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The governments turning off the internet

Michael Safi, reporting for The Guardian:

Since India’s first recorded use of the tactic, six times in 2012, it has become the world’s undisputed leader, accounting for 134 internet shutdowns last year, around 68% of the global total. This week, it broke the record for the longest continuous outage for any democracy: 137 days and counting in the restive region of Kashmir.

The shutdown in Kashmir has had disastrous – and obvious – consequences for businesses, hospitals, and schools.

Governments are now shutting off the internet to quell protests. But some of them got a taste for it through slightly more noble means:

Governments justify the curb on the freedom to communicate by citing public order. And it is clear that the hyper-speed with which information – true or otherwise – travels online is creating problems. In 2018, India struggled to contain rumours of child kidnappers on the loose that travelled faster and more widely than authorities could track, whipping up mobs who lynched at least 30 people across the country.

A few months before, Sri Lanka’s government blocked social media to curb the spread of hateful posts that were helping to spark deadly anti-Muslim riots. “The whole country could have been burning in hours,” the country’s information minister at the time said.

But, as Safi notes, the tactics people approve of in fringe cases often come for them elsewhere. And others notice: Russia and Iran are both planning their own “sovereign” internet that can be walled off from world at large without losing functionality altogether.

It’s easy to think these things only happen elsewhere – to other people – but it’s worth paying attention to. Why wouldn’t governments try to get a little extra power where they can?

It reminds me of this quote from Virginia Eubanks’s book Automating Inequality. She spoke to someone about how poor people, women in particular, were often test subjects for surveillance technology and this person said something that’s stuck with me:

You should pay attention to what happens to us. You’re next.

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