A Third of the World’s Countries Have Restricted Social Media Access Since 2015

Surfshark launches a live tracker to monitor social media censorship around the world.

Privacy protection company Surfshark analyzed 185 countries and their social media blocking practices from 2015 to present day, seeking to evaluate the extent of social media censorship. The research shows that 62 out of the 185 analyzed countries blocked or heavily restricted social media access in the past five years.

Six countries – China, North Korea, Iran, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar – have ongoing social media or VoIP app bans (i.e., Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram, Viber). The study has found no evidence of previous social media restrictions in the remaining 123 countries.

Key findings of the study:

  • More than half of all Asian countries have been limiting access to social media.
  • Cutting off access to social media is a common practice in African countries, especially during elections, protests, demonstrations, or exams.
  • At least 14 countries in Africa have restricted access to social media in the past due to elections.
  • Australia and Oceania had zero recorded cases of social media restrictions.
  • The practice of limiting social media access is usually the product of anti-democratic governments seeking to suppress citizens’ freedom.
  • Social media blocking in most countries is more of an on-and-off occurrence instead of a permanent decision.

“Over the last decade, social media has established itself as a key political player of its own. However, as its influence grows, so does the governments’ desire to censor it by introducing new laws, restricting access, or blocking social media altogether,” says Gabrielle Racai, Communications manager at Surfshark. “What’s especially concerning is the increasing number of countries that block or censor the internet amid the elections. Governments in Belarus, Tongo, Burundi, and Tanzania have already shut down social media during elections in 2020”.

As the study shows, in most social media blocking cases, the governments justify the need to sanction restrictions due to security concerns or to stop the spread of false information or inappropriate content. However, the officials are often blocking social media sites to stop the spread of information and cut the means of communication during protests and demonstrations.

The researchers found out that permanent social media bans are not widespread, they tend to happen sporadically and are difficult to measure accurately as there might be a lack of evidence or differences in official and user-reported data.

The data was collected through open-source information from Freedom House, Netblocks, and reputable news reports from 2015 to 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 taken into account in the study.

The final social media censorship report with regional deep-dives can be found here: https://surfshark.com/social-media-blocking.

Surfshark, a Gold medalist at 2020 Info Security Excellence awards as Hot Security Technology of the Year, is a privacy protection toolset developed to provide its users with the ability to control their online presence seamlessly. The core premise of Surfshark is to humanize online privacy protection and develop tools that protect users’ privacy beyond the realm of a virtual private network. Surfshark is one of very few VPNs which have been audited by independent security experts.

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