Internet Shutdowns, The Ugly truth

And how you can survive them

Credits: Please Shut Down, illustration by Emmanuel Hyronimus

Internet access is nowadays a fundamental human right coined by the UN Human Rights Council, adopted in 2016 by resolution.


However, not all governments respect it, especially not around elections. Across Asia and Africa several governments tried to silence speech through what is called “an internet shutdown”, where access to certain platforms, especially social media, is either restricted or blocked, altogether.


If you read through the first statements of the 32nd session of the UN resolution, the document outlines the importance of preserving internet access as a fundamental human right, “recognizing that the spread of information and communications technology and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies”.


So having an open and free online environment is not only a matter of rights, but also a condition for progress.


Not only the right to freedom of opinion and expression, or the right to privacy in the digital age, but also innovation and influencing elections is at stake, in the opposite scenario.


In the case of innovation, let’s take the example of net neutrality. This concept argues in favor of keeping an unobstructed online environment as a sine qua non for online freedom, but also innovation and it sure makes a strong case.


Imagine that broadband providers had the liberty of picking favorites, of deciding which service you may or may not access while using their internet service. They could limit or even block access to some products or services, while creating “fast lanes” for others, thus controlling information flow and traffic. New technologies might never see the light of day.



To go even further, imagine your ISP blocking or limiting access to services like Youtube, when Youtube came to shape 18 years ago. Had that been the case, Youtube as we know it, might not even exist today, or not at the same scale, maybe not at all.


Internet shutdowns on the other hand are a different kind of evil, meaning that they usually happen around or during elections and that they usually don’t last long as the economic costs could quickly spiral into hundreds of millions of dollars. However, no less than 134 internet shutdowns occurred in India alone, in 2018. 2019 recorded 19 shutdowns already in the same country, the most recent, just a few days ago “following the terrorist attack against the militants in Jammu and Kashmir’s (Pulwama district, India, 14th of February 2019) in which 45 CRPF personnel died and many others got injured when a Jaish suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a CRPF bus, Jammu observed a complete shutdown and Mobile Internet services were suspended on 15th February 2019” (source).


So be wary when you hear the “fake news”, national security, public safety reasoning as this may only be a manipulating maneuver to conveniently stop protests from happening and ultimately control elections. And as the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.


Credits: Mindshots VII, illustration, Sergio Ingravalle

Let’s also set some expectations before we go on, you can’t really escape a total internet shutdown.


Not really, but you can always try Firechat. Take the example of the “Occupy Central” movement in Hong Kong protests back in 2014, when the concern that the government might cut reception, made protesters head to Firechat, an app that does not require a network to work, functioning on a peer to peer mesh network. The protesters used Firechat to exchange information, figure out which road was blocked by the police and coordinate. There are limits however in using your phone as a “walkie-talkie” that for the sake of the argument we needed to point out.

Not counting Firechat, escaping a total internet shutdown can be a very daunting task.

For partial shutdowns, however, there are plenty of solutions that you can use in order to overcome limitations.





We’ll list the best that we can think of, below:

1. Become Security Savvy

be aware of the websites you visit and whether they use an SSL certificate, these are the https sites, providing secure browsing while on a particular website.

2. Use a VPN Service like or any other that you trust

a reliable VPN service that keeps your data extra safe, traveling through a tunnel encrypted from end to end, so nobody, not even your ISP will be able to make sense of it, since all your information will go through the VPN server and not your ISP’s. You will also be able to bypass geo-restriction.

3. Use encrypted messaging apps like Signal or any other that you trust

use encrypted messaging and voice-calling similar with Telegraph or Wire.

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