This year, governments have intentionally shut down the internet over 60 times around the world, plunging entire societies into a communications blackout. Shutdowns often happen around critical moments in a democracy, such as elections and public protests, but also for stranger reasons like preventing students from cheating on university entrance exams. The end result is the same, as emergency workers struggle to provide services, journalists can’t report on the news, and human rights defenders fall victim to atrocities. Last year, a Brookings Institution study found that governments drained $2.4 billion from their own economies by cutting off the internet. At the time of this writing, an internet shutdown just ended in Togo—where my grandfather was born—in the face of major protests surrounding the misrule of the country’s president.
For the past few years, I’ve been fighting against shutdowns at my organization Access Now, where we’ve built a coalition called the #KeepitOn campaign of 133 organizations from 56 countries to push back against the practice. We’ve won hard-fought victories at the UN Human Rights Council, pressured telecommunications companies to resist shutdown orders, and successfully ended disruptions in countries such as Gambia and Cameroon—the latter of which even drew enough attention for Pope Francis to intervene.