Silencing the Web: 2024 Elections and the Shadow of Internet Blackouts

Surfshark has shared a concerning analysis as the world gears up for a politically charged year. In 2024, elections are set to take place in 90 countries, and the analysis suggests that internet freedom might be at stake in a significant number of these nations. This is not a new phenomenon; elections have historically been a catalyst for increased internet restrictions in some countries. Such measures not only disrupt the democratic process but also pose a threat to the integrity and fairness of elections, allowing governments to control public narratives more effectively.

Surfshark’s Research Hub has been meticulously tracking and analyzing internet freedom across the globe. Their recent publication delves into the trend of internet restrictions during election periods, tracing back to 2015. The findings are alarming: of the 90 countries preparing for elections in 2024, 12 have a history of imposing internet restrictions during such times. Since 2015, about 75% of these interventions involved severe actions like cutting off network connectivity. This practice is particularly damaging as it not only silences online discussions but also hampers the flow of vital information crucial for transparent electoral processes. In addition to network shutdowns, other common tactics include social media blackouts, which severely limit citizens’ abilities to communicate, organize, and express dissent.

Agneska Sablovskaja, Lead Researcher at Surfshark, underscores the gravity of the situation. “Election season often brings a wave of internet shutdowns around the world. Our Research Hub’s examination of internet freedom in 196 countries reveals a troubling correlation. Countries with a history of internet blackouts during elections score an average of just 32 out of 100 on the global freedom scale, starkly lower than the worldwide average of 58. This score measures personal, civil, and economic freedoms, indicating a strong link between digital censorship and broader violations of freedom,” she explains.

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Two regions are particularly in focus: Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. Sub-Saharan Africa has reported 29 cases of election-related internet censorship since 2015, while Southern Asia follows closely with 28 incidents. The upcoming elections in 2024 place countries like Mali, Malawi, Chad, and Mauritania in Sub-Saharan Africa, and India, Iran, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in Southern Asia, at a heightened risk of experiencing internet blackouts.

The spring season is especially critical for India and Iran as they prepare for parliamentary elections. Both countries have a concerning track record of internet clampdowns, with India recording four instances and Iran three since 2015. This trend points to a likelihood of these countries resorting to similar tactics in the upcoming elections to suppress digital communication.

Belarus is also entering the election fray with its upcoming parliamentary elections. The country’s last presidential election witnessed extensive internet disruptions and strategic blocking of social media channels, particularly Twitter, which plays a pivotal role in political participation and societal dialogue. This precedent sets a worrying pattern and raises concerns about the potential for similar tactics in the forthcoming elections.


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