Facebook and WhatsApp restricted in Cameroon on eve of election results

Network measurements collected by the NetBlocks internet shutdown observatory show that social media and messaging services have been slowed, or throttled, by major ISPs in Cameroon, as citizens await the announcement of results on Monday of a contested presidential election held earlier in October. The restrictions are believed to be implemented to halt planned popular demonstrations against the Constitutional Council and presidential incumbent Paul Biya.

Over 7000 metrics collected over the weekend, consisting of timing, location and network data show that Facebook and WhatsApp have been slowed to the point of being unusable on the Orange network,  while Facebook is restricted on the Nexttel (Viettel Cameroon) and MTN networks and other smaller providers.

Median latencies exceeding 10 seconds were evident throughout Sunday, while other websites and services including Twitter and Instagram remained unaffected. The NetBlocks measurements, taken with assistance from rights group Internet Sans Frontières, cover all major mobile and fixed line operators, providing a comprehensive survey of Cameroon’s IP space.

The election results due to be released on Monday morning are predicted to show a resounding victory for Paul Biya, who has put himself forward for a seventh term. Facebook users had organised a march to “say goodbye to Biya” who is in his 36th year as president, and WhatsApp has been used extensively to coordinate street protests, presenting a likely motive for the restrictions.

Cameroon has an extensive history of use of short-term and long-term network disruptions under the pretext of security, although disruptions during the election period present a novel threat to democratic processes and transparency in the country.

Cameroon has faced spiralling violence between majority French-speaking and minority English-speaking communities, who allege voter suppression and cultural repression. The process and legal context in which the restrictions are implemented has not been revealed.

International civil society organisation NetBlocks is conducting a scaled-down digital observation of the Cameroon election period using the same methodology proposed for the OSCE region, which combines multiple internet-scale measurement technologies to provide a comprehensive view of the flow of information online.