In Sudan, the interim government shut down the internet for a month, principally to obstruct opposition activity after the ouster of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir
. But it also stopped Sudanese doctors from ordering new medicine, leading to shortages of diabetes treatment, and prevented protest leaders from using WhatsApp to call for medical assistance, according to Dr. Sara Abdelgalil, who coordinates supplies in Sudan via the internet from her home overseas.
“We had a WhatsApp group in which we’d say, ‘We need a surgeon in Omdurman, we need an anesthetist in Buri,’” said Dr. Abdelgalil, the president of the British chapter of the Sudanese Doctors’ Union
, which supports Sudan’s transition to civilian government. “All that became very difficult.”
In parts of the developing world, merchants derive most of their revenue by advertising their products in public WhatsApp groups, which allow sellers to send advertisements to hundreds of recipients at a time. During a shutdown, those groups turn into online ghost towns.
Patrice Binwa Naledi runs a series of such forums in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the government stopped the internet for 20 days this year, nominally to prevent rumors spreading while votes were counted from the presidential election
Normally, advertisers using Mr. Naledi’s groups can reach about 70,000 people and make sales totaling as much as $10,000 a day, keeping Mr. Naledi’s phones constantly buzzing with new messages.
But during the shutdown, “it was like the phones had stopped working,” he said. “It was very calm — and when it’s calm, for me it’s sad.”