Internet blockade fails to curb violence: Stanford study

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Srinagar, Mar 25: Kashmir has recorded the highest number of the internet shutdown in India, however, such information blockades have proven less effective in controlling violence, says a study by Stanford University.

The study ‘Of Blackouts and Bandhs: The Strategy and Structure of Disconnected Protest in India’ by Jan Rydzak, Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford University, shows that nearly half of the internet shutdowns in India last year were witnessed in Kashmir.

As per it, India witnessed 134 network shutdowns in 2018 of which 47 per cent occurred in Kashmir.

“In India, the majority of shutdown events occur in the relatively volatile western or northwestern states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, and particularly the contested territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Out of 36 states and union territories, these four regions account for more than 75% of all recorded shutdown events in India (2012-17), while Jammu and Kashmir alone comprises about 47%,” the research says.

While the government enforces these internet shutdowns with an aim to restrict agitation and maintain ‘law and order’, the Stanford University research challenges this theory claiming “rumours and disinformation continue to spread with or without access to digital communication networks.”

“If shutdowns truly disrupt the spread of rumors and the coordinated collective action that stems from it, a disproportionate increase in riots, which are more disorderly and more loosely coordinated than peaceful resistance, should follow,” it reads.

“The findings cast considerable doubt on whether shutdowns are a useful device in the quelling of unrest. These (shutdowns) are less reliant on effective communication and coordination,” it adds.

“It is as important to consider whether particular patterns of repression are effective as it is to determine whether they produce uniform patterns of dissent. Considering differences in levels of coordination, I expect that the incidence of riots will increase and that of non-violent demonstrations will decline when a blackout is in place,” it says.

The Stanford working paper said that the effectives of these internet shutdowns to curb unrest was not even known to the Government of India.

“Despite the prolific use of network shutdowns across the country, neither India nor any other national government has conducted publicly acknowledged studies on the effectiveness of shutdowns as a means of suppressing unrest,” it said.

“While shutdowns are occasionally spurred by security concerns during peaceful mass events such as festivals and processions, a large proportion of known cases are implemented with the explicit goal of ensuring or restoring public order. In most instances, this has been tantamount to preventing or quashing protests, riots, or collective violence.”

The Stanford study also explains how colonial era laws have been used by the government’s to justify it blackouts, particularly during discontinuing of 22 social media websites in Jammu and Kashmir during 2017.

“Colonial-era laws such as the Telegraph Act of 1885 have also been used during the disconnection of 22 social media services in Jammu and Kashmir in April 2017. In August 2017, India’s Ministry of Communication announced new regulations governing the suspension of telecommunication services, amending the Telegraph Act (2017),” it said.

“ Empirically, these regulations have done little to dampen shutdown occurrence or usher in more prudence in executing them; 29 incidents were recorded in the final five months of the year and a further 45 in the first four months of 2018,” the study said.

Putting up the impact of internet blackouts on economy, the study claims that a three day without internet services cause a loss of $28.4 million in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The economic loss of approximately $3.04 billion during the total duration of shutdowns in India between 2012 and 2017, which accumulates 16,315 hours (680 days). 2018’s calculation of the costs of shutdowns in India, a three-day blackout equates to a revenue loss of at least $559,000 while the work of civil society organizations suggests that a blackout of the same duration in J&K would cost the state economy $28.4 million.”

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