Algeria has become the latest country in the Middle East and North Africa region to block Facebook and Twitter in a bid to stop students from cheating on exams. According to Algerian officials, prior to the student's baccalaureate exams, test questions were leaked to social media, prompting officials to ban the social networks to prevent further cheating. More than 550,000 Algerian students will have to retake their exams, according to news reports.
"The cut in social media is directly related to the partial baccalaureate exams that are taking place on Sunday. This is to protect students from the publication of false papers for these exams," the Ministry of Post, Information Technology and Communication said. But local media have said that some people were also having difficulty using the Internet, prompting some to speculate about whether the ban is only for social media websites.
This isn't the first time the North African country has struggled with cheating scandals. Earlier this month, authorities in Algeria arrested "dozens of people" in connection to high school exams that were leaked to social media.
Other countries in the Middle East have also been facing cheating scandals. Last week, Egypt's Education Ministry was criticized for not safeguarding at least two test papers that were leaked on Facebook and resulted in the arrest of a student who was said to have leaked the school exam papers. This prompted conversations about whether the government also needed to cut Internet access before all exams to prevent future leaks.
— StateOfTheInternet (@akamai_soti) June 8, 2016
— Dyn Research (@DynResearch) June 8, 2016
Digital rights experts are questioning whether the move by Algerian officials was motivated purely by the cheating scandal, highlighting how in the past, governments have blocked the Internet for political reasons. And have also questioned whether preventing access to Facebook and Twitter is an appropriate response.
This is becoming a convenient excuse for state-initiated shutdowns/censorship in MENA. Iraq did the same last year. https://t.co/Go6hajPX5z
— Wafa BH (@ousfourita) June 19, 2016
"Whether or not there is actual cheating on exams, authorities should do their best to minimize it through other law abiding measures and avoid conveniently overreaching in shutting down internet access - a basic commodity - for the entire country," Wafa Ben Hassine, a legal expert in Internet issues told WorldViews.