Around half the world’s population suffered a politically motivated internet blackout in 2022, according to damning new research by Surfshark.
Nineteen countries imposed fresh restrictions on citizens’ use of the web last year, bringing the total of nations engaged in such repressive measures to 32.
“Authoritarian governments have turned to internet and social media disruptions to maintain their rule and curb civil unrest, opposing political parties, free speech, and looming socio-economic concerns,” said Surfshark.
Russia, Iran, and India were regarded as the most high-profile censoring countries, bringing international media coverage for their efforts to police content on their territory.
Why they did it
Of course, Russia took most of that spotlight for its decision to invade Ukraine and its subsequent bans of Facebook and Twitter, in what many regard as an effort to shore up support for the war by stifling dissent.
In India, the ban was imposed in response to protests in Bihar state against a controversial policy on military recruitment, under which salaries were slashed and other perks curtailed.
As for Iran, its censorship actions arose after the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for being ‘inappropriately dressed’ under the nation’s repressive Islamic law, which sparked public outrage.
Altogether Surfshark tracked 112 internet ban measures across the world, of which only around a quarter were active before 2022.
The ominous suggestion that the rate of restrictions on internet freedom is therefore growing is perhaps countermanded by Surfshark’s observation that there were in fact 40% fewer new bans introduced last year than in 2021.
However, the 78 new cases in 2022 affected 2.3 billion people, bringing the global total to 4.2 billion – the world population was estimated by the UN as reaching 8 billion in November.
Living outside the web
As far as regions go, Asia has the dubious honor of leading the world for most countries introducing repressive internet measures last year – topping the list at 11 for 2022, over 13 for 2021.
Of course, some continents have more countries than others, but even so, Europe with 44 and just one banning country came off rather better than aforementioned Asia with 48: this means just over 2% of European nations banned the internet last year, or one in fifty, whereas in Asia the proportion was 23% or more than one in five - making regimes there ten times more likely to restrict online access.
“Internet disruptions can be subdivided into three distinct categories – social media-related, local, and national,” Surfshark said.
“Governments might disrupt specific social media platforms in their country to hinder the spread of information,” it added. “Local internet disruptions [...] can be enforced to curb localized protests, rallies, or similar from spreading to the entire country.
National internet disruptions are the strictest and, therefore, most economically devastating form of censorship and were typically imposed to quash protests, Surfshark added.
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