TECH

Governments Shut Down The Internet 50 Times Last Year

'Blackouts go hand in hand with atrocities.'

04/01/2017 15:39

Governments shut down the internet more than 50 times last year, prompting calls for telecoms companies to stand up to politicians.

Around the world, shutdowns were used to suppress elections, limit free speech and even stop students cheating in exams.

In the most extreme instances, they were used to make it difficult for journalists to report on human rights violations.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

“What we have found is that internet shutdowns go hand in hand with atrocities,” Deji Olukotun, Senior Global Advocacy Manager at digital rights organisation Access Now told IPS.

Olukotun said dozens of people had died in protests in Ethiopia during blackouts and called on internet service providers to refuse to comply with requests.

“Telecommunications companies can push back on government orders, or at least document them to show what’s been happening, to at least have a paper trail,” Olukotun said.

Beyond the threat to free speech, shutdowns also posed a major threat to countries’ economies.

The Brookings Institute found that shutdowns had cost countries $2.4bn (£1.95bn) in 2015. 

Economic losses amounted to nearly $1bn (£810m) in India alone, in addition to $465m (£379m) in Saudia Arabia, $320m (£261m) in Morocco, $209m (£170m) in Iraq and several tens of millions in Pakistan, Syria and Turkey.

Freedom House revealed in November that internet freedom fell for the sixth year running in 2016, with two thirds of internet users facing censorship.

While governments sometimes shut down the internet altogether, in other cases specific apps are targeted. 

The research showed that WhatsApp faced more restrictions than any other messaging service, with 12 of 65 surveyed countries blocking the app.

10 Times Chinese censorship failed

  • 1 Duck meme
    other
    The Chinese government censors dozens of search terms ahead of the anniversary of Tiananmen Square on June 4.

    As the government puts an enormous amount of effort into erasing the massacre from its history books, words such as "candle" and "commemorate" have been blocked from search results.

    As a way around this, in 2013 dissidents came up with a creative way of remembering the massacre - by replacing the tanks with enormous ducks.

    In the photoshopped image, taken from the iconic 1989 picture, a single man stands alone in front of a row of ducks instead of tanks. 

    Censors have also blocked the term 'June 4', leading some to refer to the May 35 instead.
  • 2 Lego meme
    other
    Similar to the duck meme, this image also shows the iconic Tiananmen Square picture of the anonymous "Tank Man", but this time dissidents have replaced him and the military vehicles with children's Lego in a bid to get around censors.
  • 3 Journalists ‘manhandled’ by police outside courthouse
    CNN
    Journalists trying to report on the trial of Xu Zhiyong, an advocate for increased government transparency, were manhandled and forcibly removed from outside a Beijing courthouse in January 2014.

    Shortly after CNN journalist David McKenzie began reporting on the case, he was immediately confronted by authorities.

    McKenzie told the authorities that it was a public street after one of the guards grabbed him and began yelling.

    The situation escalated quickly, and the guards began pushing the reporter and tried to obstruct the cameras. Police did this with such force that one of the cameras broke. 

    The reporter was wrestled to the ground, thrown into the back of a van and dumped onto a street corner far off from the court house — all of which was caught on tape.

    “They’re physically manhandling me. This is a public space, I am allowed to report,” he said, as police tried to corral him. Other journalists, including Sky News’ Mark Stone and BBC’s Martin Patience, were also reportedly “manhandled” while attempting to report at the trial.
  • 4 Umbrella Revolution' tag escapes China's censors
    Paula Bronstein via Getty Images
    Umbrellas became the symbol of the Hong Kong movement after tens of thousands of protesters used them to shield themselves from pepper spray and tear gas fired by police in September 2014.

    It was dubbed the 'Umbrella Revolution' and Chinese authorities failed to censor the term being shared online in the days following protest.

    One month later and thousands of demonstrators opened their umbrellas in Hong Kong as a mark of solidarity.
  • 5 Sky News reporter silenced outside Chinese courthouse
    In December 2015, journalists were violently pushed around by police outside a Chinese courthouse when they tried to report on the trial of prominent human rights lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang.

    During a shocking report shown on Sky News, Beijing correspondent Katie Stallard was pushed away from the courthouse by groups of men with masks covering their mouths.

    The journalist tells these men that she is “completely legitimately allowed to be here”, adding: “In China they don’t want the rest of the world to see.”

    Members of the public were also being dealt with “very violently”. 

    The footage was broadcast worldwide and many other international journalists said they received the same treatment. The BBC’s John Sundworth was also caught on camera being pushed away from the courthouse, as men tried to cover cameras with their hands in a bid to prevent recording of the incidents.
  • 6 China bans 'erotic' live streams of people eating bananas
    Stephen Smith via Getty Images
    Live-streaming services in China banned people filming themselves eating bananas erotically last month.

    The move was the latest attempt from authorities to clamp down on "inappropriate and erotic" online content.

    The nature of live-streaming makes it difficult for web hosts to monitor content. 

    Some people are baffled as to how the banana rules will be enforced, with others questioning what is deemed provocative. Cucumbers have been suggested as an alternative snack for hungry live-streamers.
  • 7 The Queen caught on camera calling Chinese officials 'very rude'
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Queen Elizabeth II was caught on camera describing Chinese officials as "very rude" during a conversation with Metropolitan Police Commander Lucy D'Orsi at Buckingham Palace.

    The British monarch was overheard in May 2016 saying that Chinese officials were "very rude to the ambassador" during last year's state visit by President Xi Jinping.

    News items referring to the incident were either blacked out or replaced by other footage across China, but that did not stop news outlets from around the world airing the clip.
  • 8 Censored sex tape circulates chat apps
    youtube
    A sex tape filmed in the Four Seasons Hotel with the skyscrapers of Shanghai’s Lujiazui financial district in the background sent the Chinese government into a panic last week.

    Despite the tape being described as tame, pornography is banned in the Communist state and the video soon became a viral sensation.

    Censors quickly tried to erase search terms from the internet but web users just became more curious about who the two people were.

    People continued to circulate the video on WeChat, a chat app with nearly 700 million users and the video's popularity saw the stock price of Qumei Furniture Group, whose chair featured in the clip, soar by 10%.
  • 9 German chair of human rights committee banned from China
    Thomas Koehler via Getty Images
    In May 2016, the chair of Germany's human rights committee, Michael Brand, was banned from China after he refused to take down comments about Tibet from his website.

    Brand said that the Chinese ambassador had tried to put "massive pressure" on him to delete comments. He said that "self-censorship is out of the question", Deutsche Welle reports.

    He asked the German Foreign Minister to issue a "clear response to this unspeakable action of an accredited ambassador in Germany."
  • 10 China bans Hollywood stars for supporting an independent Tibet
    Jordan Strauss/AP
    Harrison Ford is among a range of Hollywood stars banned from China due to his support to Free Tibet.

    Brad Pitt, Martin Scorsese and Richard Gere have also been banned from China for supporting the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence.
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