• A new report on global internet shutdowns found there were 122 major shutdowns in 2019, and in total they cost the world economy roughly $8 billion.
  • Internet shutdowns are frequently used to clamp down on civil unrest, particularly during protests and national elections.
  • The countries hardest hit by the economic cost of internet shutdowns in 2019 were Iraq, Sudan, India, and Venezuela.
  • One of the report’s authors told Business Insider there is good reason to think the number of shutdowns will continue to rise in 2020.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Governments around the world are getting quicker and quicker to cut their citizens off from the internet, and according to new research, they’re likely to get more trigger-happy.

According to a new report from Top 10 VPN, there were a total 122 major internet shutdowns around the world in 2019 – not counting a further 90 regional shutdowns imposed in India alone. This added up to a total of 18,225 hours, and included social media shutdowns as well as complete internet blackouts.

Internet shutdowns are a tool deployed by governments to quash civil disobedience amongst their citizens, and often go hand-in-hand with more sweeping – and sometimes brutal – government clampdowns.

Iraq anti government protest

Foto: Anti-government protests have been ongoing in Iraq since October 2019, when the government enforced internet blackouts.sourceMurtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Naturally the shutdowns hugely disrupt people’s daily lives, and Top 10 VPN put a cash figure on this disruption. Using the Cost of Shutdown Tool developed by NGOs NetBlocks and The Internet Society, Top 10 VPN calculated that internet shutdowns cost the global economy $8.05 billion in 2019.

Four countries lost over $1 billion to shutdowns:

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  • Iraq imposed 263 hours of internet shutdowns, and suffered $2.3 billion in losses.
  • Sudan imposed 1,560 hours of internet shutdowns, and suffered $1.9 billion in losses.
  • India imposed 4,196 hours of internet shutdowns in specific regions around the country, and suffered $1.3 billion in losses. Top 10 VPN noted that in real terms the economic loss is likely to be higher because it was unable to include all India’s highly localized shutdowns – the Indian government sometimes shuts off internet to specific city districts for a few hours at a time.
  • Venezuela imposed 171 hours of internet shutdowns and suffered $1.1 billion in losses.

In 2019 India also imposed the longest-ever internet shutdown of any democracy. In August the Indian government imposed an internet blackout on the disputed territory of Kashmir which lasted more than 150 days, during which it axed Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status.

The indefinite shutdown was ruled unlawful by India’s supreme court last week, and the government was given seven days to review the restrictions on Kashmir. Broadband and 2G internet were partially restored to the region on Tuesday, although a block remained in place for social media sites.

Kashmir women protest

Foto: Kashmiri women protesting the scrapping of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status in September 2019.sourceREUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

Often governments cite public safety as a reason for shutting off the internet, or curbing the spread of misinformation. However another surprising justification is preventing students from cheating during exams. Iraq, Algeria, and Ethiopia all enforced internet shutdowns during national exam periods – although Ethiopia kept the shutdown in force at the weekend when no exams were being held.

According to the report the cost of internet shutdowns has shot up by 235% in the last three years. “Unless there is a dramatic shift in approach from the international community, we expect the number of intentional network disruptions to continue to rise,” one of the report’s authors, Samuel Woodhams, told Business Insider.

Woodhams added that since the biggest correlating factor linking shutdowns in 2019 was major protests and national elections.

“As the events of 2020 have so far demonstrated, we can certainly expect popular protests in authoritarian countries to continue. As there are also several important elections planned in countries that have previously restricted access to the internet, there is good reason to believe the number of internet shutdowns will continue to rise in 2020,” he said.

Just five days into 2020 Netblocks reported a social media blackout in Venezuela ahead of its National Assembly leadership vote. Internet Shutdowns, a site which tracks shutdowns in India, has logged three new localized shutdowns since the year began.

“Despite becoming increasingly common, internet shutdowns are a disproportionate and unnecessary measure that infringe on fundamental human rights and significantly damage the economy. There is also no evidence that they work in terms of restoring public order and may actually contribute to an escalation of violence,” Woodhams added.