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Inside the dystopian nightmare of an internet shutdown

• https://www.cnet.com

Government internet shutdowns around the world are insidious, isolating and on the rise.

n Oct. 1, the Iraqi government pulled the plug on the country's internet. With no warning, out it went like a light. Ever since, the internet, messaging services and social networks have flickered on and off like faulty bulbs.

This is far from the first internet shutdown Iraq has suffered. But according to Hayder Hamzoz, CEO and founder of the Iraqi Network for Social Media, not since 2003 and the regime of Saddam Hussein has internet censorship been so severe.

This story is part of [REDACTED], CNET's look at censorship around the world.

Robert Rodriguez/CNET

In this age of reliance on internet connectivity, the idea of suddenly flicking connectivity off like a switch sounds dystopian. But for many people around the world, it's increasingly becoming a reality. They might not even realize it's happening until too late.

First the signal disappears from your phone, so you restart it, take the SIM card out and put it back in again. No joy, so you try the Wi-Fi, but that doesn't work either. Maybe it's a power outage, you think, but your other appliances are working so that can't be right. You read a news story in the paper about a political protest that's taking place, and it suddenly becomes apparent that it's not just you. The government, worried about the protest, has decided to turn off the internet.

This is exactly what happened to Berhan Taye the first time she experienced an internet shutdown, while visiting family in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2016. Since then, she says, it has become "definitely something that I've experienced one too many times."

Taye leads the nonprofit Access Now's Keep It On campaign, advocating against internet shutdowns around the world. Around 200 partner organizations work with the campaign to prevent intentional shutdowns of the internet by governments around the globe, a form of repression that the United Nations unequivocally condemned in 2016 as a violation of human rights.


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