Social Media Disruption in Sri Lanka
Published (updated: ) in .
We have noticed disruptions in accessing different social media platforms in Sri Lanka, the disruption is visible in the increased number of anomalies in tests reported through the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI).
OONI data collected from Sri Lanka suggests that access to social media platforms was disrupted on 2nd and 3rd April 2022, which coincides with protests over the country’s economic crisis and the declaration of a nationwide public emergency.
In particular, OONI data collected from 5 networks in Sri Lanka between March 2022 to April 2022 shows that the OONI Probe testing of twitter.com presented a comparatively larger volume of anomalies on 2nd and 3rd April 2022, as illustrated through the following chart.
When examining this data on an ASN-level, we can see that the testing of twitter.com presented anomalies (signs of potential blocking) on 3 distinct ASNs in Sri Lanka (AS18001, AS45356, AS9329) during the same time period (2nd and 3rd April 2022).
However, it’s unclear if access to twitter.com was also potentially blocked on the 2 other ASNs (AS132045, AS17470), as twitter.com did not receive OONI Probe testing coverage on those networks between 2nd to 3rd April 2022.
When inspecting the raw data of anomalous OONI measurements, we can see that they all consistently presented HTTP failures. On both AS18001 and AS45356, OONI Probe testing of twitter.com shows connections being reset, while testing on AS9329 results in timeout errors.
During the same period, OONI data also suggests blocking of Instagram in Sri Lanka, as illustrated below.
Similarly to the testing of twitter.com, OONI data shows that the testing of www.instagram.com consistently presented HTTP failures when tested on 2nd and 3rd April 2022, with connections being reset on AS18001 and tests resulting in timeout errors on AS9329. The fact that we observe similar patterns (in terms of connection failures) on the same networks for two different websites (twitter.com and www.instagram.com) provides a stronger signal of blocking.
The temporary blocking of social media platforms in Sri Lanka is further suggested by OONI data pertaining to the testing of www.facebook.com, which also presented anomalies on 2nd and 3rd April 2022, as illustrated below.
Unlike the blocking of twitter.com and www.instagram.com, OONI data suggests that access to www.facebook.com may have been blocked through the use of different techniques on AS18001. While we continue to observe timeout errors in the testing of www.facebook.com on AS9329, OONI measurements collected from AS18001 present signs of DNS-based tampering in some cases, and signs of IP blocking in other cases. Specifically, some measurements collected from AS18001 show that an NXDOMAIN error is returned as part of the DNS resolution, while other measurements from this network suggest that Facebook’s IP (`126.96.36.199`) was blocked.
This could potentially be the result of Facebook Messenger app blocking, which required different techniques (and those were used for blocking access to www.facebook.com as well). This is suggested by the fact that OONI data from the testing of Facebook Messenger on AS18001 also shows that DNS lookups return NXDOMAIN errors and that Facebook endpoints were blocked. Overall, we observe anomalies in the testing of Facebook Messenger during the same dates (2nd and 3rd April 2022) as other social media services in Sri Lanka.
Similarly, OONI data shows a spike in anomalous measurements from the testing of WhatsApp in Sri Lanka between 2nd and 3rd April 2022.
In many measurements, we observe that TCP connections to WhatsApp endpoints and registration service fail.
Similarly, the OONI Probe testing of Telegram presented an increased volume of anomalous measurements between 2nd and 3rd April 2022.
Raw OONI data from the testing of Telegram shows that connections to Telegram endpoints were successful, but that access to Telegram’s web version (web.telegram.org) presented signs of blocking. Specifically, on AS9329 we observe timeout errors, whereas on AS18001 we observe connections being reset.
Overall, OONI data collected from Sri Lanka shows that the testing of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Telegram presented signs of blocking on the same networks and on the same dates (2nd and 3rd April 2022), suggesting social media blocking in the country and corroborating media reports. The blocks are further suggested by the fact that we observe the same types of failures per network (for each of these websites and apps), which is an expected pattern when censorship techniques are adopted.