As we continue to face the global coronavirus pandemic, one truth that has come to bear over recent weeks and months is that what we are experiencing knows no borders.
One of the elemental things powering our shared resolve at this unprecedented moment is the connected nature of our world, connectivity that is driven by the Internet. But, what if the ability to gather and share critical information, access essential products and services, learn and work from home effectively, connect with our loved ones, and speak truth to power, was taken away from us? Unfortunately, this is the reality for many people around the world.
A recent report from Access Now shows an increase in Internet shutdowns globally, with 213 documented shutdowns in 2019 and a concerning trend toward more targeted and prolonged shutdowns. Sometimes known as (Internet) ‘blackouts’ or ‘kill switches’, shutdowns can be highly targeted, focused on specific groups of individuals for the purposes of repressing dissent, to larger shutdowns which can deprive entire communities of essential information and isolate people from their support networks. The deliberate throttling of Internet speeds — increasingly a tool of repression — creates friction and barriers to entry for those who need it most.
To help raise awareness of this important issue, Twitter is pleased to support the #KeepItOn campaign, with the launch of a special emoji. #KeepItOn is a coalition of more than 200 organisations — ranging from research centers to rights and local advocacy groups, detection networks, and media organizations — located within 75 countries around the world, fighting to end Internet shutdowns globally.
Twitter's mission is to serve the public conversation. We are committed to protecting freedom of expression, while encouraging healthy and productive public conversations. Having access to the free and open Internet is a right that many have come to see as essential. It is a right that’s increasingly inseparable from free expression, self-determination, and self-actualization.
Our right to access news, connection, and medical information on the open Internet is more vital than ever during this pandemic. For some, it may be existential. It acts as a distribution channel for the most up-to-date information on how to prevent the spread of the virus; a directory that points us to the services we need to stay healthy; and a place where we can gather with friends and family. And with our economies reliant on digital technologies and connectivity, an open Internet is a foundational pillar on which recovery must be built.
Shutdowns can only impede this progress, unnecessarily walling off targeted communities and entire populations. We have also seen a worrying trend towards regulatory action that could see instances of shutdowns increase further. Some of this is motivated by an urgent need to tackle COVID-19 in any way possible — some isn’t — but the long-term result could be an Internet that is less open, less free, and less empowering for all.
Throughout the past weeks and months, we have seen first-hand that the principles of net neutrality and how the open, borderless nature of the Internet has allowed us to stay connected. As we face this pandemic, Twitter is helping people find reliable information, connect with others, and follow what’s happening in real time. In March, we announced that we were contributing to two organizations working tirelessly to uphold the fundamental values of a free press during the pandemic. Additionally, a critical function of our service is providing a place where people can openly and publicly respond to their leaders and hold them accountable.
Working with our partners across the globe, we’ve facilitated conversations and the sharing of authoritative and credible information through our #KnowTheFacts prompt, now available in approximately 80 countries, hosting Q&As with the World Health Organization on @Twitter, and launching a global campaign to support the #SafeHands campaign.
We have seen a huge surge in sharing gratitude, with more than 250 million Tweets shared worldwide expressing appreciation since March 15, and celebrating those who are on the frontlines protecting us all.
These campaigns and global initiatives would not have been possible without the global, open, and interconnected Internet. Today, to support this critical movement, we're encouraging people around the world to make their voices heard by using #KeepItOn.
“Access to information and freedom of expression are the foundations of our democracy. During a global health crisis, we all should be working to facilitate people’s access to credible and timely information. Any attempt to throttle, stifle, and shut down the internet including social media during this pandemic and beyond will have a detrimental effect on our collective health and well-being.” says Berhan Taye, Senior Policy Analyst and Global Internet Shutdowns Lead at Access Now.