According to research conducted by our team at Comparitech, internet blackouts and social media restrictions cost the world’s economy more than $4.5 billion in 2020. $2.5 billion of this (almost 60 percent) comes from over 100 shutdowns in India (mainly within the Jammu and Kashmir region).

Implemented by governments to restrict communications and information during voting, school exams, outbreaks of militant fighting, and protests, these shutdowns have a huge impact on local and worldwide economies as well as citizens’ rights and freedom of speech.

What’s more, we’ve already seen some high-profile shutdowns in 2021. This includes Uganda’s social media restrictions and 5-day internet shutdown, Russia’s 6-hour internet throttling, and Myanmar’s ongoing restrictions and shutdowns amid a military coup. Plus, there’s the continued internet throttling in India’s Jammu and Kashmir region. That’s why we’ll be tracking internet shutdowns on a weekly basis to see how they develop throughout 2021.

Internet shutdowns – 2021

Each week, we’ll update this table to show the ongoing internet shutdowns and social media disruptions around the world. To date, these incidents have cost nearly $762 million.

Latest update: Myanmar is now entering its third week of nightly internet shutdowns. After social media blackouts began on February 3 due to the protests against the military, internet shutdowns quickly followed from February 6 to February 7. And since February 15, the internet has been shut down for 8 hours every night (from 1:00 AM to 9:00 AM). Many are also reporting social media shutdowns outside of these full shutdowns (again, this is ongoing at the time of writing). So far, these shutdowns in Mynamar have cost almost $224 million.

Similar shutdowns and internet throttling have also been reported in Armenia, Iran, and Chad. With the latter two ongoing at the time of writing.

As Russia’s connectivity only dropped to 83 percent, the shutdown has been calculated at 17 percent.

Myanmar’s shutdown costs for 02/01 were calculated based on the number of hours at 75% (cost of 25%) and 50% (cost of 50%) connectivity. Social media shutdown costs exclude the duration of time during which the entire internet was shutdown.

After the 5-day shutdown in Uganda, social media restrictions continued and internet connectivity remained at around 90%. Netblocks’s cost tool calculates a full internet shutdown at the same cost as the shutdown of the blocking of social media sites and WhatsApp, so our calculations for the throttling are included within the social media shutdowns.

Internet shutdowns cost the world’s economy $4.5 billion in 2020

As we have already mentioned, India suffered the most shutdowns in 2020, with the region of Jammu and Kashmir accounting for the vast majority of these restrictions. However, this could be due to the government there readily publishing shutdown orders, with many of the other regions criticized for not doing so. These shutdowns were primarily due to encounters between security forces and terrorists. Others were instigated due to elections and protests. Throughout 2020, these shutdowns across India caused over 13,000 hours of downtime and cost the economy over $2.5 billion.

When it comes to the longest periods without internet and/or social networks, however, African countries were the hardest hit. Chad had the longest shutdown with WhatsApp being blocked for 3,912 hours at a total cost of more than $26 million. Running from July 22 and ongoing at the end of the year, this shutdown was implemented due to the spread of “hatred and division.”

This was followed by Tanzania with an internet blackout that lasted 1,584 hours in 2020 at the cost of over $622 million. It started when elections were due to take place but continued long after, with no updates of it having been fully restored by the end of 2020. In fact, the Netherlands ambassador in Tanzania, Verheul Jeroen, even Tweeted “Why is access to Twitter still blocked in #Tanzania? Did somebody forget to switch it back on?” on 13 December.

Ethiopia also suffered three lengthy internet blackouts that lasted a combined total of 3,657 hours and cost over $109 million. The first ran from January to the beginning of April in Western Oromia and cost over $1.4 million. Reasons weren’t provided straight away but “security reasons” were cited in February. Then, in June, the internet was cut off across the entire country for 23 days following the shooting of prominent singer, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa. This cost $102.5 million. The third occurred in November in the region of Tigray after war broke out in the area. It lasted until mid-December when some services were restored and resulted in downtime of 960 hours at a cost of $5.48 million.

In Vietnam, Facebook’s (and consequently, Instagram’s) servers were taken offline 50 days after Facebook refused to censor posts. This had a combined economic cost of $358.3 million.

Shutdowns by platform – 2020

Shut down or throttled for almost 28,400 hours in total, the web was the most heavily-impacted platform in 2020. Plus, with the web generating the highest revenues, these shutdowns resulted in a cost to the economy of nearly $4 billion and affected over 450 million internet users.

The web was closely followed by WhatsApp – the favored communication app for many thanks to its encrypted messages. Forcibly shut down by governments to prevent communications during elections, examinations, protests, outbreaks of fighting, and due to “the mispread of information,” access to WhatsApp was restricted for a total of 4,602 hours in 2020 and cost $55.6 million.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram also suffered huge losses – $255 milllion, $222 million, and $43 million each respectively due to shutdowns lasting for thousands of hours. In some cases, all three platforms are hit with the same restrictions at the same time. For example, in Mali, these three channels, along with WhatsApp, were restricted for 144 hours due to mass protests. This single shutdown cost the economy over $5.87 million.

How much would an internet shutdown cost in your country?

Based on the data provided by Netblocks.org, we can estimate that, if the entire internet was shut down for just 24 hours, this would cost the world’s economy a whopping $40 billion – around $1.7 billion per hour, $27.7 million per minute, and just under half a million per second.

But where would an internet shutdown have the biggest economic cost? And what would a shutdown cost in your country?

Methodology

Using reports of internet shutdowns on Netblocks.org, internetshutdowns.in, Facebook’s shutdown report, and other reputable news sources, we created a timeline of internet shutdowns and social media restrictions around the world. To calculate the economic costs of these, we used Netblocks.org’s Cost of Shutdown Tool to estimate the cost of each of these shutdowns. The tool uses indicators from the World Bank, ITU, Eurostat, and U.S. Census to make its calculations. It gives the cost of full internet shutdowns as well as individual figures for isolated shutdowns on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and WhatsApp.

Where a shutdown only occurred in a region of a country, the cost of the shutdown was estimated in relation to the percent of the country’s GDP produced in the region.

Shutdowns as a result of natural disasters or communication failures (e.g. infrastructure issues) were not included. Incidents where no timescales were given were also omitted, including one in Cuba due to insufficient data being available for the platform shutdown costs.

Due to WhatsApp and YouTube numbers being unavailable in the countries affected, the user figures are based on the average percentage of the world’s population using these platforms on a monthly basis. Both WhatsApp and YouTube have 2 billion monthly users, which is 25.97 percent of the global population. Internet user figures are based on the percentage of the population using the internet as per World Bank data.

For the full data set and timeline, click here:

2020 – https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1fpQvoYIUoCpNoJZwn2b0RjVIny-nI9zKlqkkskyfJGQ/edit?usp=sharing

2021 – https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1gXqhIf9pNwZ6u7K3V2ip8poFtp5-nzo7J8wuiuStyss/edit?usp=sharing