Social media restricted in Mali amid protests against president

Network data from the NetBlocks internet observatory confirm that social media and messaging have been were partially blocked in Mali since Friday 10 July 2020 amid mass protests, up until afternoon Tuesday 15 July 2020. Demonstrators seeking political reforms, some calling for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s resignation, occupied the national broadcaster in Bamako sending transmissions off air as a constitutional crisis developed.

Social media platforms Twitter and Facebook and messaging apps WhatsApp and Messenger remained restricted with Mali’s leading private operator Orange Mali 10:30 p.m. UTC / local time Friday as tensions rose, with the censorship measure spanning six consecutive days.

National telecom operator Malitel’s cellular network has additionally restricted Instagram. The filtering is also more comprehensive, with indications of near-total impact. The internet censorship measures are implemented at the ISP level and applied differently by each company.

Affected users are able to regain access via VPN services which circumvent internet censorship by tunnelling to other countries. Listed platforms remain blocked or degraded as of Monday while other online services and websites continue to function normally on restricted networks.

Internet performance metrics collected from an initial 50 observation points and a wider set of analytics data confirm that Twitter, Facebook, Messenger, and WhatsApp servers were restricted on Orange’s network corroborating user reports. Findings are consistent with previous restrictions in Mali and there is no indication of a technical fault.

Authorities remained active on restricted social media platforms through Friday evening to denounce the unrest and circulate state security measures. The events are the latest in a series of widening protests since Mali’s contested March 2020 legislative elections.

Social media restrictions on private operator Orange Mali were found to have varying impact between users, affecting a set of popular social media platforms, as of Monday, 10 July 2020. Internet traffic to sites other than blocked platforms is generally unaffected.
Social media filters on national telecom operator Malitel’s mobile network were found to have total or near-total impact by Monday, 13 July 2020. Internet traffic to sites other than blocked platforms is generally unaffected.

Background: Mali’s election internet shutdowns

On 16 August 2018, NetBlocks reported that Mali disrupted internet connectivity and blocked social media in the runoff following July’s presidential election. Incident timings show that restrictions were in place before polling and during vote counting and the announcement of results, which the opposition alleged were marred by irregularities. Incumbent President Keïta was ultimately re-elected and went on to serve his current five-year term with 67% of the vote.

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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 are 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.

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