People In Kashmir Can't Access Coronavirus Information Because The Government Is Crippling The Internet

from the a-bad-problem-worse dept

As we've been discussing for a while, India's government has blacked out internet access in Kashmir since around August, setting records for one of the longest government-mandated internet blackouts in history. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to argue that the blackout is a necessary security precaution in the face of growing unrest in the region stemming from its loss of autonomy earlier this year. Granted, like most government internet censorship efforts, the move has a lot more to do with cowardice and fear of an informed public than any genuine concern about public welfare.

Despite the Indian Supreme Court declaring such restrictions illegal last January, the problem persists. And as a pandemic threatens the planet, these restrictions are making it hard for the residents of Kashmir to access essential medical information on COVID-19:

Worse, the government, just this week, actually expanded the existing restrictions until March 26, insisting they were necessary to "prevent misuse of social media applications" in the wake of "recent terror activities":

One local tells Buzzfeed the ham-fisted, counterproductive restrictions have made it difficult if not impossible for locals to access information on the rapid spread of COVID-19:

"I can’t open even basic websites that provide information and advice about the pandemic,” Nayeem Rather, a freelance writer based in Srinagar, the largest city in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, told BuzzFeed News. “Most people in Kashmir don’t really have any information about the coronavirus or what is going on in the world right now. It’s a crisis."

Mir Moien, a medical student from Kupwara, a small town in northern Kashmir, said that the most he’s able to do right now is a Google search to find out information about the pandemic. “But I can’t actually click on any search results to read more,” Moien said. On WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app that most Indians use to communicate, most information about the pandemic comes through charts and videos that are impossible to download over the slowed-down 4G networks, according to Moien. “It’s a catastrophe,” he said.

Some authorities have been uploading video alerts to Twitter, but because of the restrictions, most locals can't see them. As a result they're being forced to get all of their information from local news outlets that seem largely interested in artificially inflating the accomplishments of regional politicians. In turn, rumors and dis/misinformation are spreading quickly via Whatsapp and word of mouth, with no ability for citizens to research and confirm the claims. As a result, the local population there doesn't understand the scope of the pandemic threat, and many lack access to information that could protect the region from harm.

Governments that engage in such heavy-handed internet censorship and filtering may feel like they're in control, but this is yet another example of how such ham-fisted restrictions actively undermine society as a whole.

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Filed Under: covid-19, india, kashmir, misinformation

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2020 @ 6:47pm

    At least they won't be exposed to the fake news, rumours, unsubstantiated information, scams and malware that is circulating related to COVID-19 as well?

    Seriously though, at least allow access to health sites.

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