Governments blocked Twitter and Facebook the most in 2022
In today's digital age, social media has become a powerful tool for communication, activism, and information dissemination. However, some governments worldwide have resorted to imposing internet shutdowns and social media blocks to control the flow of information and suppress conflict.
According to the data presented by the Atlas VPN team, Twitter and Facebook, two highly influential social media platforms, have been targeted by governments worldwide for their role in facilitating communication and mobilization. Protests and active conflicts were the primary triggers of the internet shutdowns.
The data is based on the Access Now and #KeepItOn coalition Weapons of control, shields of impunity: Internet shutdowns in 2022 report. The #KeepltOn campaign unites and organizes global communities and efforts to end internet shutdowns.
Governments restricted access to Twitter 13 times in 2022. As of February 2022, Twitter has been inaccessible in China, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan due to government restrictions. Also, countries such as Turkey and Sri Lanka temporarily suspended Twitter services last year following protests or explosions.
Last year, Facebook's access was also limited by governments on 13 occasions. Besides the usual suspects who blocked Twitter, Uganda's president banned Facebook in January 2021. As a result, many Ugandans turned to virtual private network (VPN) applications to access Facebook.
Governments enforced limitations on Instagram's and WhatsApp’s accessibility, with each social media app being blocked 10 times. VPN usage in Russia skyrocketed by 10,000% following the Instagram ban in March. In addition, Iran restricted access to Instagram and WhatsApp in September due to increasing protests.
Google Services were blocked 9 times by governments last year. Furthermore, governments imposed restrictions on Telegram 8 times. Signal experienced governmental restrictions on access 5 times, while TikTok faced 4 instances of such limitations. IMO messenger, WeChat, and Clubhouse were each restricted 2 times.
Internet shutdown triggers
Internet shutdowns have become a control tool for some governments by limiting access to information and communication during critical moments. These shutdowns often occur in response to various triggers, including protests, active conflicts, exams, elections, and other events that governments perceive as threats to their authority.
The primary leading cause for internet shutdowns was protests, leading to 62 cutoffs from the web. After demonstrations in Jordan, India, Iran, and other countries, their governments restricted internet access to prevent the further spread of information. These shutdowns hide human rights abuses and violence happening in the countries.
Active conflicts were the reason for 33 internet shutdowns in 2022. Russia’s war on Ukraine caused a few of these cutoffs, and so did the conflict in Yemen. Governments seek to control the flow of information during conflicts by preventing the spread of information that could contradict their official narrative or reveal human rights abuses.
Governments shut down the internet 8 times to prevent cheating in exams. Such methods are ineffective in curbing cheating and are often viewed as disproportionate and detrimental to the population living in affected areas. In addition, 5 cutoffs from the internet were tied to elections.
Government internet shutdowns and social media blocks during protests or conflicts are short-term solutions that stifle freedom of expression and access to information. Governments should explore proportionate measures that respect human rights and uphold communication principles.