Week in Review: December 18, 2017

by Dan Bateyko

Ethiopia blocks social media sites amid protests

Ethiopia has blocked Internet access to a number of social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, in its Oromia region following ethnic tensions and protests, according to an Associated Press report.

As part of its #keepiton campaign, Access Now  documented the series of Internet shutdowns that occured in Ethiopia during 2016’s citizen protests and government-issued state of emergency. In its report, Access Now writes that "the deaths during protests ­­– and the government’s decision to disrupt the internet — ­­ underscore how shutting down the internet often precedes or is accompanied by atrocities." Moses Karanja, a researcher at Citizen Lab, echoed these concerns in an interview for Quartz Africa, warning that “we have seen internet disruptions in Ethiopia serve as canaries in the mine of state violence in the past.” Karanja confirmed that messenger applications like WhatsApp were still available.

See also: Citizen Lab released a report this month detailing Ethiopia's use of commercial spyware on diaspora media outlets, some associated with disseminating information during the 2015 Oromo protests.

Russia's federal media regulator blocks access to opposition group Open Russia websites

The Russian federal media regulator Roskomnadzor has blocked access to five websites associated with Open Russia, an organization founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, according to The Moscow Times.

In a statement on the recent website blocking, Amnesty International writes that these blocks come on the heels of an amendment passed by the Duma last month which relaxes the procedure for censoring websites of organizations deemed "undesirable" by Russia's Prosecutor General's registry. The popular Russian social network Odnoklassniki has already complied with a similar Roskomnadzor request, suspending Open Russia's account. According to Meduza, the regulator has warned media outlets against sharing content created by "undesirable organizations," stating that it regards " even hyperlinks to such organizations' online resources as the dissemination of illegal content."

The regulator also issued warnings to Twitter and YouTube, giving them 24-hours notice to block access to Open Russia’s accounts or be faced with a Russia-wide ban. Yulia Gorbunova, a Russia researcher for Human Rights Watch, writes that “Russia has made similar threats in the past, threatening to block Telegram messenger service and Facebook” but that “so far, Russian authorities have mostly stopped short of implementing these threats.”

See also: In a special report this week, the Russian news aggregator and newspaper Meduza looks into restrictions on mass media content and state Internet monitoring of online news and social media.