#AceNewsReport – Feb.07: Countries from Russia to Ethiopia, Iran and India have all recently shut down the internet to varying degrees: Sometimes it’s to stop political unrest that could swell online, or to create an internet black hole — a cloak of darkness — while atrocities are carried out:
‘Myanmar’s military has cut off the internet and Facebook. It’s a tactic straight from the authoritarian playbook and the outages were patchy as Myanmar’s military, also known as the Tatmadaw, arrested Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power in a coup earlier this week as people took to the streets in protest’ @acenewsservices
updated Yesterday at 10:37pm
‘They just want everyone to stay in the dark’
Phyo awoke on Monday to find her country in the grip of a coup and her phone internet cut off, though she was relieved to still have access to wi-fi in her house, and connections were later restored.
Days later, she couldn’t access Facebook, a social media platform that is so widely used in the country, it’s basically synonymous with the internet.
And just hours ago, the military ordered for Twitter and Instagram to be blocked until “further notice”.
“What’s really scary is that we can’t update each other and keep up and keep track of all the stuff that’s happening,” she told the ABC.
Phyo is a pseudonym — she asked not to use her real name given the increasingly hostile situation in the country in the wake of the coup.
She said acts of civil disobedience, including the nightly cacophony of pots and pans — a tradition of driving out evil spirits — were organised online.Burmese community in Australia in shock after military coupMembers of Australia’s Burmese community have been left in a state of shock and disbelief after the military detained Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.Read more
A letter from the Ministry of Communications and Information said Facebook would be shut down until February 7 due to “the people who are troubling the country’s stability”, claiming they were “spreading fake news and misinformation and causing misunderstanding among people by using Facebook”.
“This is just symptoms of the old dictatorship. They just want everyone to stay in the dark. They don’t want anyone to be able to facilitate knowledge, to be updated,” Phyo said.
“It feels like psychological warfare. That’s how I feel.
“It’s all exhausting us; it’s all scaring us. These aren’t baseless tactics … there’s definitely something deeper and more insidious to it.”
In a video posted online, a Burmese man described his disbelief at finding his internet connection had disappeared on Monday.
“I just realised, not only phone lines and internet lines are cut off, our future is cut off completely. It shouldn’t even be possible,” he said.
A more than 6,000% rise in VPN demand
Shutting down the internet has precedent in Myanmar, where parts of Rakhine and Chin states have been forced offline for months.
Human Rights Watch has called it the “world’s longest internet shutdown”, and last year suggested potentially hundreds of thousands of people would be unaware of the existence of COVID-19 due to a lack of connectivity.What does Myanmar’s military coup mean for the persecuted Rohingya? The generals responsible for the alleged genocide and mass displacement of the Rohingya Muslim minority have seized power in Myanmar.Read more
Myanmar also saw the internet shut down during the Saffron Revolution in 2007, according to Lee Morgenbesser, an expert in authoritarian politics at Griffith University, to prevent information, photos and videos from the crackdown surfacing.
But the sudden Facebook shutdown this week, where the military issued a directive to all Internet Service Providers (ISPs), saw a ripple effect online, including a wave of new Twitter accounts from Myanmar.
One ISP, Norwegian company Telenor, said it was reluctantly complying with the military’s orders, and did so “while expressing grave concerns regarding breach of human rights”.
There was also a dramatic uptick in the demand for VPNs — Virtual Private Networks used to bypass blocks.
“Faced with the draconian measures, we have documented a 6,700 per cent rise in the demand for Virtual Private Networks (VPN),” said Simon Migliano, head of research at Top10VPN.
“These censorship circumvention tools allow people to bypass the blocks and stay online. Despite reports that the military is trying to block access to these tools, resistance to the unnecessary and disproportionate internet restrictions is likely to continue.”Loading
Netblocks and Monash University IP Observatory, which monitor internet connectivity, noticed anomalies in Myanmar as the coup was unfolding.
“The most brutal form is actually asking ISPs to cut all traffic. And that’s what they started with on [February 1], and so that’s a connectivity drop,” said Simon Angus, associate professor at Monash University’s Department of Economics.
But he said another way is to block specific URLs, like Facebook, which doesn’t have the same blunt force and can impact other spheres, such as hospitals and businesses that rely on the internet.
Up to 25 million people in Myanmar use Facebook — almost half of its 53 million population.
“Facebook in particular, in Myanmar, isn’t just basically a media where you connect with friends, it’s actually the main source of news for the country,” said Aim Sinpeng, an expert in digital media and politics South-East Asia.
But those who have scrambled for a VPN might face issues, too, Professor Angus said.
“[The military] can issue to the ISPs a list of known VPNs, if they wish to — to make them ineffective. That’s a bit of a whack-a-mole problem for them though,” he said.
Cutting the flow of information
Dr Sinpeng said the social media shutdown was to prevent grassroots-level discontent and mobilisation.
Dr Morgenbesser added authoritarian regimes not only need to prevent protests from starting, but also spreading.
“The strategy at the height of the coup was controlling the flow of information about what exactly was happening, now the focus is disrupting the opportunity for mass protests,” he said. From winning a landslide election to being detainedHow Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi went from a commanding victory to being arrested by her country’s military in just two months.Read more
But Dr Sinpeng said that could also backfire, as cutting connections could frustrate people who otherwise might be hesitant to protest.
“This vacuum of information is putting everyone on edge,” she said.
“I think shutting down internet and social media is a sign of military weakness because they felt that they couldn’t control the situation.”
What’s happening in Myanmar reminded her of protests in Egypt against president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 during the Arab Spring.
“The people had already been protesting against him. So in some ways, people are already angry. And now you’re taking the internet away and the social media away. So it potentially could make them angrier,” she said.
Online blackouts beyond Myanmar
Dr Morgenbesser notes the strategy of shutting off the internet, or parts of it, is widespread.
“The authoritarian regimes ruling Algeria, Burundi, Egypt, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda and Vietnam represent but a few examples,” he said.
“In Cameroon, the Government shut down the internet in the Anglophone regions for a total of 240 days across 2017 and 2018.”
Professor Angus pointed out that India has launched targeted internet shutdowns this week in relation to ongoing farmers protests.
Some countries, like Iran, are notorious in announcing an internet blackout, and will sometimes do so on anniversaries of major protests.
He said Iraq and some countries in Africa will turn off the internet during national exams, to make sure high school students aren’t cheating.
While that’s a blunt measure — and partially an example of a state flexing its muscle and showing it can cut citizens off at any time — others have adopted more subtle methods.
Russia was a case in point, Professor Angus said, where internet speeds were slowed by fractions of a second — just enough to frustrate efforts to upload images or videos.
People could still receive emails, but attempts to upload evidence of wrongdoing during elections, for example, would stall and fail, he said.
He said the fear of internet shutdowns in Ethiopia’s Tigray region was that atrocities could occur at the hands of the military under a “cloak of silence”, which was also a concern for Myanmar.Escape from TigrayAida travelled from Melbourne to Ethiopia’s Tigray region to reconnect with her roots. Little did she know, it would become a war zone.Read more
When photos and videos of corruption and crime come out in real-time, he said it was harder for regimes to claim evidence was photoshopped or fake news.
“We know that the internet is just a new battleground. So I think we will see more of this happening in more countries,” he said.
He said the internet was historically seen as a liberation technology, democratising access to information and communication, as well as the ability to organise and expose wrongdoing.
“[There was a] hope and expectation that this new information technology would usher in a period of liberal democracy and accountability,” he said.
“That early hope has was naive to the fact that it’s always been the case that states run on information, and authoritarian states particularly exploit information, and the internet provides them with a way of controlling that information.”
Phyo in Myanmar is still able to connect with the outside world, for now. But she fears the day when it goes dark.
“I’m just getting out information as much as possible before they completely cut us off,” she said.
“Keep watch. When we get cut, you’ll notice. We’ll all be quiet. You won’t see updates coming anymore, so that’s how you’ll know we all have been cut off.”
#AceNewsDesk report ………….Published: Feb.07: 2021:
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