Published:Nov 28, 2023

Digital democracy|Digital freedom

Global social media restrictions by duration

Governments of at least 50 countries have restricted access to Western social media platforms amid political turmoil such as protests, elections, or military activity¹. Some of the restrictions are long-term and ongoing, lasting over five years, while others are more sporadic. Surfshark takes a look at the countries that have been guilty of these restrictions since 2015.

Key insights

  • Governments of 5 countries — home to almost 1.6 billion people — have imposed long-term social media restrictions. China², Iran³, and Turkmenistan⁴ have been restricting access to Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter (now X) for 14 years. Eritrea has gone almost 13 years without YouTube⁵. Visitors of North Korea have not been able to access Instagram for eight years⁶ (the country later blocked access to other major platforms)*. Because of the length of these restrictions, entire generations (namely Gen Z) are growing up without access to Western social media.
  • 45 countries (home to 2.3 billion people) have restricted access to social media platforms for shorter durations (less than five years) — on average, the restrictions in these countries are 4126 hours long, which is almost half a year. Some countries faced restrictions as short as two hours long (for example, Eswatini⁷). But in Russia, people have been facing restrictions since the beginning of the war — close to 150M people are not able to access Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (now X) for over a year and a half⁸.
  • Social media is for far more than casual browsing and posting life updates. It has become a central hub for the exchange of news and opinions among journalists, activists, and politicians. Restricting these platforms isn't simply a limitation on social connections — it's a suppression of an essential avenue for transparency, potentially allowing government propaganda to dominate without opposition.

Methodology and sources

Drawing on data from Surfshark’s Internet Shutdown Tracker, we analyzed the countries that are confirmed to have restricted social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter (now X), or Instagram amid political turmoil. Data was collected on November 15, 2023. Note on calculations: in cases where several restriction cases on a country level overlap, duration is recalculated to omit overlapping time. The average duration of social media restrictions across countries where restrictions last less than five years was calculated by multiplying each country’s population size by the duration of imposed restrictions. The product was then divided by the sum of the affected population in order to account for population size differences across countries.

* Social media was never available to North Korean nationals, but visitors from foreign countries were able to connect to 3G and some major social media platforms⁶.

For the complete research material behind this study, visit here.

Data was collected from:

Surfshark (2023). Social media restrictions amid political turmoil;United Nations (2022). World Population Prospects 2022.


¹ Surfshark (2023) Social Media Restrictions;² TechCrunch (2009) China Blocks Access To Twitter, Facebook After Riots;³ The Guardian (2009) Iranian government blocks Facebook access;⁴ Reporters Without Borders (2021) Turkmenistan;⁵ Mother Jones (2014) MAP: Here Are the Countries That Block Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube;⁶ The Guardian (2015) North Korea blocks access to Instagram;⁷ Access Now (2021) #KeepItOn: Eswatini authorities shut down internet to quell protests, ask people to email grievances;⁸ NetBlocks (2022) Instagram restricted in Russia as online space continues to shrink;
The team behind this research:About us