With over 2.9 billion active monthly users spanning the globe, Facebook has achieved unprecedented success making social connections virtually. However, the network’s spread hasn’t come without conflict as distrust around its user data practices, content policies and information controls keep mounting. In some cases, severe enough for entire nations to outright ban access to Facebook.
While full platform bans are relatively rare still given Facebook’s entrenchment worldwide, usage and content restrictions occur more regularly. And calls for permanent suspensions persist in many regions. Here are some noteworthy examples where Facebook faced full or partial access blocks over the years:
China’s Great Firewall Blocks Facebook
The most prominent and enduring ban happens to be in the country hosting over 20% of the world’s population – China. The Chinese government’s “Great Firewall” filters and restricts access to thousands of foreign websites and apps deemed security threats or disseminating unsuitable content by Communist Party standards.
Facebook first fell prey to China’s tech iron curtain periodically in 2009 as government censors worked furiously to quash online accounts of riots in Xinjiang province circulating to local users. While the platform wasn’t permanently blocked yet, the stage was set for escalating confrontations around information flow.
By July 2017 amid tensions around the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Chinese authorities cut all mainland access to Facebook lasting over a year. The ban also coincided with large scale internet crackdowns muzzling tools shifting political power such as WhatsApp and private VPNs. The combination of censorship controls and restricted internet freedoms make Facebook’s return in China unlikely despite behind the scenes appeals.
Iran’s Panic Ban Over Anti-Government Protests
During civil unrest as economic and political pressures erupted in mass protests across Iran in late 2017, the authoritarian government made swift temporary moves to clamp down on protest organizing tools. Facebook and Twitter soon went dark under government blackouts seeking to stem activist coordination and mute unrest coverage reaching the outside.
The Iranian ban on Facebook lasted nearly a week as clashes intensified before authorities eased restrictions once relative order restored. However, the tense episode exemplified regimes clinging to power through force and information control when stability frays. It wouldn’t be the last ban for Facebook amid more Iranian turmoil.
Just two years later during November 2019 demonstrations against spiking gas prices, Iranian officials throttled internet speeds to 10% capacity making most apps useless. Complete offline blackouts followed across multiple provinces fordays leaving an information void around protest crackdowns. While no formal ban announced this time, Facebook’s bandwidth strangling accomplished the same silencing ends.
Sri Lanka’s Blanket Social Media Blackout After Terror Attacks
In 2019, ISIS-backed terrorist bombings ravaged Sri Lanka across several churches and hotels killing 259 people. Seeking to contain mob violence outbreaks and misinformation spreading in the aftermath, the Sri Lankan government took unprecedented action.
Officials ordered internet service providers to fully block access to Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and other sites to restrict visibility into mob attacks on mosques and Muslims. The blanket ban also slowed friends and families from connecting around missing loved ones as the full human toll from the bombings crystallized.
Lasting over 8 days until the social tinderbox stabilized, it represented the first time a nation entirely shutoff popular social media and messaging platforms in history. Free speech advocates criticized the overreach of banning platforms used by over 70% of Sri Lankans daily. But the extreme case study showed governments willing to flip the switch entirely on Facebook and social apps despite deep societal dependence.
India Leverages Mass Arrests and Internet Shutdowns to Quell Controversy
India represents Facebook’s largest national market with over 340 million users accounting for nearly a fifth of platform revenues. But despite the population scale and strategic priority, India keeps conflict churning with site blocking threats, politically charged misinformation battles, and violent physical clashes stoked online.
Most recently in late 2019, rumors circulating across WhatsApp falsely alleged some Indian migrant workers were kidnappers. Vigilante mob attacks and deadly clashes with police teams tracking the migrant groups ensued before 21 got arrested under India’s law criminalizing spreading misinformation.
In efforts to calm local tensions, India’s government suspended internet access completely across some districts to prevent retaliatory group coordination, choking Facebook and WhatsApp usage avenues relied on by citizens and law enforcement alike.
While shutdown lasted only several days, experts likened the information blackout tactic as equivalent to banning Facebook and social channels environmentally. With ethnic conflicts and religious polarization as recurring pressure points across Indian politics, temporary district level internet bans could blunt Facebook’s presence when controversies erupt despite its mainstream ubiquity.
Myanmar’s Ethnic Cleansing Campaign Culminates in Ban
One of the most appalling examples linking Facebook usage to human rights atrocities played out in Myanmar starting around 2010. As smartphone penetration grew exponentially across the previously disconnected nation, the primary internet service used by citizens beyond a small elite evolved into Facebook’s Free Basics program. This allowed Burmese consumers to access Facebook and affiliates without data charges crucial for affordability.
However in the backdrop of emerging open internet access, violent military leaders and ultra-nationalist groups weaponized Facebook to spread anti-Rohingya propaganda and disinformation depicting the Muslim minority group as terrorists and religious extremists. Dehumanizing “fake news” traveled faster than factual assessments from international observers.
The effects proved devastating as offline violence surged against Rohingyas. By 2018, over 700,000 Rohingya fled genocide threats in Myanmar for Bangladesh refugee camps and relative safety.
Amidst international condemnation for enabling persecution, Facebook banned key military and political figures spreading hate from their platforms. This prompted backlash from Myanmar officials who banned senior management from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to make business operations impossible. However platform access remains untouched, showing global disconnects around what content and populations warrant protection.
While Facebook suspensions remain relatively rare still protecting its commercial dominance and social utility, these flashpoint cases demonstrate scenarios where authorities view bans as necessary blunt instruments for political and social stability pursuits despite resident dependence. The decisions highlight confrontations between economic priorities, free speech principles, national interests and public protections likely to keep simmering for global networks like Facebook.