In 2021 so far, 18 politically-driven internet outages by governments have been recorded across the world.
Internet shutdowns and limited access to social media have sadly become the norm in many authoritarian countries. But quite how prevalent the problem is can often be overlooked in the chaos and confusion of the world’s challenges. Just how restrictive some nations can be has been highlighted by cybersecurity company Surfshark, which recently announced an unenviable number.
Burkina Faso has become the 70th country the firm tracks to have placed restrictions on social media usage since Surfshark first began tracking the issue, six years ago. The trigger for the crackdown on social media came as the result of an incident within the country that inflamed relations.
A significant mobile internet disruption in Burkina Faso was recorded amid unrest against the shooting of protesters by a French military convoy on 20th November, Surfshark says. The country’s fixed-line internet was not affected, but that is likely because most users in Burkina Faso rely on mobile internet connections to access services and social media.
A total shutdown
One in every two citizens in Burkina Faso have access to mobile internet, compared to just seven in every 10,000 citizens having access to fixed line connections. “Low broadband internet accessibility and blocked mobile connections leave people of Burkina Faso without information about events happening on the ground,” Surfshark says.
The issue in the African country is not the first time that problems have been recorded so far this year. In 2021 so far, 18 politically-driven internet outages have been recorded by the cybersecurity firm.
Since 2015, when the company started recording the data, 32 out of 54 African countries have used some sort of social media or internet ban – a concerningly high number.
Ten in 18 outages recorded in 2021 came from African countries, the data, which was compiled with the help of NetBlocks and Freedom House, shows. Uganda, Russia (blocked the internet twice), Myanmar, Senegal, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, and Bangladesh, Nigeria, Cuba, Zambia, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, and recently — Burkina Faso are those that have censored the internet this year.
Internet censorship as an issue
The broader problem of internet censorship is a major issue for the planet, with regimes becoming more comfortable cracking down on free expression online if they face issues or concerns they believe could be damaging to the reputation of the country.
Doing so has a deleterious effect on the society in which such censorship happens, meaning that people are unable to communicate freely and to interact with each other. The purpose of this is to quell dissent, but it often has a broader impact meaning that people are unable to properly communicate and interact with each other in a meaningful manner.
Governments usually go after communication apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Viber, and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, Surfshark claims.
Most internet censorship and social media restriction cases in Africa have to do with riots, protests, elections, and other events of a political nature, Surfshark concludes - and it needs to stop.