The personal cost of internet shutdowns

A request by tweet triggers stories of frustration from hundreds of people in and outside Kashmir

byDavid Kaye12 Likes532 Views
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  1. A couple of days ago, this story came across my timeline.
  2. In my role as UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression, I learn about internet and network shutdowns, filtering, blocking, punishment for posts and so forth everyday. Every. Single. Day.
  3. Typically through social media or emails, individuals and organizations reach out to me or to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to share information. AccessNow has a big #keepiton campaign to focus on internet shutdowns, and Dyn Research regularly reports on network outages. so I try to follow what they're reporting, among others. For Turkey, there's Turkey Blocks, among others. In the case of Kashmir specifically, as an example, the excellent Software Freedom Law Center in India shared this overview of shutdowns in India last fall. While our bandwidth is fairly narrow, sometimes we engage directly, as we did with Cameroon during its months-long shutdown in the south of the country. During my November mission to Turkey, internet blocking came up often.
  4. While there's quite a bit of information about shutdowns out there, I wanted to know: what are people experiencing? When a report tells us that the internet is down, what does that mean for people and their right to freedom of opinion and expression? What do repeated shutdowns do to people whose activities -- journalism, school, regular communication with family and friends, activism, research, etc -- depend upon access? So I tweeted out the following after reading that Buzzfeed story about Kashmir:
  5. In the couple of days since that tweet, I've received hundreds of responses. I received some very lengthy emails that detail the ways in which restrictions interfere with freedom of expression (thank you to all!). They shared information suggesting that internet is unavailable to wide swaths of the population in Kashmir, and even where it might be available, the speeds are excessively slow (throttling seemingly a common feature), rendering search and sharing virtually impossible.
  6. One email said the following: " As a social media researcher and as someone who uses social media for educational and professional purposes, you can imagine how utterly despicable I find this social media ban and Internet gag in Kashmir by the Indian authorities. Not everyone uses these technologies with the same intent and purpose. Even if the allegations of public order disruption were true, we all are not engaging in it. This collective punishment of the entire state has been going on for many years now. Enough is enough. No one is coming to help us." [I emphasize the last part, as it seemed to reflect the overall tenor of responses.]
  7. Here are some examples, but look at my timeline for many many others:
  8. I haven't verified all of these assertions, and I plan to communicate my deep concerns directly to the Government, but they match up with what I understand has been happening for some time. And the impact is not only on social media access. They have an economic component.