Charting the Link Between Disinformation, Disruptions, Diseases and the Diaspora in Cameroon and DR Congo

By Richard Ngamita |

Disinformation on social media has been a growing concern in global politics for several years, and it is now exploding across Sub-Saharan Africa, where social media-based disinformation campaigns are increasingly being deployed by foreign entities and governments  to influence narratives.

Several socio-political and economic factors provide fertile ground for disinformation to thrive in African countries. The exploding youth population – with many coming online for the first time through social media – growth in the use and availability of internet-enabled mobile phones, ethno-religious conflicts, and insecurity are some of the factors that have contributed to the large amount of information accessible via digital media and provided new, fast-moving channels for spreading and amplifying false information.

This growth in disinformation in the region has presented a new stress test for emerging internet policy and legislative responses. For instance, in March 2020, Ethiopia enacted the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation to address hate speech and disinformation, which have historically troubled the country. However, it has been argued that whereas government regulation is legitimate to control hate speech, Ethiopia’s new law poses a threat to freedom of expression and access to information online.

In Cameroon, under the Law Relating to Cyber Security and Cyber Criminality, it is an offense to publish and propagate information online “without being able to attest its veracity” or truthfulness. In a July 2020 press conference, Cameroon’s Communication Minister, René Emmanuel Sadi, expressed concerns over “irresponsible” use of social media to tarnish the image of public officials or sabotage government actions and warned that those who continued to propagate such information on social media platforms would face the heavy arm of the law.

Other countries like Zimbabwe and Tanzania have broader media laws that have been used to target fake news. The various laws have been criticised for posing a threat to digital rights, especially when deployed as tools against critical opinion, the media, and dissent in African countries with democratic deficits.

Many African countries, including Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), continue to grapple with disinformation, with a high risk of online activity resulting in offline harm. This report reviews the situation in these countries, where – despite relatively low connectivity levels – disinformation presents a considerable concern.

As of 2017, Cameroon had  19.7 million mobile phone subscribers  representing a penetration rate of 85%, while internet penetration was 35.6%. Meanwhile, as of December 2019, the DR Congo had an internet penetration rate of 19.2%, while mobile phone penetration was 42%.

Conflict Awareness and Disinformation

Citizens in Cameroon and the DR Congo rely on a wide range of traditional sources of information (including print and broadcast media), alongside online sources to keep abreast of social, economic and political issues. However, social media has come to play an increasing role on issues related to conflict because mainstream media is censored by their governments.

In Cameroon, tensions between Anglophone and Francophone regions date back to the country’s independence in 1961. Over the years, there have been fatal violence and protest action against the continued “francophonisation” and marginalisation of English speakers who say that the central government privileges the majority French-speaking population.

In 2015, a video showing two women and two children being shot dead by soldiers in the Far North town of Zelevet started to circulate on social media. According to a July 2018 BBC Africa Eye investigation, the government initially dismissed the video as fake news. However, Amnesty International revealed credible evidence that the Cameroon military was responsible, prompting the authorities to retract and state that the 10 soldiers depicted in the video had been arrested and would be prosecuted. Five years after the incident, a military court convicted and sentenced the soldiers to imprisonment.

Whereas the BBC Africa Eye investigation into the shooting incident revealed that several people did not like to spread hate speech and graphic violence content online, sometimes they recognised that such content could include safety information, especially for those who live in conflict areas.

cameroon
Source: Twitter

In the DR Congo, a history of armed conflict has left millions dead and the country destabilised, with continued violence perpetrated by several armed groups active in the region, including the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and numerous militias. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) has operated in the region since 1999 and is the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world.

During the 2018 elections that had been long awaited, there were reports of widespread election irregularities, with competing political parties claiming to be in the lead as several unofficial tallies started to circulate on social media. Sponsored content from Google and Facebook falsely alleged that former President Joseph Kabila’s surrogate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, had won the elections. The ads were published before the official results announcement by the Electoral Commission, which had been delayed. There were internet shutdowns in key cities, which made it even harder for fact checkers to verify any information related to the elections.

RDC
Source : Twitter

Considering the elections had been postponed from November 2016 to December 2017, and then to April 2018, the circulation of false election results could have prolonged the cycle of instability.

 Role of the Diaspora Community

The diaspora community is a huge contributor to the inflaming of tensions online in both countries, often through fake accounts that regularly share hateful and inciting content against rival political factions.

During the 2018 elections in Cameroon, there were several instances of social media posts from the diaspora claiming that long-serving President Paul Biya had died. Biya went on to win the disputed elections, and two years on, social media content, often from the diaspora, continues to fuel political and ethnic tensions.

Cameroon
Source:  Facebook

With the conflict in Anglophone regions leading to calls for a break-away state and separatists actively seeking support from the Cameroonian diaspora, there is an ongoing risk that online content that depicts the Cameroonian government as repressive and violent could result in offline harm.

Source
Source: Facebook

As for the social media posts falsely claiming that Shadary had won the 2018 presidential election in DR Congo, considering the internet disruption at the time, indications are that the perpetrators of the sponsored ads and admins of the accounts in question were based in the diaspora. Lumumba aime LE CONGO (Lumumba loves Congo), which was among the key propagators of the ads, had been created just before the elections and traded on the likeness of Patrice Lumumba, a famous independence leader. Besides content claiming victory for Shadary, the page also shared posts from several fake domains or news aggregation websites like CongoActu24.com. This was another example in which disinformation had the potential to lead to offline harms within a fragile political environment.

Congo

Pandemics

Like in other African countries, Cameroon and DR Congo have seen a surge in Covid-19 disinformation online, some of it pegged on cultural, political and religious sensitivities including promotion of herbal remedies, steaming, alcohol, contradictory and speculative reports about treatments and/or confusing guidance about standard operating procedures (SOPs).

The spread of disinformation around diseases can be a public health risk, as has been the case in Cameroon and the DR Congo regarding Ebola and, more recently, Covid-19. Disease disinformation undermines confidence in underlying science, slows down sensitisation, politicises health activities and questions the motives of health officials.

DR Congo is no novice to pandemics, having borne the brunt of the Ebola outbreak between 2017 and  2019. In May 2020, France 24 News reported a Covid-19 fake news campaign in DR Congo. The France 24 reports were later corroborated by Facebook and DFRLab, which linked the network to a politician called Honore Mvula. The network carried several Covid-19 false claims attributed to public figures including French infectious disease expert Didier Raoult, French president Emmanuel Macron and Madagascar president Andry Rajoelina and these made rounds on Congolese Facebook pages, recording a high rate of engagement. Mvula denied the allegations against him. Facebook took down the pages.

FFRDC

Internet Disruption

Cameroon and DR Congo have a history of ordering internet disruptions on multiple occasions during public protests and elections. In January 2017, internet connectivity was restricted in the Anglophone region of Cameroon following dissent and calls for succession from the Francophone region. The disruption, which lasted for over 230 days until March 2018 is recorded as the longest internet shutdown on the continent.

Similarly, in the DR Congo, instability in the country has been continuously characterised by persistent internet shutdowns since December 2011. Following a relatively peaceful voting day on December 30, 2018, the government shut down the internet on December 31 and progressively, broadcast  media, and expelled some international journalists reporting on the elections. The official reasons provided by policymakers were “to avoid fake results from circulating”.

According to analysts, the internet shutdown in Cameroon cost the economy USD 1.67 million per day, while the shutdown in DR Congo  cost the economy USD 3 million per day.

Net block
Source: Twitter

Internet shutdowns during elections are a common and growing trend of digital repression especially in authoritarian countries in Africa, whose leaders have been in power for many years. When governments impose information blackouts or curtail the free flow of information online through other means, disinformation thrives as fact-checking and the production of counter-narratives are hampered. In the case of Cameroon and DR Congo, that disinformation, much of it originating from the diaspora, propagates hate speech and disinformation that threaten to exacerbate civil strife and undermine electoral integrity. In turn, the shutdowns and the disinformation propagated by state and non-state actors, are eroding technology’s potential to enhance electoral integrity, to civic engagement and the fight against diseases such as Covid-19.

Netblock1
Source: Twitter

Overcoming Disinformation

Accounts of targeted messaging during elections have become common, and they are particularly concerning as the content of the messages is often misleading, out-rightly false, or inciting. This recent rise of online campaigning through social media platforms has thus raised further concerns about how the required data is obtained, the extent to which African democracies are vulnerable to foreign interference, the ways in which social media algorithms are prone to manipulation, and the ethics of using African countries as a testing ground for new digital technologies.

Whereas efforts to legislate against disinformation are human rights pressure points, alternative countermeasures, in collaboration with social media platform operators, hold some promise. In 2020, several sub Saharan African governments partnered with social media platforms and other intermediaries to fight Covid-19 disinformation. Earlier in 2018, Cameroon directly engaged with Facebook to explore opportunities for fighting the spread of false and misleading information within the country. Meanwhile, promoting digital literacy skills and fact checking capacity, and creating awareness about what is unacceptable content on platforms and how to report objectionable content, remain key needed actions. Hence efforts and other measures to combat disinformation and other harmful content, including around elections and in the fight against Covid-19, require closer collaboration between governments, civil society and platforms than we have witnessed this far.

Richard Ngamita is a Data Researcher who currently works on human rights, disinformation and espionage. He previously worked at Google with the Spam team. He has also led investigative research across health, agriculture and refugee movements.

Mauritius’ Social Media Regulation Proposal Centres State-Led Censorship

By Daniel Mwesigwa |

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Mauritius leads in many aspects. It is the only country on the continent categorised as a “full democracy” by the Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index for 2020. Additionally, it has the second highest per capita income (USD 11,099) and one of the highest internet penetration rates in the region (72.2%).

However, the recently published consultation paper on proposed amendments to the country’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) law, purportedly aimed at curbing abuse and misuse of social media, could place Mauritius among the ranks of regressive states. The proposed establishment of a National Digital Ethics Committee (NDEC) to determine what content is problematic in addition to a Technical Enforcement Unit to oversee the technical enforcement of NDEC’s measures has potential surveillance and censorship implications.

The social media regulation proposals by Mauritius are made in light of increasing calls for accountability of technology platforms such as Google and Facebook by western countries. Indeed, the consultation paper cites Germany’s Network Enforcement Act (colloquially known as the Facebook Act), which requires social media platforms to remove “illegal content” from their platforms within 24 hours of notice by users and complaint bodies. Non-compliance penalties are large – with fines ranging between five  million and 50 million euros.

The paper states that, unlike in Germany and other countries like France, the United Kingdom, and Australia, complaints by Mauritian local authorities to social media platforms “remain unattended to or not addressed in a timely manner”. Moreover, it adds, cooperation under the auspices of domestic laws and regulations is only effective in countries where technology companies have local offices, which is not the case in Mauritius. As such, according to the Authority, “the only practical solution in the local context would be the implementation of a regulatory and operational framework which not only provides for a legal solution to the problem of harmful and illegal online content but also provides for the necessary technical enforcement measures required to handle this issue effectively in a fair, expeditious, autonomous and independent manner.”

However, the Authority’s claims of powerlessness appear unfounded. According to Facebook’s Transparency report, Mauritius made two requests for preservation of five user accounts pending receipt of formal legal processes in 2017. In 2019, Mauritius made one request to Facebook for preservation of two accounts. Similarly, the country has barely made any requests for content take down to Google, with only a total of 13 since 2009. The country has never made a user information or content takedown request to Twitter. In comparison, South Africa made two requests to Facebook for preservation of 14 user accounts in 2017 and 16 requests for preservation of 68 user accounts in 2019. To Google, South Africa has made a total of 33 requests for 130 items for removal since 2009 while to Twitter, it has made six legal demands between 2012 and 2020.

Broad and Ambiguous Definitions

According to section 18(m) of Mauritius’ Information and Communication Technologies Act (2001, amended multiple times including in 2020), the ICT Authority shall “take steps to regulate or curtail the harmful and illegal content on the Internet and other information and communication services”.

Although the consultation paper states that the Authority has previously fulfilled this mandate in the fight against child pornography,  it concedes that it has not fulfilled the part of curtailing illegal content as it is not currently vested with investigative powers under the Act. The consultation paper thus proposes to operationalise section 18(m) through an operational framework that empowers the Authority “to carry out investigations without the need to rely on the request for technical data from social media administrators.”

The amendments to the ICT Act will relate to defining a two-pronged operational framework with the setting up of: i) a National Digital Ethics Committee (NDEC) as the decision making body on illegal and harmful content; and ii) a Technical Enforcement Unit to enforce the technical measures as directed by the NDEC.

However, neither the existing Act nor the consultation paper define what constitutes “illegal content”. Whereas the consultation paper indicates that the Chairperson and members of NDEC would be “independent, and persons of high calibre and good repute” in order to ensure transparency and public confidence in its functions, the selection criteria and appointing Authority are not specified, nor are recourse mechanisms for fair hearing and appeals against the decisions of the proposed entity.

An Authoritarian Approach to Internet Architecture

Through a technical toolset (a proxy server), proposed under section 11, the regulator will be able to identify social media traffic which will then be automatically decrypted, archived, and analysed. For instance, the technical toolset would undermine HTTPS in order to inspect internet traffic. This means that information of all social media users pertaining to device specifics, content type, location, among others, would be available to the authorities. The regulator expects that once a complaint regarding social media is received, they will be able to block the implicated web page or profile without necessarily needing the intervention of social media platforms.

Additionally, the Authority expects social media users to accept installation of a one-time digital certificate on their internet-enabled devices to facilitate the re-encryption of traffic before it is transferred to the social networking sites. In other words, the Authority wants internet users in Mauritius to replace their own padlocks used for their home security with ones given to them by the Authority, which it has open and unfettered access to.

On the other hand, Mauritius’ commitments to freedom of expression, data protection and privacy potentially collide with these social media regulation proposals. In particular, Mauritius’ Data Protection Act (2017) requires informed consent of users, prohibits disproportionate collection of user data, and mandates fair and lawful processing of user data. The Data Protection Act was enacted to align with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In March 2018,  Mauritius also ratified the African Union Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection, although the Convention is yet to be enforced due to lack of quorum. Moreover, in September 2020, Mauritius signed and ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data.

Indeed, the Authority is aware of the potential infractions of the proposed technical measures on basic freedoms — stating in the paper that “the proposed statutory framework will undoubtedly interfere with the Mauritian people’s fundamental rights and liberties in particular their rights to privacy and confidentiality and freedom of expression”. Its seeking views and suggestions of “an alternative technical toolset of a less intrusive nature” may very well be an open solicitation for more surreptitious ways of monitoring social media data, with fundamental rights still at stake.

 Democracy and Local Investment

While Mauritius runs a multiparty system of government, its human rights record has been steadily deteriorating, according to the United States Department of State’s Human Rights Report 2020. Moreover, basic freedoms such as freedom of expression are being curtailed through digital taxation and clampdown on social media dissent. Recently, Twitter cited stability and democracy as the key reasons for the opening of its first Africa offices in Ghana. Although Mauritius is strategically placed as a regional and economic hub in Africa, and has been positioning itself as a “Cyber Island”, legal frameworks such as the proposed ICT law amendments and mixed rankings on democracy alongside high rankings on internet access and ease of doing business may likely undermine the country’s international competitiveness and internet freedom standing.

Accordingly, the Authority would do well to immediately discontinue these plans to employ technical measures to monitor social media and internet traffic as they would amount to multiple breaches of fundamental freedoms. The proposals also run counter to the Data Protection Act which prioritises minimisation of data collected and informed user consent. Moreover, the technical proposal would promote self-censorship and undermine the basic workings of the institutions of democracy.

Further, although social media regulation could be paved by good intentions such as the need to stamp out inflammatory content, it could be more beneficial to explore alternative options with a range of stakeholders to promote more fair and transparent content moderation practices in line with international human rights law. Mauritius has already proved that aligning domestic and international laws and practices is necessary by fashioning its data protection law along the lines of the GDPR. Additionally, Mauritius could leverage existing partnerships with other countries of regional economic blocs such as The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) to form a coalition of fact-checkers that have direct access to social media platforms.

Finally, the Authority could collaborate with technology platforms such as Facebook to support Creole language human moderators. This could be a necessary step to enhancing content moderation through automated decisions and more so for “low resource” groups of languages including Mauritian Creole.

Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum

The Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF) is an arena where tough topical global issues around Internet rights, especially in Africa, are discussed between civil society, technology companies, government, academia and other stakeholders. For the first time ever, the Forum will focus considerable time and energy on digital inclusion, after organising six editions that focused heavily on digital rights.
For more information on the event, click here.

Déclaration conjointe pour le maintien d’un internet ouvert et sécurisé durant l’élection présidentielle du 24 Février 2019 au Sénégal

#KeepItOn |

Nous, la coalition pour un Internet libre et ouvert:

Réaffirmons que l’internet ouvert, accessible et sécurisé, en particulier durant les élections, facilite la libre circulation et l’accès à l’information, en plus de favoriser la liberté d’expression en ligne et hors ligne.  

Nos organisations sont préoccupées par la récente tendance d’interférences illégitimes dans les communications en ligne, la déclaration menaçante d’agents publics et des services de sécurité, ainsi que la ratification d’un projet de loi imparfait sur les communications électroniques datant de 2018, peuvent être considérées comme une tentative majeure de faire taire les voix critiques en ligne et de limiter ainsi la liberté d’expression. Le contrôle excessif des médias publics, l’influence et la pression indirecte exercée par le gouvernement en place et ses alliés sur de nombreux médias traditionnels, ainsi que les récents actes de violence à l’encontre de journalistes sont problématiques et affaiblissent le processus démocratique au Sénégal

Nous  demandons d’urgence à toutes les parties prenantes d’assurer la stabilité et l’accessibilité d’internet avant, pendant et après la prochaine élection présidentielle du 24 Février 2019 au Sénégal. Au nom des plus de 170 organisations provenant de plus de 60 pays qui forment la coalition #KeepitOn, nous vous implorons de garder l’internet ouvert.

Les coupures d’internet heurtent les droits humains et l’économie

Les recherches montrent que les coupures de courant sur le web et la violence vont de pair. [1], [2] Les coupures perturbent la libre circulation de l’information et créent un masque obscur qui protège les violations des droits de l’homme de tout contrôle public. En particulier durant les élections, les journalistes et les professionnels des médias ne peuvent pas contacter des sources, rassembler des informations ou archiver des articles sans outils de communication numériques [3]. Les citoyens n’ont pas accès aux informations critiques, notamment concernant les bureaux de vote et les résultats des élections. Justifiées par diverses raisons, les interruptions du web coupent l’accès à des informations vitales, au commerce électronique et aux services d’urgence, plongeant des communautés entières dans la peur. Les perturbations déstabilisent également la capacité d’internet à soutenir les petites entreprises et à stimuler le développement économique. Une étude réalisée en 2016 par la Brookings Institution, un groupe de recherche de premier plan, a révélé que les coupures d’internet avaient drainé 2,4 milliards de dollars de l’économie mondiale entre 2015 et 2016 [4].

Un internet ouvert favorise la créativité, l’innovation, l’accès à l’information et à des opportunités sociales, économiques, culturelles et politiques à travers le monde, comme aucun outil ne l’a fait auparavant. Les moyens techniques utilisés pour bloquer l’accès à l’information en ligne compromettent souvent de manière dangereuse la stabilité et la résilience d’internet. Les coupures d’internet ne doivent jamais devenir une normalité.

Au Sénégal, l’extension de l’accès à l’internet global demeure un facteur clé pour la réduction des fractures numériques et pour la concrétisation des engagements du Gouvernement envers sa stratégie Sénégal numérique 2016-2025 et les Objectifs De Développement durable (SDG). Nous estimons que les coupures d’internet coûteront au Sénégal près de   3 400 000 $ US environ en CFA 1 870 000 000 par jour en coûts économiques directs, en plus de ralentir la réalisation des droits économiques, sociaux et culturels dans son ensemble. [5]

Les coupures d’internet violent la loi internationale

Un nombre croissant de constatations et de conclusions indiquent que des perturbations intentionnelles de l’internet constituent une violation du droit international. Le Conseil des droits de l’homme des Nations Unies et l’Assemblée générale des Nations Unies ont adopté par consensus de nombreuses résolutions condamnant sans ambiguïté les coupures d’internet et les restrictions similaires à la liberté d’expression en ligne. Par exemple, le Conseil des droits de l’homme des Nations Unies dans sa résolution A/HRC/RES/32/13:

Condamne sans équivoque les mesures visant à empêcher ou à perturber intentionnellement l’accès ou la diffusion d’information en ligne, en violation des Droits humains protégés internationalement, et appelle tous les États à s’abstenir et cesser d’utiliser de telles pratiques.

Des experts des Nations Unies, de l’Organisation pour la sécurité et la coopération en Europe (OSCE), de l’Organisation des États américains (OEA) et de la Commission Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples (CADHP) ont déclaré qu’une coupure d’internet ne peut jamais être justifiée sous le droit international relatif aux droits de l’homme, même en période de conflit. [6]

En novembre 2016, la Commission Africaine Des droits de l’ Hommes et des Peuples (CADHP) a adopté une résolution sur le droit à la liberté d’information et d’expression pour l’internet en Afrique, exprimant sa préoccupation face à «une pratique émergente des États d’interrompre ou de limiter l’accès aux services de télécommunication tels qu’internet, les médias sociaux et les services de messagerie, pratique de plus en plus courante durant les élections.» CADHP/Rés.362 (LIX).

Le Comité des droits de l’homme des Nations Unies, interprète officiel du Pacte international relatif aux droits civils et politiques, souligne dans l’Observation générale no. 34 que les restrictions sur le discours en ligne doivent être strictement nécessaires et proportionnées pour atteindre un objectif légitime. [7] Les coupures, en revanche, ont un impact disproportionné sur tous les utilisateurs et limitent inutilement l’accès à l’information et aux communications des services d’urgence lors de moments cruciaux. Les arrêts d’internet ne sont ni nécessaires ni efficaces pour atteindre un objectif légitime, car ils bloquent la diffusion d’informations, contribuent à la confusion et au désordre, en plus d’entraver la sécurité publique.

Nous vous demandons respectueusement d’utiliser votre position d’influence afin de:

  • Veiller à ce que l’internet, y compris les médias sociaux, demeure actif et accessible ;
  • Déclarer publiquement votre engagement à conserver l’internet ouvert et à informer le public de toute perturbation ;
  • Encourager les fournisseurs de services de télécommunication et d’internet à respecter les droits humains par la divulgation publique de politiques et de pratiques affectant les utilisateurs ;
  • Veiller au respect des directives de la déclaration Africaine des Droits et Libertés de l’Internet ;

Veiller au respect des directives sur l’Accès à l’Information et les Élections en Afrique.

                                                                                                Fait à Dakar, 19 février 2019

Access Now

African Development Solution Lab-Experts ( ADSL-E)

African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)

AFRICTIVISTES

Alioune NDIAYE – Presidentrzd

Alliance for Affordable Internet – A4AI

APPEL

ARTICLE 19 Afrique de l’Est

ARTICLE 19 Sénégal Afrique de l’Ouest

Assane DIENG Etudiant – Chercheur

Association for Progressive Communications (APC)

ASUTIC

Bacary Domingo MANE – Journaliste

Balkissa Idé Siddo  

Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)

Collectif Sassoufit

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

CONGAD

Directeur de Pub www. Sene24.com

Emmanuelle M. FAYE – Journaliste Enquête

FORUM CIVIL

Forum for African Women Educationalists FORUM CIVIL

Human Rights Centre Somaliland

Ibra Seck CASSIS – Senegal Vote

Ibrahima NDOYE – Directeur de Pub www. Sene24.com

Internet Sans Frontières

Jeune Chambre Internationale

LSDH APPEL

Magueye SOW – Atlas Network

Media Foundation for West Africa

Modibo DIOP – Euratrade SA

Moussa Fara DIOP – Jeune Chambre Internationale

Moussa TALL – AIESEC

NetBlocks

OpenNet Africa

Oumy Régina SAMBOU – Journaliste

Paradigm Initiative

PEN America

RADDHO

Right 2 Know Campaign, South Africa

The PACT ( Projet pour une alternance crédible au Tchad )

Unwanted Witness, Uganda

World Wide Web Foundation

NetBlocks and the Internet Society Launch Tool to Calculate the Cost of Internet Censorship Worldwide

News Update |

A new tool to support internet freedom is being launched by NetBlocks and the Internet Society, a global non-profit organisation dedicated to the open development, use and evolution of the Internet.

Launch COSTRun the Cost of Shutdown Tool

The organisations have partnered up to build COST, a tool that seeks to measure the economic cost of internet disruptions to support the adoption of rights-based internet governance around the world.

The Cost of Shutdown Tool (COST) launches today to mark the 70th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enacted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.

COST is a data-driven policy tool that automates the task of assessing the economic impact of internet shutdowns, mobile data blackouts and social media restrictions including throttling.

COST performs calculations by country, type of disruption and length of time, combining thousands of development indicators in real time to offer insights into the impact of internet governance and misgovernance on sustainable development, human rights and digital prosperity.

“This tool will empower the next stage of data-driven advocacy. By calculating numbers in real time, COST will allows us to communicate to governments and technology companies on how much revenue they’re losing when they disrupt the internet. We hope by the tool will make governments think twice before threatening internet freedom, ” Hannah Machlin, Global Advocacy Manager for the NetBlocks Group, said.

“ We believe the opportunities brought by the Internet should be available for everyone and a tool such as COST can help governments understand the economic impact of shutting down or blocking the Internet.  While we can’t quantify the human cost of switching off the Internet, this helps quantify the economic cost,” explains Constance Bommelaer de Leusse, Senior Director Global Internet Policy for The Internet Society.

The COST tool is built upon established research papers published by the Brookings Institution for global coverage and a specialised model by CIPESA for sub-Saharan Africa, taking into account indirect economic factors and informal economies that play a major role in the region. Economic indicators are integrated from open data sources including the World Bank, ITU and Eurostat.

You can read more about it here.