The Cost of an Internet Shutdown: Human rights and economic prosperity are at risk amid a spike in national internet shutdowns.

After 50 years of political and economic isolation, Myanmar embarked on a hopeful period of transition in 2011, which culminated in the election of a civilian government in 2015. Almost as soon as the country opened up to the world, internet penetration began to rise, increasing over the next decade from 0.25 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2020, thanks to the arrival of international communication companies, including from China. As internet connectivity grew, so did mobile services and social media. As of mid-February 2021, there are 29 million social media users, equivalent to 53 percent of the population.

For a country that had experienced years of censorship, this new connectivity was a revolution. Social media platforms became the main source of information and communication. The New Light of Myanmar stated in 2013 that, in Myanmar, “a person without a Facebook identity is like a person without a home address.” While Burmese people were finally able to enjoy freedom of speech and information, the consequences could also be devastating. In 2018, the United Nations’ Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar concluded that the popular social media platform had played a determining role in the genocide against the Rohingya.

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