The government in Algeria has decided to shut down access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and 3G services temporarily in an attempt to tackle high school exam cheating. Earlier this month, test questions of the baccalaureate exams leaked to social media, and as a result, nearly 556, 000 out of 800,000 students had to re-take the assessments.
According to Al Jazeera, government officials have already arrested dozens of people including employees of the National Education Offices and even teachers as part of the investigation into how parts of this year's matriculation exams appeared online. The National Police commented that the cyber crimes investigation unit already identified the people who posted the assessment questions on the Internet, as well as those who facilitated the leak.
Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal vowed to punish all the parties involved in the incident. According to the Presidential chief of staff Ahmed Ouyahia, the leak was a plot against the Minister of Education, writes Rhodi Lee of the Tech Times. Benghebrit, who took office back in 2014, angered conservatives by proposing to reform the education system. In an official statement, the Ministry of Post, Information Technology, and Communication reassured the public that the blackout of social media had a direct relationship with the final exams:
"This is to protect students from the publication of false papers for these exams."
AlgÃ©rie TÃ©lÃ©com, the country's leading internet service provider, wished an excellent week to all Algerians. Many angry comments by the users followed, pledging for compensations for the unreliable services and inconvenience. Algeria has nearly 20 million internet users including 16 million who actively use mobile services. Since the launch of 3G services three years ago, sharing of messages, images, and video content has become increasingly popular.
The Internet disruptions have had a negative impact on businesses in the country as well. Hassen Khelifati, the CEO of an insurance company, commented that he had lost 50 per cent of his turnover for the whole week due to the lack of a proper internet connection. He also added that the first two days were a total blackout without any explanation.
As confirmed by News 18, the internet access in the country is completely restored now. A sales executive Djamila, 45, said she was happy to be able to connect to the world "normally" at last. Similar to many other Algerians, she is using social media to stay in touch with friends and relatives abroad.
Algeria is not the first North African country to deal with cheating scandals, notes Melissa Etehad of the Washington Post. Last week, the Egyptian Minister of Education was criticized by the opposition for not taking preventive measures to stop the leak of at least two test papers on the Internet. The police arrested one student who was suspected of posting the exam questions online. The discussion started on whether the government should cut the Internet access shortly before the exams to prevent future leaks.
Two months ago, the Iraqi government totally blocked the Internet access across the country during exam periods.
Asked to comment on whether such government moves addressed only cheating scandals, Wafa Ben Hassine, a legal expert in Internet issues, said:
"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."