Authorities in Azerbaijan and Armenia must ensure full access to the internet — including social media platform, TikTok — for all, particularly in times of crises.
“Social media platforms like TikTok are legitimate channels for freedom of opinion and expression,” said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now. “The governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia cannot shut down the platform and honestly think the world wouldn’t notice. Turn TikTok on.”
TikTok became inaccessible in Azerbaijan around the time of a military offensive at the Azerbaijan-Armenia border on September 14. A message from the State Security Service of Azerbaijan stated that it filed a petition with the relevant authorities to restrict TikTok within the country due to it hosting information regarding Azerbaijan’s offensive “that casts a shadow on the successes of our army, contains military secrets, and aims to create a wrong opinion in the society.”
The exact size of the disruption is unclear. There are reports that messaging app Telegram has also possibly been blocked in Azerbaijan, and regional #KeepItOn coalition members report that there are early signs of further, more wide scale blockings in Azerbaijan. #KeepItOn coalition partners have also reported TikTok as inaccessible in Armenia. The Armenian government has not made a statement.
“Governments’ deep-seated drive to control the narrative — including in Central Asia and Eastern Europe — must stop,” said Natalia Krapiva, Tech Legal Counsel at Access Now. “Whether authorities like it or not, people have the right to access the internet and to use social media, so focus on facilitating, not blocking.”
This week’s social media censorship fits into a pattern of internet blocking in Azerbaijan during times of conflict with neighbouring Armenia, including in 2020 when the internet was apparently throttled, and platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Twitter, and Skype were blocked.