Benin heads to elections without social media and opposition parties

UPDATE, 5/1/2019: All internet access was restored on April 29, once the election was over.

UPDATE: The social media blocking in Benin has now extended to a national internet blackout with the largest internet service provider, Spacetel, shut down in the country.

As Benin goes to elect its parliamentary representatives, the government has blocked social media including access to WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Telegram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tinder, and other platforms. This parliamentary election has been marred by the lack of opposition groups and the arrest and intimidation of journalists and political activists, according to Amnesty International West Africa.

The #KeepitOn coalition is alarmed by the actions of the Beninese government and calls on the government to immediately restore connection to the internet, including social media platforms.  The coalition, made up of more than 190 civil society organizations, has sent an open letter to the Communications Regulations Authority and the Minister of Digital Economy and Communications in Benin.  

There have also been reports of heavy military and police presence in the streets of major cities and amidst a social media blackout, and in an event of excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies, citizens will be unable to access emergency services, or to document human rights violations or tampering with election results.

Social media shutdowns, whether during elections or protests, violate human rights. People are unable to freely express themselves or access important information about the election, including information about polling stations and election results.

We the #KeepItOn community implore the government to restore connection to social media platforms and publicly reassure citizens of its commitment to protect the open, secure, and accessible internet.

Use VPNs to circumvent social media shutdowns

The #KeepItOn coalition, with over 190 civil society organizations from 66 countries, has been working around the clock to identify, document, measure, and circumvent shutdowns.

At the moment, our partners in Benin are seeing the most success with the VPN service Psiphon, available for Android, iOS, and Windows (guide also available in French here).

The #KeepItOn coalition also works at all levels to pressure governments to refrain from shutting down the internet, to bring legal challenges to shutdowns in national and international bodies, and to raise awareness about the impact of internet shutdowns around the world. If you have experienced a social media shutdown, you can help us to wage this fight by sharing your story. Personal accounts help provide the evidence we need to win in court and to tell a more complete story of the human impact of network disruptions.

Finally, the internet shutdown measurement community is working to expand our capacity to detect and analyze network disruptions as they happen, helping to both establish evidence of human rights violations and to deploy rapid response assistance to those affected by the block.

You can help #KeepItOn members map and measure the latest internet and telecom restrictions by running OONI tests on your network. However, these tests require turning VPNs off and entail potential risks. For example, anyone monitoring your internet activity (e.g. ISP, government, employer) would be able to see that you are running OONI Probe scans. If you decide to run these tests, we would recommend reading more about potential risks, closing all your browser tabs and other applications before turning your VPN off, and turning your VPN back on as soon as the probe tests are complete.

You can run OONI Probe on Linux, MacOS, or on a Raspberry Pi, or install the OONI probe app on your mobile and add specific websites to OONI run.