CHICAGO - The U.S. Senate may vote this week on overturning Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules aimed at guaranteeing an open Internet, whereby corporations were forbidden to give some people better access to the Web than others. And the fate of the so-called "net neutrality" rules could affect future protests like Occupy Wall Street.
At Occupy Chicago, communications volunteers count more than 33,000 Facebook "likes," 20,000 Twitter followers, and several thousand website hits every day.
So, some are asking, what would happen if the corporate entities that are the targets of protests were able to limit Internet traffic? That was tried at one point by the Egyptian government during the Arab Spring protests, and Betty Yu with the Center for Media Justice says it's a legitimate concern.
"A lot of this organizing that happened - sure, it was organic - but it would not be able to happen the way it happened, the way it flourished, if there wasn't an open Internet, period."
Opponents of net neutrality rules say they're not necessary and stifle business growth. Yu says the consolidation of wireless phone companies - like the proposed AT&T and T-Mobile merger - could also lead to a situation where the companies - or the government - could hamper Twitter communications.
Andrew Smith volunteers in the communications area of Occupy Chicago, where he says social media are used not only to mobilize demonstrators, but to make sure mainstream media report accurately on the protest.
"If false information is reported, then we can be like, 'Whoa, no; this is what really happened and here's why.' And using social networks to keep ourselves on message and to keep people informed is critical."
Betty Yu says the role of the Internet in organizing the "Occupy" protests makes the possible Senate showdown about net neutrality something to be watched closely.
"Big Brother is watching. And I think that it'll be interesting to see how the net neutrality fight plays out now."
Yu says mainstream media no longer determine how protests get covered.