Authoritarian regimes have long had a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies. The Unfreedom Monitor is a Global Voices Advox research initiative examining the growing phenomenon of networked or digital authoritarianism. This extract is from the report on the Access, from the series of reports to come out of the research under the Unfreedom Monitor. Read the full report here.
The digital age has brought enormous new challenges to protecting human rights and democracy around the world. Internet and media shutdowns are on the rise, while authoritarian regimes impose their own narratives and controls to silence the net. Limits on access are imposed by authoritarian governments for a number of reasons, including economic gain and political control.
Internet shutdowns and service interruptions have increasingly become common levers for authoritarian control worldwide. Particularly, draconian regimes impose service interruptions as a means to silence critics and suppress dissent. Likewise, internet blockades are significantly detrimental to human rights, since they affect the free flow of information and people’s rights to disseminate their opinions and ideas.
This report discusses the key findings of internet shutdowns and service interruption incidents. It builds on Iran’s internet interruptions after Mahsa Amini’s death and the Russian Wikipedia blocking to explain how internet blockades have become a dominant way for draconian regimes to repress the population and limit transparency and accountability. Briefly, this report will also explain how punitive taxation and excessive legislation constitute authoritarian practices whenever they are aimed at maintaining political control and repression over the population.
The digital age has brought both unprecedented opportunities and enormous challenges to protecting human rights and democracy around the world. While the internet has the potential to serve as a platform for free expression and information exchange, it has also become a tool for authoritarian governments to suppress dissent and impose their own narratives. Limits on access to the internet are a violation of human rights, as they restrict freedom of expression and the free flow of information. Internet shutdowns and service interruptions have increasingly become common levers for authoritarian control worldwide, and their impact on human rights is significant.
This report has highlighted significant incidents of internet shutdowns and service interruptions, such as Iran’s response to Mahsa Amini’s death and the blocking of Russian Wikipedia, as examples of how internet blockades have become dominant tools for draconian regimes to repress their populations. In the first incident, the authoritarian regime employed internet blockades to suppress dissent, control the flow of information, and maintain its hold on power. In the second incident, the government implemented access interruptions to control the narrative about the invasion of Ukraine and suppress alternative viewpoints about the war.
The report has also discussed how punitive taxation can be used as authoritarian practices to maintain political control and repression. Countries like Uganda, Benin, and Zambia have implemented taxes on social media and internet bundles, making access to these platforms a luxury and hindering citizens’ ability to freely express themselves and share information online. These punitive taxation measures amplify the digital divide, excluding the poorest members of society from participating in online communication networks. Consequently, the right to online expression becomes a privilege reserved for a select few, undermining the democratic principle of equal access to information and stifling the exchange of ideas among citizens.
Other practices include internet censorship legislation, which often serves as a means for authoritarian regimes to control the free flow of information and suppress dissent. Countries like Turkey, China, and Iran have implemented strict regulations and penalties, censoring social media, independent news sites, and foreign platforms, under various pretexts such as protecting children, combating terrorism, and addressing hate speech. While protecting national security and preventing harmful content are legitimate concerns, internet censorship legislation can be abused to suppress political opposition and restrict access to information, posing a threat to democracy and human rights.
In conclusion, internet shutdowns and service interruptions have become common tools for oppressive regimes worldwide, aimed at silencing critics and suppressing dissent. In parallel, authoritarian governments employ these measures for various reasons, including economic gain and political control. These practices severely undermine human rights, impeding the dissemination of opinions and ideas, and limiting transparency and accountability.
Read the full report here.