Technology's innovators created internet with the view of connecting the world. By a click of a mouse or a tap on a screen, you can fathom the deepest trenches and most gigantic mountains. You can connect with people from far away lands and mobilise people in your community.
As a tool, internet is the most effective one ever created to empower ordinary people. But, not everyone is comfortable with the power which internet grants to the people.
With the new ruling military in Myanmar blocking social network access nationwide, a question comes to mind- why would any leadership body want to take such extreme measures? The answer is straightforward: to disable people from receiving and giving information to one another and not letting strong messages of autonomy brew amidst the masses.
Internet Shutdown in Attempts at Thwarting Democracy in Myanmar
In the latest coup in Myanmar, the world saw the military forcibly taking back power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party despite winning the elections with a considerable majority.
The military accused the NLDP of tampering with the votes and committing voter fraud. While everyone was aware of Myanmar’s democracy’s fragile state, the coup d’état still sent shockwaves across the world. But, old habits die hard, and given the military’s dictatorial streak, such oppression of democracy was inevitable.
Suu Kyi, a Noble Peace Prize winner, has been the freedom fighter for Myanmar for decades. She was sent to detention between 1989 and 2010 as she campaigned against the military rule and advocated for democracy. Now, the military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has taken away her power and imposed a year-long emergency state in Myanmar, much to people’s dismay.
Crackdown on Democratic Tools
Recently Myanmar’s citizens were restricted from using the internet, in particular Facebook and Twitter. The reason for doing so maybe (they are for sure) related to the posts that asked the citizens of Myanmar to come out and protest against military control.
The internet blockage, which was supposed to stop the people in Myanmar from protesting against the military, was an epic fail. The administration restored the internet access soon after the failed attempt at crushing mass mobilisation of information.
Intenet Shutdown- A Practice More Common Than You'd Think
This isn’t the first time a government has locked the people out of social media or the internet altogether.
In 1999, after the Kargil War, a Pakistani daily newspapers’ site was blocked in India by Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited. This was done with the idea of not letting anyone from either country misuse it or use it to gain the opposite side’s information.
In September of 2003, a Yahoo group named Kynhun was blocked because they discussed the Khasi tribe. The problem with this was that all Yahoo! Groups were banned for two weeks.
In 2016, after Burhan Wani’s killing, a pro-independence leader in Kashmir and a labelled militant, many people protested against the murder. As a result, Jammu and Kashmir, once again, faced Internet blockage. Jammu and Kashmir have been subject to 28 internet shutdowns since 2012.
The most recent one in Kashmir lasted for 213 days from 4th August 2019 – 4th March 2020. It was imposed after the abrogation of article 370, and was the most prolonged internet shutdown anywhere in the world.
Internet Shutdown or Restricted Access in Canada
In Canada, people have complained about their accounts being restricted. An activist’s account was banned on Facebook for commenting on the Canadian Transportation Agency’s page. The activist commented on the page for more than 250 times because he would get removed each time he wrote something.
When asked about the removal, the agency defended themselves by saying it is repetitive or spam. This restriction violates the right to free expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
American Internet Shutdown
A lawsuit against Trump is filed (no surprise there) for blocking seven Twitter users. This action of Trump is a violation of the First Amendment. The Trump Administration has accepted a legal brief that they have stopped the users from seeing his tweets.
Another incident where the citizens were blocked from social media happened in Kentucky. Two residents sued Gov. Matt Bevin because he stopped them from his Facebook and Twitter pages. The petitioners have asked for theirs as well as around 600 other accounts that have been blocked.
All we can say is, everyone is entitled to their opinions. In a democracy, it is the people that choose the government. So, when governments entrust the people to choose them, it also gives people the right to question them.
Shutting Down the Internet - What Are Governments Afraid Of?
By blocking people from social media or restricting them from using the internet, the government essentially takes away the citizen’s right to be informed about the working of the very government they choose. It also disables the citizens from raising questions and accumulating support against the government for its ill-doings.
When we talk about internet bans, we can’t miss out on the most controversial blocks recently- the prohibition of Chinese apps in India. 223 Chinese apps were banned from India as a result of the clash between China and India.
UNHRC's Take on Intenet Shutdown
According to the United Nations resolution passed back in 2016, the UN Human Rights Council condemned internet shutdowns very clearly.
Even after such explicit instructions from the United Nations, some countries continue to ban people from social networks because their questions were too politically uncomfortable. Blocking spammers and people who post untrue and defamatory content simply to agitate others is one thing.