2015, it’s maintained a campaign called #KeepItOn, documenting all known instances in which a government is caught shutting down the internet as a whole for all or part of the country, “throttling” access to speeds so slow as to make it basically unusable, or blocking specific communication methods — like when a Brazilian court temporarily suspended chat program WhatsApp.

For all of 2015, the campaign recorded 15 distinct shutdowns. So far, as 2016 nears its end, that number has jumped to at least 53 at last count.

“What we’ve seen is almost an explosion of the use of these methods,” Deji Olukotun, Access’s senior global advocacy manager and the head of the campaign, told Vocativ.

The count uses a fairly conservative metric, which only counts repeated, similar outages as a single instance. Gabon’s widely criticized, regular “internet curfew,” for instance, designed to stop protesters who began assembling after a narrow reelection by President Ali Bongo, only counts once.

Sometimes, a government’s stated reason for a shutdown is relatively benign. The Indian state of Gujarat, for example, occasionally blocks mobile internet for the entire state at pre-planned intervals to prevent students from cheating on exams.

But while world governments are increasingly likely to use crude internet shutdowns as a tool, there’s also been a rise in worldwide opposition to the tactics.

“A lot of wonderful things are happening at the top level,” Olukotun said. “Governments are starting to respond. The U.N. spoke out; government embassies are speaking out. You’re seeing a lot of people pushing back on these practices.”