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August 18,2019

The internet was supposed to be a way of freeing the world, of bypassing state controls, and telling the real stories of people. When the Arab Spring happened, the power of the internet to aid the...

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The internet was supposed to be a way of freeing the world, of bypassing state controls, and telling the real stories of people. When the Arab Spring happened, the power of the internet to aid the fight against brutal dictatorships and trigger revolutions became abundantly clear. But the power of the internet to bypass censors put those in power on edge. Controlling the internet became a prerogative. Much of the story started with attempts to block certain pages, or social media platforms, but those using the internet have always found ways to bypass the censors. The answer has been found through a different practice: internet shutdowns. Shutting down the internet has become a favourite solution for government’s looking to control a security situation as well as preventing dissenting voices from being heard. At the top of the list issued by Access Now is India, which was responsible for 67 percent of the 196 documented internet shutdowns in 2018. The country which claims to be the world’s largest democracy has been crippling democracy through at least 134 documented internet suspensions last year.

How the internet has become thought of as the biggest security threat is itself stunning. Within three years, the number of internet shutdowns has tripled. It is not that networks of propaganda did not exist before, but moving much of these to the internet has created a challenge that those in power did not anticipate. Numerous laws have been brought in to curb online freedom of speech, but when it still does not work, the internet is shutdown. It is instructive that almost half of the internet shutdowns in India are in Jammu and Kashmir. The current shutdown in Kashmir is the 53rd in this year alone. The objective is fairly clear. To prevent voices from going out. While activists on the ground are adept at using other means of communication, the internet shutdown means that there are few ways for the outside world to verify the human rights abuses going on inside Kashmir. In Pakistan, the internet was shut down 12 times. In Sri Lanka, the internet was shut down in the hope to stop communal violence. In India, authorities claim 35 of the internet shutdowns were to stop communal violence. The trouble is that none of these efforts succeed. Shutting down the internet will not make a different when something is rotten in society. Nor will it stop a revolution when it is time for one. Governments have often claimed ‘fake news’ when the real reason was hiding the truth. There need to be better ways of managing the internet than shutting it down. This is a method that never works.


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