Facebook and Twitter blocked to keep students from cheating in Algeria

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Algeria is the latest country to block Twitter and Facebook in an attempt to keep students from cheating on exams.

According to news reports, Algerian officials claim that students had leaked questions on social media prior to baccalaureate exams, forcing around 555,177 out of 800,000 high school students to retake the exams they need before they can enter university.

In an attempt to foil the cheaters, officials temporarily blocked the social media networks starting on Saturday.

A telecom source told AFP that Facebook and Twitter will remain inaccessible to millions of Algerians until after the last test on Thursday.

The Ministry of Post, Information Technology and Communication had this to say:

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.

…while Al Jazeera quoted the Ministry of National Education as saying that other parts of the internet were unaffected. However, people were reporting on Sunday that they were also having problems getting to other websites, including Google.

The education ministry has said that most of the leaks cover science subjects and mathematics.

Two weeks ago, AFP reported that dozens of education officials, including managers, teachers and even the heads of national exam centers, had been arrested for allegedly playing a part in leaking the exam questions for 7 tests.

Algerian police said that cybercrime investigators had identified those who’ve published the exams on Facebook and Twitter, as well as those who helped facilitate the leak.

As The Washington Post reports, Algeria isn’t alone: there’s been a spate of cheating scandals in the Middle East.

Last week, the Egyptian government was similarly embarrassed, after two exams, along with their answers, were leaked on Facebook.

An 18-year-old high school student was arrested over the leak. He confessed, on television, to having made the posts, though the validity of that confession is in question.

Iraq has also had its problems with cheating students and has similarly slammed shut the door on social media. Over the past two months, Iraq has completely blocked the internet when students were taking exams.

Was shutting off social media for the entire country really necessary for either Iraq or Algeria?

Younes Grar, whom AFP identifies as an information technology expert, told the news outlet that no, the approach is a blunt hammer. Really, Algerian authorities could have just encrypted the exam questions and printed them at exam centers to avoid fraud, Grar said, instead of how they do it now: by trucking hard copies all over the country.

The authorities have chosen the simplest solution.

While it’s a simple solution, it’s also an inelegant one, he said:

The decision to block social networks penalizes millions of internet users.