The internet as it exists today is the living embodiment of a libertarianism/near-anarchy that Americans sometimes dream about, a land as open and free as the wild west, only without that pesky native problem. Still, others want to impose their own laws on citizens of the web. Unsurprisingly, the internet is fighting back.
Free speech advocates and civil agitators around the globe regularly emphasize how internet access opens up opportunities for dissent. Voluntary service disruption by internet companies is a wholly new method of dissent, this time from the world of business, who don't typically use populist tactics to achieve their aims. Let's call it what it is: wikipedia, reddit, and all the rest, have basically just gone on strike.
Digital disruption seems like the apotheosis of civil disobedience, despite the fact that the companies involved are not breaking any laws or physically challenging anyone.
They are corporations who are refusing to provide a service, in the name of a cause. If corporations are people, then they damn well have the right to act like people, to draw attention to their causes and to even cause disruption.
The fact that this disruption occurs in a realm that was practically fictional until a decade ago seems both climactic and anticlimactic. Universally disruptive protest now is in the areas that we resolutely can live without, and in fact did live without for centuries. Will the wikipedia blackout lead to worldwide starvation or even civil inconvenience? Certainly not. A few thousand high school students will be at a loss for whom to plagiarize.
And yet, this form of protest seems the literal definition of "hitting them where it hurts." You can occupy a dozen Zuccotti Parks, you can challenge inumerable City Halls, but in each instance, you're only affecting the local area. For whatever reason, we have all opted into this ridiculous airy-fairy wireless internet space, and so we are all affected by its vagaries. And have we really been exposed to its whims and fancies until now?
These blackouts are partially a victory for Anonymous. They may not be an organization to praise, but their extremist position has forced many neutral entities to take a stand of one kind or the other. They proved, to the surprise of many, that you can disrupt real lives simply by shutting websites down. For every social network that sells itself out to dictatorial governments, for every currency exchange that bows down to illegal censorship, there are dozens of companies fighting for free speech, if only to protect their own right to exist.
Hegemonic websites like Wikipedia are aware of their power in people's lives. In a rare event, these anarchic internet behemoths are on the same side as the people, against even larger media corporations who are looking only to protect their status quo. So what happens when other web companies start protecting their own interests in this manner? How about if WebMD goes down to protect women's right to choice? Or Gmail blacks out in protest of the Patriot Act? These are powerful political tools, and the government has no legal basis to force these companies to resume service.