This Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns in 2019 report identifies the total economic impact of every major internet blackout and social media shutdown around the world last year.
We collated every national and region-wide incident, determined the duration of the restrictions and used the COST tool to calculate their economic impact.
This tool, developed by internet monitoring NGO Netblocks and advocacy group The Internet Society, uses indicators from the World Bank, ITU, Eurostat and US Census.
We calculated over 18,000 hours of internet shutdowns around the world in 2019 to have cost the global economy $8.05BN. This represents a 235% increase in impact compared to $2.4BN in 2015/16, according to the most recently available analysis.
We also found that there were more internet shutdowns in 2019 than ever before. We included in this report 122 major incidents, ie that were national or region-wide in their impact, that took place during the last 12 months.
However once you include the 90-plus smaller blackouts in India plus other localized and partial restrictions, it’s clear that the previous year’s record total of 196 documented shutdowns has been surpassed.
What is an internet shutdown?
“An internet shutdown is an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.” – Access Now
In this report, we have included social media shutdowns and internet blackouts in our calculations. These types of internet disruption are defined as follows:
- Internet blackouts: where access to the internet is completely cut off. This extreme measure cannot be directly circumvented.
- Social media shutdowns: where access to popular social media platforms, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or YouTube have been blocked. These can typically be circumvented using a VPN.
During our analysis of every internet shutdown in 2019, some general trends emerged. They most often occur in response to protests or civil unrest, especially surrounding elections, as authoritarian regimes look to restrict the flow of information and maintain their grip on power.
In economic terms, disruptions not only affect the formal economy but also the informal, especially in less well-developed nations. There can also be lasting damage with the loss of investor confidence and faltering development, all of which makes our estimates conservative.
On the human rights side, these shutdowns clearly impact citizens’ freedom of expression and the right to information and may even result in an increase in violence.
Despite their negative impact on the global economy, human rights and democratic processes, there is little to suggest that internet shutdowns will stop in 2020.