Sierra Leone

#KeepItOn: new election handbook to fight back against internet shutdowns

Disrupting access to the internet during election periods can not only cause chaos and confusion — it hampers democracy. To help election observers, journalists, diplomatic missions, and human rights activists understand and fight back against these restrictive actions, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition is releasing a new Internet shutdowns and elections handbook: A guide for election observers, embassies, activists, and journalists.

“True democracy requires communication, participation, and trust,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “In a 2021 scenario, this means access to a fair and open internet during elections and key national events. The #KeepItOn coalition’s new handbook can be used by actors across the globe — from activists to observers — to help reaffirm our rights, and safeguard citizen participation.”

This compact new handbook explains how internet shutdowns undermine democratic elections and provides tips and recommendations for key actors to navigate, understand, and assess the extent to which an election taking place under a shutdown is free and fair. It covers:

  • How internet shutdowns harm human rights by hindering right to freedom of expression and opinion, access to information, and freedom of assembly and association;
  • Why internet shutdowns are a barrier to democratic elections, including by violating democratic freedoms, undermining media access and election fairness, weakening the public trust, and challenging transparency, integrity, and accountability; and
  • Recommendations to navigate a shutdown, such as by understanding the digital rights context, interpreting early warnings and preparing early, using secure communication tools, monitoring ongoing internet shutdowns, documenting violations, and defending individuals and communities during a shutdown.

“We cannot allow the government exploitation of internet shutdowns to continue unchallenged,” said Melody Patry, Advocacy Director at Access Now. “We must educate ourselves and our communities to fight back against censorship and information control, and be prepared to defend electoral integrity and our democratic values.”

The handbook is a publication of Access Now for the #KeepItOn coalition and was written by Afef Abrougui in collaboration with the Access Now team.  

Government-mandated internet shutdowns are increasingly a go-to tool for those in power to quash a myriad of fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and opinion, access to information, and freedom of assembly and association. The #KeepItOn coalition is monitoring several high-risk elections throughout 2021.