Syrian Internet Outages Correspond Exactly to National High School Test Schedule

"National Internet blackouts are so routine and banal that they are now becoming a common tactic to prevent cheating among youth."

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Aug 12 2016, 4:19pm

Image: Shannan Muskopf/Flickr

A very curious thing has been happening in Syria this month: The internet has gone out, nationwide, exactly nine times for exactly four hours each time. And the internet outages have lined up exactly with the times that high school students are taking their nationally mandated final exams.

According to Doug Madory of Dyn, which studies internet outages worldwide, the internet first cut out on July 31 between 4 and 8 AM local time, when a national physics exam was being distributed. It was cut again August 1, the same day as a national French exam, August 2 (biology), August 4 (Arabic), August 7 (math), August 8 (Islam), August 9 (English), August 10 (social studies), and again August 11 (chemistry).

Image: Dyn

"In years past, exam questions would begin appearing on social media 30-60 minutes before each exam, thus allowing cheaters to circulate correct answers and compromise the integrity of the test," Madory wrote in a blog post.

It does seem a bit nuts that the internet for an entire country would be cut just to prevent students from cheating on a test, but researchers have previously discovered outages that coincided with national examinations in Iraq, Algeria, Uzbekistan, and India (which was a regional outage). Is the government throwing the baby out with the bathwater to stop kids from cheating? Or is the national test excuse a cover for something more nefarious? It's disconcerting that we don't know.

"National Internet blackouts are so routine and banal that they are now becoming a common tactic to prevent cheating among youth," Madory wrote. "In fact, this latest round of exams were the make-up exams [emphasis his] for students who couldn't sit for the first round of exams, which occurred in June, and were the motivation for another round of national outages in Syria."