Many different things happened throughout 2016, some of which were quite baffling. Governments around the world have restricted internet access more than 50 times last year. This has caused a lot of financial damage, but also goes to show how freedom of speech is scarce in some regions. Furthermore, it is possible that not all of these types of incidents have been reported, and the total number of Internet blackouts could be much higher.
A Dark Year for Freedom of Speech in 2016
Shutting off the Internet or restricting access to it creates a shockwave of repercussions for any nation. Countries such as India, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Morocco have all felt a significant financial impact because of these decisions. According to The Brookings Institution, 81 short-term shutdowns have been noted across 19 different countries throughout 2016.
While these financial damages are troubling enough, the bigger problem is how these shutdowns impact freedom of speech. Shutting down internet access influences elections, violates human rights, and prevents people from speaking their mind. In the 21st century, such practices are unacceptable.
As one would expect, cutting off online communication goes hand in hand with atrocities taking place in that region. Even though internet connection isn’t great in developing countries which are prone to blackouts, such a restriction has severe consequences. Ethiopia, for example, has seen multiple blockades of social media and the internet. People have died because of these blackouts as no one could warn them about what was happening.
In most cases, shutting off the Internet has to do with upcoming elections. Freedom of speech allows anyone and everyone to influence elections by spreading their opinion or facts through the media. Restricting access to social media and other online platforms allows the government to make sure that people’s voices aren’t heard.
Creating a “walled garden” around the Internet is the last thing our society needs. This technology is designed to create a free flow of information around the world, but that is not always in the best interest of governments. Using a VPN or even Tor allows people to bypass these artificial Internet blockades, but some governments make sure even those services remain inaccessible.
Independent service providers will need to unite and reject these government calls to restrict Internet access in the future. That is easier said than done, even though telcos have a lot of power in the industry. Another option is to create a paper trail of these requests and make them public, allowing the whole world to see what is going on. Moreover, the United Nations and the International Telecommunications Union have to step up their role in protecting freedom of speech.
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