Sub-Saharan African economies lost out on $2.16 billion in economic activity during 2019 due to Internet blackouts and social media shutdowns, while the Middle East and North Africa felt an economic impact of $3.14 billion.
This is according to a new report from Top10VPN.com which analyzed every major Internet shutdown around the world in 2019. African countries dominated the list, with 12 of the 21 countries that experienced shutdowns being on the continent.
According to the report, major Internet blackouts and social media shutdowns cost African economies a combined $2.36 billion during the year.
The researchers found that there were more Internet shutdowns in 2019 than ever before, and the 18,000+ hours of Internet shutdowns around the world in 2019 cost the global economy $8.05 billion. This was a 235% increase in impact compared to $2.4 billion in 2015/16, according to the most recently available analysis.
Sudan, Algeria and Chad all feature in the top ten in terms of shutdown costs, while Internet access roadblocks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Mauritania, Egypt, Benin, Gabon, Eritrea and Liberia also impacted local economies. Overall Iraq was the most economically impacted nation, followed by Sudan and India.
Top10VPN.com defines an Internet shutdown as "an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location".
The report distinguishes between Internet blackouts -- where access to the Internet is completely cut off with no option for circumvention -- and social media shutdowns, where access to popular social media platforms, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or YouTube, have been blocked but can typically be circumvented using a VPN.
"During our analysis of every Internet shutdown in 2019, some general trends emerged. They most often occur in response to protests or civil unrest, especially surrounding elections, as authoritarian regimes look to restrict the flow of information and maintain their grip on power," the report said.
"In economic terms, disruptions not only affect the formal economy but also the informal, especially in less well-developed nations. There can also be lasting damage with the loss of investor confidence and faltering development, all of which makes our estimates conservative."
African nations suffer
Sudan had the second highest economic impact globally of over $1.87 billion with Internet blackouts of 864 hours during 2019 and 696 hours of social media shutdowns.
The next African nation on the list was Algeria in sixth place, where 47 hours of Internet blackouts and three hours of social media shutdowns caused a total cost to the economy of $199.8 million. Chad followed in eighth place with a $125.9 million impact from social media shutdowns lasting 4,728 hours.
Sub-Saharan Africa had 7,800 hours of shutdowns, while the Middle East and North Africa had 577 hours of downtime in the year.
Cost by Country
— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa