In dozens of countries, governments rely on Internet shutdowns to hide repression

Our recent work suggests that shutdowns pose three major challenges for protest movements. Here’s what you need to know.

Protest movements rely increasingly on the Internet

Protest movements tend to grow rapidly and spontaneously without much prior in-person organization, making it difficult for protesters to revert to offline communication during an Internet blackout. As they become more established, many protest movements rely heavily on digital channels to reach new supporters.

Beyond coordination obstacles, shutdowns often are linked to violent repression. In a recent study, we analyzed how Internet accessibility enabled government-sanctioned violence in Syria. Throughout the Syrian conflict, the government of Bashar al-Assad has tightly controlled access to the Internet. While some of the country’s 14 governorates (a regional distinction) — such as Damascus and Latakia — have largely remained connected to the Internet, others have regularly been subjected to severe limitations and shutdowns.

Regional data on where the Internet

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