Prepare, Prevent, Resist

Prepare, Prevent, Resist: The Optima Internet Shutdowns Advocacy Workflow

The OPTIMA workflow is a compilation of new and existing resources, guides, methodologies, and more to assist individuals and activists before, during and after an Internet shutdown. This repository contains resources that:

  • Before: Support those preparing for a potential future disruption to understand threats, build coalitions and civil society capacity, and engage in preventative advocacy, measurement and outreach.
  • During: Assist those actively experiencing an internet shutdown to stay connected and document abuses.
  • After: Provide resources and guidance to document the impact of a shutdown, sustain coalitions to prevent future shutdowns, and fight shutdowns in court.

Take our Internet shutdown risk and advocacy assessment to receive a custom resource guide for your country

The following repository is organized into four categories:

Designing effective advocacy campaigns around Internet shutdowns can be challenging. This section provides guidance and examples to support you in building impactful messaging and getting the word out even during a crisis.

Understanding how to continue your work and maintain communications can be a daunting task. This section outlines some of the tools that you can use, and guides to help you determine which is best for your specific needs.

Sometimes the most effective way to challenge or prevent a shutdown is to do so through the courts. This section includes resources, strategies, and legal landscape reviews to help you build and argue strong litigation.

A key element to fighting against shutdowns is understanding when and how they happen in your country. Network Measurement is a critical tool to reinforce advocacy with data.

Find the resources you need!

  1. Circumvention
    1. Censorship Circumvention
    2. Bypassing VPN Blocking
  2. Network Measurement
    1. Overview of Network Measurement
    2. Collecting and analyzing data
  3. Advocacy
    1. Advocacy practices during a shutdown
    2. Understanding the impact of Shutdowns
    3. Designing compelling advocacy
    4. Staying safe
  4. Litigation
    1. Guides for conducting strategic advocacy
    2. Understanding Legal Frameworks and Precedent

This section outlines a number of resources to help you and your organization stay connected even during an Internet shutdown, as well as guides for how to bypass censorship to get your message out.

How to get around Internet censorship

The resources, tools, and guides included in this section are designed to help you stay connected during a shutdown.

Guides to better understand which tools to use, and how to use them

  • Internews developed this primer that offers an overview of many of the most effective circumvention tools you can use to connect during a shutdown.
  • As a part of EFF’s Surveillance Self Defense playbook, this guide walks through best practices and recommendations for selecting which VPN is best for you.
  • Surveillance Self Defense also includes this more general primer on understanding and circumventing network disruptions, helpful as a starting point for getting to know more about what shutdowns are and how you might begin to respond.
  • This guide and associated toolkit provide another clear and not heavily technical approach to bypassing internet shutdowns. It includes a useful introduction to shutdowns (based largely on Access Now’s annual report) then dives into the specific steps one can take to connect even during a blackout.
  • Lawyers Hub Kenya built this user-friendly primer (coming soon!) on circumvention and network measurement tools and how to use them during an internet shutdown.
  • This guide, developed by Prince Madziwa with funding from Internews introduces how medical practitioners and patients can utilize available tools to communicate about medical services or needs during partial or complete internet shutdowns.
  • Responding directly to the request for easy to share information about circumvention tools during a shutdown, Localization Lab created short GIFs in 4 languages and a video illustrating how to download and use a VPN when you are no longer able to use messaging applications or access content online. They aggregated a number of additional digital security and safety resources and outreach materials localized into Amharic, Oromo, Somali and Tigrinya, available on one easy-to-access page on the Localization Lab site here.

Tools to stay connected during a shutdown

  • This quickguide introduces Briar and Bridgefy, two tools that can be used to communicate during a shutdown using SMS and Bluetooth technologies. This guide offers a clear description of concrete steps advocates can take to immediately restore connections even when network fail.
  • F-Droid allows users to share certain applications even when the Internet has been shut down. This resource outlines how and when to use F-Droid as a tool to bolster communications and advocacy efforts during a crisis.
  • This SMS-based tool, developed with funding from OPTIMA (coming soon!) allows you to circumvent and maintain communications even during a complete internet shutdown. The tool allows for low-end devices such as standard cellphones to “use” platforms that would otherwise be inaccessible without internet by linking them through offline channels.
  • Developed by the Guardian Project, Second Wind is way to share applications while offline to assist in information distribution, navigation, documentation and more. 
  • Psiphon is a tool that allows users to send and receive data through a secure network while also disguising the type of traffic being transmitted and even where it is coming from. Psiphon technology is designed to be resilient to censorship, including attempts to interfere with Psiphon network traffic directly. 

How to bypass VPN blocking

The materials here introduce what are known as pluggable transports, tools that can be used when VPNs are censored and blocked.

Tools to keep your VPN online

  • Internews’ pluggable transports guide gives a higher level overview of the ways that sites and services can be blocked, and tangible solutions that users can take to reconnect.
  • Tor, a common VPN used by many human rights defenders around the world, developed this introduction to pluggable transports, tools that can be used to bypass even censorship of traditional circumvention apps.

Intentional disruptions to Internet service come in many different forms making them difficult to identify with a high degree of certainty. Understanding whether Internet outages or disruptions are intentional (malign) or not is critical to making your case. This section introduces tools to measure and detect Internet anomalies, as well as guidance around how empirical, data-driven evidence can support more robust advocacy efforts.

Overview of Network Measurement

These resources provide an introduction to the existing network measurement tools and how that data can be used

Resources to help understand the principles of network measurement

  • OONI, with support from OPTIMA, developed this quick guide to understanding the various network measurement tools in use and how they complement one another to support robust measurement practices.
  • The CAIDA team (who develop IODA) released this detailed tutorial on the fundamentals of internet measurement.
  • [Spanish] This micro-course seeks to answer three questions regarding internet censorship: What is internet censorship? Why is it problematic? How is it measured or how do I find out that I am being censored? It was developed by OONI, and introduces new users to using that tool.
  • This report introducing Censored Planet shows how data can be used not just to highlight a shutdown in one country or moment, but to identify patterns across countries and over time.
  • This one-pager developed by Measurement Lab walks through the concept of Internet throttling – what it is, why it is difficult to measure, and how we can respond.

Collecting and analyzing data

The tools here can be used to measure networks and collect internet performance data.

Repositories of already collected data to inform research

  • Internews’ OPTIMA Network Measurement Training includes three modules that each cover a different tool used to measure internet shutdowns:
    • Introduction to OONI, including how to use OONI Probe, Explorer, and Go.
    • Introduction to M-Lab, including how to run NDT tests and use BigQuery
    • Introduction to IODA.
  • OONI Explorer is an open data resource on internet censorship around the world. Since 2012, millions of network measurements have been collected from more than 200 countries. OONI Explorer sheds light on internet censorship and other forms of network interference worldwide.
  • The Google Transparency Report allows users to understand disruptions to Google services, including maps and user-friendly interfaces that add to a robust understanding of network shutdowns and performance.
  • The Psiphon Data Engine (‘PDE’) dashboard shows live data from Psiphon and M-Lab, and can give an indication of changes in the network environment and circumvention tool usage during blocking.
  • Launched in December 2020, Internet Society Pulse consolidates trusted third-party Internet measurement data from various sources into a single platform. This platform uses the data presented to examine Internet trends and tell data-driven stories so that policymakers, researchers, journalists, network operators, civil society groups and others can better understand the health, availability and evolution of the Internet.
  • Magma is an open-licensed, collaborative repository that provides the first publicly available research framework for people working to measure information controls and online surveillance activities. In it, users can find the resources they need to perform their research more effectively and efficiently.
  • Cloudflare compiled this dashboard to aggregate and visualize data to help identify trends and draw insight from the information being collected.
  • Netblocks cost of a shutdown tool estimates the economic impact of an internet disruption, mobile data blackout or app restriction using indicators from the World Bank, ITU, Eurostat and U.S. Census.

Examples of country-specific data aggregators

  • Pakistan’s Killswitch, developed by Bytes for All
  • Iran’s Filterwatch Network Monitor, developed by SmallMedia, includes a network measurement dashboard that tracks the state of internet connectivity in the country. This resource is a part of the larger Filterwatch platform dedicated to providing regular research and analysis about the state of the internet and digital rights in Iran.

Whether you are helping your community to prepare for a future internet disruption or conducting an awareness raising campaign to highlight one that has already occurred, it can be difficult to determine where to start, and how conceptualize an impactful campaign.

The following resources provide guidance and examples to support Internet shutdown advocacy effort in your region.

Advocacy practices during a shutdown

If you are currently experiencing an internet disruption, the following resource(s) can help you convene and coordinate your networks to continue advocacy efforts.

Best practices for conducting advocacy during a blackout

  • Access Now’s KeepItOn Toolkit contains a number of helpful resources for conducting advocacy during a shutdown, including specific guidance around elections and other materials that outline some of the key issues in the space.
  • This series developed by Witness offers useful tips and approaches to capturing and preserving video documentation during a shutdown.
  • Section IV of this guide by Access Now offers suggestions for how to navigate a shutdown, including tips and recommendations for understanding the context, preparing beforehand, and supporting your community when one happens.
  • This report outlines strategies before and during a shutdown to document and communicate human rights violations when a shutdown happens. It includes guidance on ensuring your digital safety and explores how to best continue operations despite challenging or unsafe digital environments.

How to show the impact of shutdowns

Building compelling narratives around the impact of Internet shutdowns is an important part of awareness raising, but can be challenging to do. The following studies, articles, and reports, are examples of such efforts to guide your own reporting on internet shutdowns in your country.

Research and reports that highlight the wide-ranging impacts of Internet shutdowns

  • The Global Network Initiative (GNI) and Deloitte compiled this report outlining the economic impact of disruptions to internet connectivity.
  • The Bachchao project (in India) conducted useful research investigating the impact of shutdowns on women.
  • The GNI drafted a one-page guide outlining the negative impacts of network shutdowns and service restrictions aimed at governments who may consider mandating disruptions of communications networks, services, and online platforms.
  • This GNI-supported report takes a deeper dive into the impact of shutdowns on human rights. Based on the findings, it also includes recommendations for CSOs, activists, academics, companies, and others working to discourage governments from resorting to shutdowns.
  • The report, published through the GNI, highlights the various social impacts of network disruptions in Africa and presents a set of short and long-term advocacy strategies that could be effective, rooted in multistakeholder collaboration, accounting for local context, and considering the intricacies of the regional human rights mechanisms in Africa.
  • This report, developed by OPTIMA in collaboration with Florence Madenga at the University of Pennsylvania as well as AfroLeadership, explores advocacy strategies before, during, and after the 2017-2018 internet shutdowns in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, and seeks to identify lessons learned and best practices for future advocacy. 
  • This exploratory study, funded by Internews, draws upon 16 qualitative interviews and as many first-person accounts conducted in Manipur in late 2017 to analyze how Internet shutdowns impact Women. This research was used to inform advocacy efforts in the region.  
  • This report, funded by OPTIMA and developed by Sandra Aceng, investigates the impact of the 2021 Ugandan shutdown on Women.  
  • This guide developed by Pollicy with support from Internews outlines the challenges and opportunities that women encounter online, and presents guidance on developing feminist digital rights movements in Africa. 
  • This report, developed by Prince Madziwa with support from OPTIMA, outlines the impact  of Internet shutdowns and disruptions on the health delivery system in Zimbabwe. His study is based off of interviews with patients and private practicing physicians who increasingly rely on telehealth structures.
  • In her report titled ‘Unnecessary and Disproportionate‘, Wakini Njogu, an Internews Data-Driven Fellow, assesses the impact of the 2021 Internet Shutdown in Uganda on media freedom and civic space arguing that network disruptions have wider ripple effects that stifle free expression and quality journalism.

How to design compelling advocacy

Once you have gathered the necessary information, the next step is to build persuasive messaging to support buy-in from various stakeholders. The following guide(s) provide some recommendations and templates for some effective approaches to engagement.

Developing strong, targeted, messaging to reach and involved diverse stakeholders.

  • This quickguide includes suggestions for how to make your message clear so that you can achieve the most reach and readership possible.
  • This analysis by Freedom House offers recommendations for policymakers, private sector, and civil society actors on protecting and promoting internet freedom. This is a useful starting point to understanding how to promote best practices with key stakeholders.
  • This guide, developed by the GNI, offers suggestions for engaging with the private sector. (coming soon!)
  • This one-pager outlines the role that Internet service providers play in Internet shutdowns, including how they are involved, why they comply with government requests, and what ownership means for their likelihood to shut it off. This brief is a snapshot of a much larger research study conducted by Lisa Garbe at the University of St Galen about ISP ownership in Africa and its impacts on the prevalence of Internet shutdowns.
  • This report by Bytes for All, the Institute for Human Rights and Business, and the Internet Policy Observatory provides a case study outlining how research can be done in collaboration with an internet service provider (Telenor Pakistan) to better understand how an internet shutdown order is sent to ISPs and the role that companies can play in advocating for more transparency and document shutdown impact.
  • This social media campaign sought to raise awareness around how women rely on the Internet in Tanzania to highlight the consequences of shutting it down.

Staying Safe

Conducting advocacy and awareness raising draws increased visibility to you and your organization. This visibility, however, may also increase your level of risk. The following resource(s) exist to support higher-risk organizations and frontline activists so that they can safely continue their efforts.

Support for embattled or at-risk organizations

  • Freedom House offers emergency assistance to frontline activists. This site details two such resources.

In many cases, the most impactful and lasting changes are made by holding governments and other actors accountable in court. With enough evidence, the right messaging, and an enabling legal environment (laws or policies that challenge or limit the use of Internet shutdowns, activists can prove the illegality of such actions and ensure that existing laws are used in defense of human rights.  

How to conduct strategic advocacy

Guides on how to conduct strategic advocacy around Internet shutdowns and digital rights issues more broadly.

Guides for lawyers

  • This curriculum developed by the American Bar Association introduces lawyers to the purposes and methods of conducting strategic litigation and advocacy in defense of Internet freedom, primarily freedom of expression and privacy rights. While it focuses specifically on Southeast Asia, it provides useful guidance for how to achieve an understanding of the legal and methodological frameworks employed by lawyers the world over to promote and defend basic human rights.
  • These two trainings developed by Media Defense include a total of 16 modules that aim to upskill lawyers litigating digital rights issues across sub-Saharan Africa by introducing and diving deeper into concepts of freedom of expression and digital rights on the continent.
  • This resource guide (coming soon!) is designed for lawyers, organizations, or individuals who wish to approach the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHR) to discuss internet shutdowns. This resource will assist in complementing advocacy methods on fighting shutdowns in the region. It will also identify the processes involved in approaching larger international bodies and provide sample communication and filings in both institutions with focus on internet shutdowns.

Guides for activists

  • This resource offers insight and recommendations for navigating litigation during internet shutdowns in Southern Africa. It includes a number of infographics and other guides aimed at introducing best practices and strategies for beginning litigation.
  • While not specifically about Internet shutdowns, this primer on researching international law has three goals. First, to introduce advocates from the Americas, Africa and Asia to the international law frameworks applicable to promoting and protecting digital rights, particularly freedom of expression and privacy rights. Second, it serves as a guide to conducting legal research in support of digital rights locally, with an emphasis on the United Nations system and two regional human rights systems, namely, those operating under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the African Union. Finally, it has a compilation of technical and strategic online resources for activists who seek additional support and/or guidance.
  • The Internet rights are Human Rights is a series of training modules concerned with the relationship between human rights, ICTs and the internet. These modules are intended to help those who work on human rights and/or ICTs to understand ways in which the internet is affecting the enjoyment and protection of rights, and may provide useful legal background to inform both advocacy and litigation.
  • APC’s guide to Digital Rights Strategic Litigation is a very quick and simple starting point for understanding where to begin when conceptualizing a strategic litigation campaign in Africa.

Understanding Legal Frameworks and Precedent

Understanding precedent and legal landscapes to help orient and contextualize legal strategies

Guides and resources to help map and understand what laws exist around Internet shutdowns and what cases have been successful

  • This module, developed by Media Defense, gives a high level overview and review of regional and international level legal responses to internet shutdowns.
  • Access Now’s Primer on Internet Shutdowns and the Law provides a comprehensive look at questions such as the legality of Internet shutdowns, existing legislation, impacts, and community members.
  • This APC report “Dialling in the Law” outlines jurisprudence across the global South on the legality of internet shutdowns. It tackles the growing challenge of government-mandated disruptions of internet access around the world, often under the guise of safeguarding public order and upholding national security interests.
  • The Global Network Initiatives Country Legal Framework Resource (CLFR) is a detailed set of resources examining governments’ legal authorities to intercept communications, obtain access to communications data, or restrict the content of communications in more than 50 countries. Through this resource you can review a country’s laws pertaining to 1) provision of real-time lawful interception assistance; 2) disclosure of communications data; 3) national security and emergency powers; 4) censorship-related powers; 5) oversight of access-related powers, and 6) oversight of censorship-related powers.
  • The report outlines jurisprudence across the global South on the legality of internet shutdowns. Specifically, the report presents a documentation and overview of practices, experiences and resources on the legitimization of, and resistance to, state-backed internet shutdowns. It also seeks to articulate and advance a collective understanding of emerging legal and jurisprudential frameworks that are being used to legitimize and contain internet shutdowns. Thirdly, through analysis of case law, the report surfaces gaps in transnational legal and jurisprudential aspects of internet shutdowns around the globe.
  • This report (coming soon!) offers a comprehensive analysis of the legal landscape in Ethiopia around Internet shutdowns, and the legal justifications that have been used by the government in implementing them.