Internet Outages and State Repression

State-imposed Internet shutdowns, which represent the most extreme form of online censorship, are globally gaining in popularity. Previous research has highlighted the human rights implications of shutdowns, but has thus far largely focused on studying individual countries, while relying on reported online disruptions. This paper takes a global comparative approach, arguing that all else equal, state actors will be more likely to abuse citizens’ physical integrity rights in countries with Internet outages that in countries where no outages occur. To account for all Internet outages, I construct two new indicators based on network measurement data that globally monitor the Internet for instances of outages in near real-time. I present a multivariate analysis of the relationship between Internet shutdowns and physical integrity violations across 168 countries between 2017 and 2020. The evidence presented in this paper suggests that Internet outages are significantly associated with an increase in repression, when compared to years and countries where uninterrupted Internet access is available. With more and more governments making use of cyber controls, the results have important ramifications for research and policy attempting to limit state abuse in the digital age.
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