Over the last decade, governments worldwide have intentionally shut down the internet at least 850 times, with a whopping 90% of those shutdowns taking place over just the last five years.
What’s behind this troubling trend? “More people are getting online and getting access to the internet,” said Marianne Díaz Hernández, a lawyer in Venezuela and a fellow with the nonprofit Access Now. “As governments see this as a threat, they start thinking the internet is something they need to control.”
These staggering statistics come from a new report released Wednesday by Access Now and Jigsaw, a division of Alphabet that focuses on addressing societal threats with technology. The report documents the history of internet shutdowns over the last decade, the economic toll shutdowns take on the countries that impose them and what governments and the broader business and civil society community can do to stop what has fast become a widespread and grave human rights violation.
Felicia Anthonio leads Access Now’s #KeepItOn campaign, which has been documenting internet shutdowns since 2016. “Internet shutdowns don’t ensure stability or resolve crises that are happening,” Anthonio said. “It’s actually endangering people’s lives.”
The report, published in Jigsaw’s publication The Current, traces the recent spate of internet shutdowns back to the five-day shutdown in Egypt in 2011. Though exact data on every shutdown that has ever happened is non-existent and smaller-scale blackouts had taken place before that, the authors write, “never before had an entire country, one where more than a quarter of the population was connected to the internet, simply severed itself from the open web.”
There is a fundamental question that haunts the pages of history and it is one that has never been addressed in a satisfactory manner. There are many schools of thought on why and how tyranny rises in any given society and all of them miss the mark in terms of explanations, primarily because they all allow their biases to rule their conclusions and blind them to the deeper aspects of power and conspiracy. In other words, they are willing to go down the rabbit hole only so far, and then they deny that the rabbit hole even exists.
The common assumption when it comes to autocracy or oligarchy is that people are “stupid” and easily manipulated into following compelling personalities that make promises they never intend to keep. This is a foolish oversimplification. In truth, the level of manipulation needed to lure a majority of people into dictatorship is so complex that it requires an advanced understanding of human psychology.
In our modern era, people cannot merely be ordered to submit at gunpoint, at least not right away. They must be tricked into conforming, and not only that, but they must be made to think that it was THEIR IDEA all along. Without this dynamic of self censorship and self enslavement, the population will eventually rebel no matter how oppressive the regime. A thousand year tyranny cannot exist unless a number of people are conned into applauding it, or, they directly benefit from it.
And this is where we find the true key to totalitarianism – It only thrives because there is an inherent portion of any given society that secretly loves it and wants it to exist. We might call these people useful idiots, but it is much more than that. They are not necessarily unaware of what they are doing; they understand to some extent that they are helping in the destruction of other people’s freedoms…and they revel in it. Sure, there are elitists and globalists that levy core conspiracies and seek out more and more control, but they could not accomplish much of anything without the aid of the army of sociopathic aberrations that live among us.
If only George Orwell could see what we have become. Today I am writing this article in the midst of a deep state of sadness. I have to admit, I haven’t been this sad in a very long time. In fact, I don’t even know if I am going to be able to complete this article. What they are doing to this country that I love is really starting to get to me emotionally.
America is supposed to be a beacon of liberty and freedom for the entire world, but now we are on the cutting edge of the global trend toward authoritarianism. I know that a lot of people have been leaving the United States in recent years in an attempt to escape the madness, but at this point we see authoritarianism on the rise just about everywhere. Just look at New Zealand. Just look at Australia. Just look at the Philippines. At one time people were fleeing to those countries, but now they have become some of the most authoritarian regimes of all.
I feel so frustrated because I feel like I have been banging my head against a brick wall. Over the past decade, I have written countless articles warning that we were losing our liberties and our freedoms, and very large numbers of people all over the globe read those articles.
But did they do any good?
“A fundamental difference between modern dictatorships and all other tyrannies of the past is that terror is no longer used as a means to exterminate and frighten opponents but as an instrument to rule masses of people who are perfectly obedient.”
~Hannah Arendt ~ (The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1966)
As a recipient of an E.C. Harwood Visiting Research Fellowship at the American Institute for Economic Research, I am inspired by tales of the principled battles that Colonel Harwood fought in support of the ideals behind the US Constitution. Taking his oath to support that great document as a lodestar, his support for the cause of human liberty and personal dignity led him to be a vocal opponent of the policies of FDR’s New Deal. As such, he continued doing so despite orders from his military commanders to cease his criticisms, eventually choosing to take early retirement from a promising military career as a graduate of West Point.
My lesson from his brave acts against the most powerful institutions in the US is that being a true patriot requires supporting an ideology of individual freedom rather than accepting partisan interests that violate foundational precepts. As such, Americans wishing for a united and prosperous country should follow Edward Harwood’s example to challenge the authority of government officials and question assertions of “experts” they use for support.
This contrarian behavior is even more urgent given the drift of public policy in recent years that would expand political powers beyond FDR’s wildest dreams, at the expense of private property rights and human liberty. As it is, public policies have become increasingly pointed towards responses to claims that irresponsible actions by humans are causing environmental degradation and climate change.
While the emergence of a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and the disease that it might cause, Covid-19, are now at center stage, they share equal billing with the former only slightly in the background. In all events, this pair of menaces offers a convenient pretense for government officials to seek expansions in their powers that give them greater control over human actions and private resources. Initially, the specter of climate change was not enough to induce most citizens to accept enhanced political power that would diminish their liberty and curtail their personal rights.
However, fear ginned up during the recent pandemic based on pronouncements reflecting “expert” authority caused individuals to stop thinking of health as a personal issue and to embrace “public health.” The notion that “public health” reflects an objective reality must be challenged, especially since so much focus is on only one among many viruses and on only one disease among many ailments that afflict mankind. It is troubling that these political feats of legerdemain have induced many citizens to accept an artificial collective construct, with solidarity dominating individual autonomy and security elevated over human liberty.
While human health and protecting or rehabilitating the natural environment are indisputably worthy goals, a holistic approach to these matters requires considering their impact on the individual lives of humans.
Curbs on individual behavior and resource use to serve “public health” or the natural environment involve an unhealthy confusion of politics and “science.” In the end, the nonpharmaceutical interventions related to the Covid-19 pandemic might turn out to have been a dress rehearsal that serves as a roadmap for “climate action” to offset global warming.
Even if there is agreement on problems arising from human activity, the debate should be about the efficacy of the range of remedial actions that are available. As such, the quest for solutions should begin with an understanding that government interventions can often cause problems rather than be an appropriate remedy.