Millions of people rely on Facebook to get online. The outage left them trapped.
But in 2016, the program (now called Free Basics) banned by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, claiming that it violated net neutrality. Despite that shortcoming, it continues to roll out, with little improvement, in other countries in the developing world. In 2018, Facebook SAYS Internet.org has 100 million people online. In 2019, FreeBasics will be available in 65 countries, with about 30 in Africa. Last year, the strong launch of Facebook Discover began, allowing internet users to access traffic with more bandwidth. all websites (not just Facebook properties,) even if they run out of data.
Versions of these programs also exist in Afghanistan, where many new internet users are likening Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp across the internet. Even among those with wider access to the entire web, Facebook products also play an important role. WhatsApp calls, for example, that have long been replaced are more expensive – and less secure – phone calls. Many small businesses rely on Facebook tools to sell and advertise their products.
All of this means that even temporary blackouts have a detrimental effect, especially for activist and advocacy organizations – and people like Bezhan.
“A lot of underground plans and support are happening on social media,” Bezhan said, and most of it is through Facebook, WhatsApp, and the Messenger app. The outage disrupted his “efforts to inform Afghans, strategies for planning our next steps for evacuation, [and] connecting those in need. ”
It was past midnight for Bezhan when Facebook came to life, but even so, some of its functions, including search and notifications, were not yet available. He has yet to hear if he can add another name for a potential evacuation.
But he was also worried about how his Afghan friends were feeling and thinking, that their primary connection to the outside world was suddenly severed. In the weeks since the fall of Kabul, there have been rumors that the Taliban has cut off internet access. “I’m confident they made rumors and provided stories about how the new government blocked the media,” he said.
They are not alone. Addressing similar concerns, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Communication of the Democratic Republic of Congo, taken on Twitter to set the record right: “The internet connection was not disconnected,” he wrote at 4:05 PM ET. “It’s a worldwide blackout that has blocked WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram. Other applications like Twitter function normally. The same thing happens with the rest of the web. ”