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Zimbabwe becomes the 3rd country to restrict social media this year for political reasons


According to cybersecurity company Surfshark, Zimbabwe suffered its third internet disruption in the past 3 years, as internet service was purposely slowed down on Sunday, 20 February 2022. Together with Burkina Faso and Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe becomes the third country in 2022 to block the internet amidst political turmoil. Africa continues to be the most censorship intensive continent across the globe, responsible for half of the cases last year.

The internet throttling in Zimbabwe came during a big-scale Yellow Sunday opposition protest in Harare, most likely to prevent multiple operators from streaming the live event. It affected Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook platforms. In such occurrences, governments usually go after said communication apps as well as Skype, Viber, Twitter, and Instagram.

All three internet disruption cases in Zimbabwe recorded by the social media censorship tracker are related to political protests. In January 2019, authorities shut down the internet in the Bulawayo region amid fuel price protests, while in July 2020, connectivity speeds were limited around the time of planned rallies.

The most recent case came just last month in Burkina Faso when the internet was disrupted amid a military uprising for a second time this year. At the start of 2022, Kazakhstan also carried out a protests-related internet disruption, while Lebanon experienced power blackouts due to the ongoing energy crisis. This makes Zimbabwe the third country in 2022 to live through a politics-related internet censorship event.

In 2021, social media or complete internet shutdowns were recorded 19 times in 17 countries, affecting approximately 250 million people. Africa has become the most censorship-intensive continent across the globe, responsible for 10 (nearly 53%) of the cases last year. In total, 32 out of 54 countries in Africa have blocked access to social media platforms since 2015 and the region’s shutdowns are also the most politically-heavy. 

Internet censorship has seen prominent growth worldwide and recently during elections and other political events. The vast majority of social media shutdowns in 2021 happened during political events such as protests (37% of all cases) or elections (21%).

The data was collected through open-source information from Freedom House, Netblocks, and reputable news reports from 2015 to the present day. Social media was conceptualized as social networking sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, etc.) and communication apps, including VoIP apps (i.e., Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram, Viber). Both local and national social media blockings have been considered in the study. 

The full social media censorship report with regional deep-dives can be found here.

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Nixon Kanali

Tech journalist based in Nairobi. I track and report on tech, business and African startups. Founder and Editor For TechTrendsKE. Nixon is also the East African tech editor for Africa Business Communities. Send tips to nkanali@techtrendske.co.ke.

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