Iraq blocks Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram, then shuts down internet amid civil unrest

Network data from the NetBlocks internet observatory show that Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and other social and messaging apps have been blocked in Iraq by multiple internet providers as of 12:30 UTC, Wednesday 2 October 2019.

Update: 13:00 UTC Tuesday 8 October 2019: Iraq has cut internet access for the fifth time since nationwide shutdowns were imposed, sending tens of millions of users offline:

Update: 4:00 UTC Tuesday 8 October 2019: Internet access is partly restored for a fourth time while social media and messaging remain blocked with most providers, and some mobile networks remain down. As in previous instances, it is unknown if the restoration will be sustained:

Update: 22:00 UTC Monday 7 October 2019: Iraq has cut internet access again with connectivity falling to 22% of normal levels, the lowest observed since the crisis began with some fixed-line providers and mobile operators now totally offline. Access was partially restored for six hours during and after President Salih’s speech:

Update:Β  17:00 UTC Monday 7 October 2019: As of shutdown hour 119, internet access is largely restored for the third time following a televised speech by President Salih. Social media and messaging remain largely blocked, and at least one mobile networks remains disconnected:

Update:Β  17:30 UTC Sunday 6 October 2019: It has now been over 100 hours since Iraq imposed a near-total internet shutdown amid widespread protests. During that time, connectivity has only been restored briefly on two occasions:

Update: Sunday 6 October 2019: Internet returned to Iraq briefly between 00:00 UTC and 02:00 UTC. During the two hours, Iraqis where able to access social media using VPN services, posting videos documenting instances of live fire used against protesters:

When connectivity returned, network reachability data from Iraq’s ISPs showed that leading internet service provider Earthlink continued to block social media and some messaging apps (including some WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal servers), while some other companies had lifted the restrictions:

Previously:

The restrictions come just as hundreds have been reported wounded as police fire tear gas, bullets at protesters.

Technical measurements show that each of the services have been intentionally restricted by leading Iraqi network operators including Earthlink, Asiacell and Zain in a manner consistent with previous incidents of censorship in the country. Findings are based on a set of technical measurements from across the country assessing reachability and network performance.

Update: Thursday, 9:20 p.m:Β Heavily censored internet briefly returns to Iraq 28 hours after nationwide blackout

Update: Internet access has been cut across much of Iraq including Baghdad as of 17:00 UTC, following the earlier blocking of social media platforms. NetBlocks diffscan measurements which map the IP space of a country show significant impact across multiple providers. Nationwide connectivity has fallen below 70% and outages continue to spread:

Update: As of 19:30 UTC Iraq has gone largely offline amid widening mass-protests, with the situation on the ground unclear due to blackouts. Real-time network data show approximately 75% of the country including Baghdad is now offline, excluding autonomous regions which operate their own networks:

Instances of network filtering and outages present a significant challenge to media freedom and the rights to free assembly and free association in Iraq.

Why are Iraqis protesting?

Demonstrators are out on the streets over unemployment, corruption and poor public services, focused in capital Baghdad but also impacting other cities around Iraq.

The protests have escalated after police opened fire in the air as some 3,000 protesters tried to cross a bridge leading into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies are based.

Is the internet down in Iraq?

Yes, largely. Restrictions were initially limited to specific online platforms and at first there was no sign of a wider nationwide internet blackout. However total outages began from 17:00 UTC, and by 19:30 UTC much of Iraq fell offline (see updates, above).

Geographic impact covers Iraq’s centrally administered cities including Baghdad, while independent zones such as the Kurdish northern cities are governed under a different system unaffected by the restrictions.

Iraq has previously extended social media disruptions to total shutdowns, hence the situation has been considered volatile by the observatory from its onset.

On Wednesday afternoon, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger remained partially usable via mobile phones on some of the affected networks for some time. This is due to circumvention measures and alternative messaging protocols built into recent versions of the mobile apps. In such cases service quality and performance of media, photo and video transfers are generally degraded.

Background

NetBlocks has previously identified the total blocking of internet access as well as partial restrictions affecting social media platforms through recent years. Civil society group SMEX has campaigned for rights-based internet governance in the region.

Developing incident. Article will be updated as new data is processed.


Methodology

Internet performance and service reachability are determined via NetBlocks web probe measurements. Each measurement consists of latency round trip time, outage type and autonomous system identity aggregated in real-time to assess service availability and latency in a given country across service multiple network providers.

NetBlocks diffscans, which map the entire IP address space of a country in real time, show internet outages corresponding to connectivity disruptions. Purposeful internet outages generally have a distinct network pattern used by NetBlocks to determine and attribute the root cause of an outage, a process known as attribution which follows detection and classification stages.


NetBlocks is a civil society group working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives for an open and inclusive digital future for all.

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