Myanmar NetBlocks Observatory
The internet has become a vital tool for communication, information dissemination, and social mobilization. However, in times of political unrest or crisis, governments may restrict or shut down internet access to control the flow of information and suppress dissent. This is what happened in Myanmar on January 31, 2021, when the military staged a coup and detained political leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi. The NetBlocks Internet Observatory  reported widespread internet disruptions in the country, indicating that the military regime was trying to limit access to information and communication.
NetBlocks is an independent non-profit organization that monitors internet freedom and network disruptions worldwide. It uses a combination of technical tools, data analysis, and human expertise to track and report on internet shutdowns, censorship, and other forms of digital rights violations. In Myanmar, NetBlocks has been monitoring the internet connectivity and traffic since 2018, when the government imposed a temporary shutdown in some regions to prevent the spread of violence against Rohingya Muslims.
How NetBlocks Works
NetBlocks uses various methods to detect and verify internet disruptions, such as network measurement tools, social media analysis, user reports, and collaboration with local partners. Its main tool is the NetBlocks DiffProbe , a software program that simulates internet traffic and measures the performance and accessibility of different websites and services. By analyzing the data from multiple sources, NetBlocks can determine whether an internet disruption is intentional or accidental, localized or nationwide, and which networks or providers are affected.
In addition to technical monitoring, NetBlocks also engages in advocacy and outreach activities to raise awareness about internet freedom and digital rights. It collaborates with other organizations, researchers, journalists, and policymakers to share data, insights, and recommendations on how to protect and promote online freedom of expression, privacy, and access.
NetBlocks and Myanmar’s Internet Shutdowns
Myanmar has a history of internet shutdowns and censorship, particularly during times of political turmoil or conflict. In 2019, the government ordered a nationwide internet blackout in Rakhine and Chin states, where clashes between the military and ethnic rebels had escalated. The shutdown lasted for eight months, affecting millions of people and causing significant economic and social harm .
Since the military coup in February 2021, the internet in Myanmar has been intermittently disrupted, with some social media platforms and websites blocked or restricted . NetBlocks has been closely monitoring these disruptions and providing real-time updates on its website and social media channels. Its data shows that the internet connectivity in Myanmar has dropped to as low as 16% of normal levels , indicating a severe and deliberate attempt to control the flow of information and communication.
The Importance of NetBlocks’ Work
NetBlocks’ work is crucial for protecting and promoting internet freedom and digital rights, especially in countries where governments may use internet shutdowns and censorship as a tool for repression and control. By providing accurate and timely information on network disruptions, NetBlocks helps journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens to stay informed, connected, and safe during times of crisis. Its data also serves as evidence for legal challenges, diplomatic pressure, and public advocacy campaigns against internet shutdowns and censorship.
However, NetBlocks’ work is not without challenges and risks. Its staff and partners may face harassment, surveillance, or even arrest by governments that perceive their activities as a threat to national security or stability. Moreover, the technical tools and methods used by NetBlocks may not be foolproof or universally applicable, as different countries and contexts may require different approaches and strategies.
The NetBlocks Internet Observatory is a valuable resource for monitoring internet disruptions and promoting online freedom of expression, privacy, and access. Its work in Myanmar and other countries facing internet shutdowns and censorship is a testament to the importance of independent and collaborative efforts to protect and promote digital rights. However, more needs to be done to ensure that governments respect and uphold these rights, and that citizens have access to a free, open, and secure internet. NetBlocks’ work is a crucial step towards achieving this goal.