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Shrinking democracy, growing violence: internet shutdowns in 2023

May 15th, 2024  •  Author:   Access Now  •  2 minute read
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By nearly every measure, 2023 is the worst year of internet shutdowns ever recorded — highlighting an alarming and dangerous trend for human rights. As we document in our new report, Shrinking democracy, growing violence: internet shutdowns in 2023, governments around the world continue to shut down the internet and critical digital communication platforms to muzzle expression, block access to life-saving information, and cover up heinous crimes against humanity.

In 2023, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition documented 283 shutdowns in 39 countries. These are staggering results, marking the highest number of shutdown incidents in a single year since we began our monitoring in 2016. This reflects an additional 82 shutdowns, or a 41% increase, from 2022, when we recorded 201 shutdowns in 40 countries. It’s also a 28% increase from 2019, which was the previous record high with 221 shutdowns. As we note in our recent update on the #KeepItOn Shutdown Optimization Project (STOP), these figures include the new data we added in 2023 to document existing platform blocks and other internet shutdowns beginning in prior years.

The gravity of our findings this year cannot be overstated. For the first time since 2016, conflicts emerged as the leading driver for internet shutdowns, and shutdowns intersecting with natural disasters surfaced as a concerning new trend. Even as we saw momentum grow against the use of internet shutdowns and some key offenders chart a new course, disruptions continued to emerge as the go-to tool for both democratic and authoritarian regimes to suppress fundamental human rights.

Below is a global overview of the data and trends that we unpack in detail in the full report. We share these excerpts and figures with an important proviso: while we discuss quantitative analysis around the number of shutdowns and how they are deployed, we must first center the people and communities who are impacted by them. Tens of thousands of lives have been taken — from Palestine to Myanmar, Sudan to Ukraine — by attackers using internet shutdowns to shield their actions from accountability. We cannot allow them to succeed. This report must therefore stand as an urgent call to action for all stakeholders. 

We have included a set of recommendations for governments, companies, and international actors to address the use of internet shutdowns during crises and conflicts, reject the dangerous normalization of these disruptions, and uphold human rights.

Download full report.