When the Internet went dark in Syria last month, it halted more than just the opposition’s Facebook campaigns and YouTube videos of atrocities committed by government forces. It caused a lot of action on the ground to grind down as well. “Most aid work stopped because the people involved could not exchange the needs and the addresses to which aid should be delivered,” says Susanne Fischer, Middle East program manager at the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, which offers training in digital security to activists in the Arab world. Fischer says that “some overworked activists were forced to take a break. When I asked one person inside what he had been doing while being cut off from the Internet, he said: ‘I played video games.’”
Syria’s civil war appears to have entered a decisive phase. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are digging in as rebel fighters close in on Damascus. It’s little coincidence that the rebels’ push toward the capital gained strength after activists regained access to the Internet following a two-day blackout in late November. It remains an open question, however, whether that momentum will be slowed should the government attempt to shut down the Web again.