Measuring the Political and Social Implications of Government-Initiated Cyber Shutdowns


Ryan Shandler, University of Haifa


In the modern age, digital communication tools play a central role in the conduct of protests and assemblies during periods of social unrest. The foremost illustration of this was during the Arab spring, where digital platforms were leveraged to promote and sustain public protests. In response, countries attempted to dispel gatherings and limit public protest by ‘shutting down’ the Internet or blocking online access to social forums. Since then, dozens of states have begun to employ cyber-shutdowns. During a one year period, a study tracked 81 different instances of Internet shutdowns in 19 countries. This trend is only escalating. While significant resources have been invested in tracking the technical contest between governments and activists, no research has succeeded in acquiring individual level data regarding the political and social effects of Internet deprivation. This research paper reflects on two novel experimental designs that quantitatively measure how citizens respond to cyber blackouts. The first experiment consists of a controlled experiment that tests the ability of participants to complete tasks related to political participation under simulated treatments of Internet access or deprivation. The empirical findings support our hypotheses that the absence of Internet access significantly restricts the ability to engage in political activity. A second experiment extends this research beyond a laboratory setting by tracking the activity of Internet users in multiple countries during period of government-initiated Internet shutdowns. This allows us to determine whether modern forms of digital political participation have supplanted traditional offline avenues of political activity, and whether citizens are able to circumvent cyber blackouts.

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@inproceedings {220211,
author = {Ryan Shandler},
title = {Measuring the Political and Social Implications of {Government-Initiated} Cyber Shutdowns},
booktitle = {8th USENIX Workshop on Free and Open Communications on the Internet (FOCI 18)},
year = {2018},
address = {Baltimore, MD},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug