Zimbabwe social media shutdown – VPNs can help for now

The Zimbabwean government has ordered the partial shutdown of domestic internet services to suppress ongoing protests.

Zimbabweans have been reporting intermittent access to the internet over the last few days. Many more have cited the blocking of over a dozen websites and major social media platforms, including WhatsApp and Facebook. Citizens of the African nation are increasingly reporting that their internet has been cut off entirely, meaning they are unable to contact friends and loved ones outside of the country. 

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe has taken to Twitter to recommend VPN and Tor services to people trying to access Social Media.

On Tuesday Econet, Zimbabwe’s largest mobile internet provider issued this statement:

Further to a warrant issued by the Minister of State in the President’s Office for National Security through the Director General of the President’s Department, acting in terms of the interception of Communications Act, Internet Services are currently suspended across all networks and Internet Service Providers.  We are obliged to act when directed to do so and the matter is beyond our control.  All inconveniences are sincerely regretted.”

There is confusion about the shutdown, with many sources recommending the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to access the open internet, but no VPN will help if access to the internet has simply been turned off. At least, for now, it seems this is not the case. A steady trickle of images being uploaded to Twitter from inside the country indicates citizens are still able to get online. Those who want to go further and access the open internet, or contact friends and family over social media, will need to use a VPN or the Tor network to do so.

If the government enforce a full internet shutdown this would prevent all internet access, even with a VPN. Such a move would be hugely damaging to the economic interests of the country, which has been caught in a downward spiral, with high unemployment, and cash and food shortages rife across the country.

Background

The shutdown is likely an attempt to shut down online communication in response to violent protests that erupted across the country on Monday. The protests began after president Emmerson Mnangagwa hiked fuel prices to $3 over the weekend.

The Zimbabwean opposition party Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) are alleging that 13 people were injured by gunfire during Monday’s unrest, with at least six fatalities being reported.

The best sources for ongoing news about the current situation in Zimbabwe are on Twitter:

#ZimbabweShutDown

#SwitchBackOnZW

#KeepItOnZW



If you're in Zimbabwe at the moment and think a VPN could help you stay connected, please ensure you use one of the most secure VPN services available.

Image credit: By Harvepino/Shutterstock.

Written by: Douglas Crawford

With over five years’ experience at the sharp end of the VPN industry, Douglas is a recognized cyber-privacy expert. His articles have been published by numerous technology outlets, and he has been quoted by the likes of The Independent, Ars Technica, CNET and the Daily Mail Online.

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