Social media disrupted in Burundi on election day

Network data from the NetBlocks internet observatory confirm that social media and messaging apps are disrupted and unavailable in Burundi on the morning of Wednesday, 20 May 2020 as the country goes to elections.

Update: The restrictions are being lifted a day later as of Thursday, 6:30 p.m. local time. Users report being able to access affected services without using a VPN.

 

On Wednesday morning, Burundians reported problems with social media while members of the diaspora and journalists covering the polls noticed that WhatsApp messages had stopped reaching contacts within the country, sparking concerns that an internet shutdown had been imposed.

Metrics show that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are restricted via Burundi’s leading providers Econet (AS37336), Lumitel (AS327799) and ONATEL (37586) corroborating widespread user reports. YouTube and Google video servers are also found to be restricted, though at times intermittently available.

Performance data indicate high latency in addition to the specific service failures listed. Initial findings are based on a set of 200 data points from 25 network/location pairings within Burundi, corroborating the disruption’s national impact. Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and an assortment of less known platforms appear in the list.

Meanwhile, ICMP diagnostics run against a representative, pseudorandom sample of Burundi’s IP address space confirm that the underlying connectivity remains generally available, with no indication of a full network shutdown.

What are the authorities saying?

In a Tweet posted 6:16 a.m. UTC, Willy Nyamitwe. Ambassador Extraordinary and Senior Advisor to President Pierre Nkurunziza, denied that the internet had been cut.

However, comments posted beneath the Ambassador’s tweet note that social media services work only when VPN software capable of circumventing internet censorship is activated.

How can users get back on social media?

VPN services are understood to be partially or fully effective in working around the platform restrictions at the present time. Investigations into the mechanism of disruption are ongoing.

 

Burundi joins Guinea, Togo, Benin, Malawi, Mauritania, Mali, Cameroon and other countries in the region that have faced internet shutdowns and social media blockades during elections.

Network disruptions impact transparency, free expression and civic engagement at critical moments for democracy. NetBlocks urges authorities and technical communities to ensure unrestricted access to communication services in keeping with international norms.

Performance metrics show the YouTube video streaming service was disrupted on a similar/identical schedule but experienced less overall impact as compared to other social platforms.

Further reading:

Independent press locked out of Burundi’s presidential electionReporters Without Borders

Burundi goes to the polls as authorities clampdown on social mediaRFI

C’est prouvĂ©, les rĂ©seaux sociaux ont Ă©tĂ© coupĂ©s au BurundiIWACU

Les réseaux sociaux débloqués, Iwacu reste inaccessibleIWACU

Burundi voted — but will the political situation change?Global Voices

Interineti Yugawe ku Musi w’Amatora mu BurundiRadiyoyacu

Burundians vote despite coronavirus outbreakDW

Burundi bloquea las redes sociales y aplicaciones de mensajerĂ­a en plena jornada electoralEuropaPress

Présidentielle au Burundi : une élection sans connexionTeknolojia

In Burundi durante le elezioni presidenziali ù stato bloccato l’accesso ai social networkIl Post

Election prĂ©sidentielle au Burundi : l’information indĂ©pendante confinĂ©eRSF

Burundi : retour sur un triple scrutin sous tensionAfrik


Methodology

This report follows the Election Pathfinder Rapid Response methodology which defines a set of core principles, workflows and benchmarks for network measurement and evaluation during elections and referenda.

Internet performance and service reachability are determined via NetBlocks web probe privacy-preserving analytics. Each measurement consists of latency round trip time, outage type and autonomous system number aggregated in real-time to assess service availability and latency in a given country. Network providers and locations enumerated as vantage point pairs. The root cause of a service outage may be additionally corroborated by means of traffic analysis and manual testing as detailed in the report.


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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