SOCIAL MEDIA SHUTDOWN IN VENEZUELA IS A WARNING OF WHAT IS TO COME AS POLITICAL TENSIONS RISE
January 22, 2019 (Venezuela)—Yesterday, #KeepItOn coalition member NetBlocks detected
blocks to Twitter and Instagram, as well as partial disruptions to YouTube traffic, on Venezuela’s state internet
service provider CANTV. These disruptions came alongside clashes between the National Guard and 27 of its members
challenging the government of Nicolás Maduro.
Venezuelan opposition leaders are calling
for widespread protests on Wednesday as political tensions rise. The Maduro government has a long history
of using internet shutdowns and other forms of censorship to suppress opposition voices and limit the flow information
within the country, particularly at moments of heightened tension.
January 10 marked the start of Maduro’s second six-year term as president, which is widely regarded as illegitimate
by international observers,governments
, and political opposition in the country. By January 12, Wikipedia was banned
on CANTV following a flood of entries debating whether Maduro or the opposition’s National Assembly President Juan
Guiadó is the country’s legitimate political leader. The Maduro government has previously blocked
access to the Tor network.
“The Maduro government has relied on the dissemination of misinformation alongside tight control of communication flows
to maintain its grip on power,” said Verónica Arroyo, Latin America Policy Associate at Access Now.“This attack on Venezuelans’ freedom of expression is emblematic of the attack on democracy itself.”
Venezuela’s Supreme Court recently ruled
all acts of the National Assembly are null and void. Maduro established a new legislative body, the Constituent
National Assembly, in 2017, giving it full power to overrule the opposition-held National Assembly and draft a new
The Maduro government is preparing to present a cybersecurity bill
to the Constituent Assembly that would declare any online activity a matter of national security and establish an
all-powerful authority to monitor and control the internet in Venezuela. It would create extensive new legal pathways to
censor and surveil, exacerbating what are already dire conditions for human rights. More than 60 civil society
organizations, activists, journalists, technologists, and others from around the world have signed an open letter
in opposition to the bill.
“In a country where the people are suffering from shortages of food and medicine, hyperinflation, unreliable sources of
electricity and water, rampant violence both by law enforcement officers themselves and criminals driven by poverty and
lawlessness, internet shutdowns put people’s lives at even further risk,” said Berhan Taye, #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now.
It is already exceedingly difficult to access medical care, or to safely communicate with loved ones both in Venezuela
and in the ballooning refugee population outside the country (estimates are currently at 3 million
). Shutdowns can make meeting these basic needs nearly impossible, and they work to silence those who are speaking out
about the myriad of human rights abuses happening under the Maduro regime.
Reports from local activists indicate the most effective VPNs for circumventing blocking in Venezuela are currently Psiphon
. Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline
has also put together aguide
for Venezuelans on circumvention and secure communications. Those who are personally experiencing internet shutdowns in
Venezuela can share their stories here
to help document the impact of shutdowns on people’s everyday lives.