Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Fiona Shen-Bayh

Committee Members

Sharan Grewal

Marcus Holmes

Peyman Jafari


Internet shutdowns are recognized as one of the most extreme forms of digital repression. Repressive governments most commonly shut down the internet in hopes of limiting the impacts of protest, preventing mobilization during elections, and preventing communication during times of political instability. Instances of internet shutdowns have increased dramatically in recent years – both in terms of frequency and the number of governments choosing to enact them. These shutdowns include instances of full-blackouts, and more targeted partial shutdowns. During non-blackout internet shutdowns, users are forced to use a restricted or slowed network connection, but still maintain some degree of internet access. It is predicted that full blackouts will become less common, and instead governments will implement shutdowns that are targeted and difficult to detect. Using a mixed-methods analysis, this thesis examines the phenomenon of service-based internet shutdowns and how those impacted utilize the network connection that remains. This thesis offers a novel approach to understanding how citizens respond to repression online by analyzing changes in app popularity during service-based shutdowns. This analysis presents two key findings: first, from 2020 to 2023, Virtual Private Network (VPN) app popularity increased dramatically during a majority of the service-based internet shutdowns studied. Second, in instances where VPN downloads did not increase, findings suggest citizens sought out alternative apps to replace those that were blocked. Broadly, this serves as compelling evidence of citizen responsiveness to service-based internet shutdowns. This research supports a citizen-focused analysis of digital repression, emphasizing citizens' agency during internet shutdowns, and addresses the paradox of why governments continue to restrict the internet despite citizens' ability to bypass restrictions.

On-Campus Access Only