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Iraq had the most internet shutdowns to stop exam cheating in 2023

January 11, 2024 at 3:56 pm

Iraqi elementary students enter their schools in Baghdad, Iraq on October 12, 2022. [ Murtadha Al-Sudani – Anadolu Agency ]

Iraq had the most internet shutdowns last year, most of which were to prevent exam cheating in schools. According to the annual report of virtual private network (VPN) review site, Top10VPN, internet shutdowns in 2023 cost the world economy $9.01 billion, with countries in the Middle East losing more than a billion dollars as a result.

While Russia was the single most affected nation ($4.02bn), followed by Ethiopia ($1.59bn) and Iran ($920.3 million), Iraq had the most internet shutdowns, at 66. These cost the country $328.5m.

The report explains that the restrictions began as social media shutdowns, with Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, X and YouTube all blocked for 8 hours at a time throughout February. In June and September, the Iraqi government instigated short internet blackouts of up to four hours’ duration.

The Kurdistan region in the north was also affected by outages, also as part of efforts to prevent cheating in exams.

READ: Iraq seeks quick exit of US forces but no deadline set

Other countries in the MENA region, including Algeria, Yemen, Sudan, Syria and Turkiye, were among those experiencing frequent shutdowns in 2023.

In 2020, the Algerian authorities blocked access to social media platforms in order to prevent students from cheating during baccalaureate exams. That year, Sudan implemented similar measures, suspending the internet connection for three hours while students sat their high school exams.

In May of last year, Netblocks noted the negative impact of the measures, stating that, “These acts, often severe and prolonged, disrupt digital rights, impede access to information and create a ripple effect impacting social, economic and civic life.”

Digital rights group AccessNow, which co-sponsored a campaign under the hashtags #NoExamShutdown and #KeepItOn, criticised the shutdowns as a violation of “international human rights law and standards” as it caused “essential online services [to] come to a complete standstill.”