The Internet is, indeed, a double-sided coin. While it’s guilty of spreading false rumors and biased propaganda, in the form of “Fake News”, it has also provided a podium for people to voice their political opinions and aid revolutions in the process. The use of social media to share images, raise concerns, and voice opinions against corruption and authoritarianism has sparked several small and big reforms around the world. It’s now seen as a major platform for bringing in change – be it political, social or economic. It’s no wonder that the government of Bangladesh decided to shut down mobile internet connection in the country, after social media was used to spread images of police violence amid ongoing protests.
The protests started in Dhaka, on 29th July, 2018, when two schoolchildren were run over and killed by a speeding bus. The country had witnessed more than 4,000 deaths occurring from road accidents in 2017. However, this incident proved to be the one that pushed the 18 million residents of the city over the cliff. As social media exploded with anger and hatred towards an incompetent government, students took to the streets in protest against poor road safety. Even a week later, fueled by ongoing outrage on social media platforms, the protests continued and managed to bring several parts of the city at a standstill.
The protests turned violent in Dhaka’s Jigatala neighborhood on 4th August, as witnesses reported the firing of rubber bullets and tear gas at angry demonstrators. More than 100 people were injured and rushed to nearby hospitals for treatment. Many of these images were shared on Facebook and Twitter, further igniting the outrage among citizens. This led the government to take a drastic step, as it shut down 3G and 4G internet services in the country. Using wired internet service, Bangladeshi’s were quick to report on this authoritarian like decision taken by their government.
The chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC), Jahirul Haq, said he received a “decision” from the government, albeit not clarifying on what the order was. Another senior telecoms official, said, “The BTRC has slowed down the internet at the order of the government.”
The move is seen by many Bangladeshi’s as an attempt to curb the ability of protesters to mobilize and spread online outrage over the inefficiency of the government. Images of police wielding sticks at many students have flooded social media websites, and have managed to revive anger among the citizens.
Bangladesh’s transport sector is witnessed as a corrupt and unregulated body, even issuing licenses to people without prior testing. Ruled by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since 2009, its civil service recruitment system has become archaic and discriminatory. Using social media to voice opinions about the system has gained momentum over the past years, and has proved to be the catalyst for inciting the ongoing protests against poor traffic rules.
While citizens still managed to access the internet using broadband and wired networks, the shunning down of mobile internet proves the length and breadth its government is willing to go to in order to stop the protests in the city. Of course, the lack of initiative to change the current corrupt system will definitely impact the result of the next election, due later in 2018. Nonetheless, the current events prove the importance of the internet and social media in bringing in political change across the world.