Internet shutdowns and/or blocking social media have frequently been used in times of violence or impending violence in different countries.

By Jillian Sequeira (Law Street (TM)) |

Earlier this month, the government of Ethiopia blocked multiple social media sites–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Viber–for days on end during the course of annual university entrance exams. The government initiated the shutdown in order to prevent students from sharing answers or otherwise cheating on the exams but went on to claim that it had blocked the sites because they were “a distraction” for students. It is not entirely clear from where the order to launch the shutdown came. Daniel Berhane, editor of Horn Affairs magazine, tweeted that there was no transparency regarding who made the decision and that the government issued no statement on how long social media would be blocked for. The ban on social media ultimately only lasted for a handful of days, as long as the examinations were held, but even though the duration of the ban was relatively short, its scope is troubling.

Ethiopia is not the first nation to block social media during exams–Algeria and Iraq took the same measures this spring after students published exams online. However, this could set a troubling precedent for government control of the web. The UN has defended the internet as a basic human right and has passed a resolution (albeit non-binding) that condemns nations that intentionally disrupt citizens’ internet access. Internet shutdowns have frequently been used in times of violence or impending violence–like during the terrorist attacks on Istanbul, during protests in Bahrain,Venezuela and across sub-Saharan Africa.

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