The Internet is more than just a tool to access information, we use it every day to communicate, express ourselves, and connect ourselves with others from all over the world. In fact, the free and open Internet is such an important and powerful tool for free speech and expression that in 2011, the United Nations declared broadband access a basic human right.
But the Open Internet is not without its enemies. In early 2014, the laws defining Net Neutrality in the United States were taken off the books, resulting in, among other issues, a battle of the TelComs for control over the Access Rights of the majority of America. But these issues aren't just limited to the United States. We've known for a while that nations like China and North Korea limit or restrict their citizens' access to the Open Internet, with China's regulations even earning their own nickname: "The Great Firewall of China." And Reporters Without Boundaries releases their "Enemies of the Internet" list every year.
In the last week or so, Turkey has been working its way up that list, joining the enemies of the Internet first with a twitter blackout, and now YouTube all in the wake of their upcoming elections. After these blackouts hit, users flocked to the TOR project, which reportedly gained 10,000 new Turkish users in the last week. TOR is an anonymization service which pipes user data through a huge network of computers all over the world, preventing anyone from knowing where your traffic may be coming from.
This is incredibly important, not just because the Internet is an incredible tool for creation and expression, but also because of the pathways it provides for person to person communication. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called twitter a "menace" because it allowed the Turkish people a way to communicate and, more importantly, organize, against their government. Earlier this week, the Turkish Government even blocked TOR's own website, in an attempt to further censor their citizens
Even when other lines of communication are shut down, Internet Access still allows people to communicate to one another--hashtags, QR codes, tweets, and websites all allow for worldwide communication near instantaneously. Trending topics on popular social media sites can reach hundreds of thousands more people than a phone tree ever could, and a near permanent record of activity by protestors isn't too shabby either. The best photographer isn't the one with the most renown, he's the one on the ground, exactly where he's needed, and the Internet allows everyone to be a reporter. It has created a world wide network of reporters on the ground, ready and waiting, and that terrifies the powers that be.
Tools like TOR and twitter are changing the nature of protest in ways we couldn't even dream of 20 years ago--allowing protestors to punch through blockades and blackouts to get the world the information they need to know.
Alex LeMire is an editorial intern at Warscapes.