Building Capacity for Internet Shutdown Advocacy: A Community Needs Assessment Report

Internet shutdowns are among the most extreme and draconian censorship tactics that governments use to control speech and stifle civic participation; disrupted access to the internet not only deprives citizens their rights to expression and information, but also threatens health, safety, and economic security. Despite the impact that shutdowns have on a country’s human and economic vitality, internet shutdowns continue to occur with alarming frequency even amidst the current global pandemic.

There is a diverse international community of dedicated individuals and organizations monitoring, documenting, and advocating against internet shutdowns around the world. However, as internet shutdowns often occur with little notice, activists are forced to mobilize when capacity for communication and organization is most curtailed. Funding for internet shutdowns advocacy largely focuses on rapid-response efforts to end a shutdown, with few resources developed for local civil society to better prepare for a shutdown and build longer term advocacy strategies to prevent and protect against future shutdowns. Internews’ OPTIMA program is designed to build resources and advocacy capacity such that civil society organizations (CSOs) in high risk countries can better and more proactively predict, prevent, and be prepared to respond to internet shutdowns.

As part of this program, we designed a needs assessment to survey 142 civil society organizations working in 87 countries in order to more clearly identify challenges these organizations face when advocating against shutdowns, the resource and skill gaps they feel they need to fill to be more effective in this advocacy and the opportunities for better support from funders and global advocacy groups. The purpose of this assessment is to inform future strategic planning and funding agendas as well as to ensure resources are collaboratively developed to meet community needs.