SOPA/PIPA Online Activism and You

A couple of weeks ago I logged in to Facebook and Twitter ready to write a full diatribe about the evils of SOPA and PIPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act. The bills were being considered by Congress and had enough bipartisan backing to easily be passed by a Congress that took ten years to decide whether to give 9/11 first responders healthcare.  A few seconds after logging on I discovered something truly inspiring, the majority of my friends on Facebook and Twitter had already gotten on their own soap boxes and were shouting down the bills themselves.

Apparently I was late to the party, so I decided to not say anything. Everything that could have been said about the bill, already had been. As someone who constantly admonishes people to speak up against legislation that restricts their freedoms, this felt like an unprecedented victory for the masses. Turns out this victory was unprecedented, but for all the wrong reasons.

As I started reading more about the bill and what had been transpiring behind the scenes I found out that a group of websites that included Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia were participating in an online “blackout” in protest of SOPA and PIPA. This turned out to be an extremely effective tool not only for raising awareness about a bill that otherwise would have been passed without a peep from the public, but also for inspiring the very same public to political action.

The sites called for their users to write and call their congressional leadership in an effort to let it be known that they were not happy with the restrictions that the bills fostered. The 7,000 websites that participated, most of the sites were small but included 11 huge ones like Twitter, LinkdIn, eBay, craigslist and the ones listed above, reached over 160 million Americans with their message. Some of the opponents of the bill even banded together to take out a full page ad in the New York Times.

What did all of this effort get the companies who stood to lose the most if these bills passed? 2.4 million twitterers posted SOPA related tweets in a 16 hour span. 8 million people searched Wikipedia to find out who their congressional representative was. Two of the bills cosponsors and 25 Senators changed their mind about backing the bill and 4.5 million people signed Google’s online petition.

The response I saw on Facebook and Twitter turned out to be a good barometer of what was going on in the real world. The public, properly informed, was spurred to action and for once their voices were heard by the legislature. A victory all around right? Well not quite. What about issues that Google and Yahoo don’t care about? Issues concerning actual civil rights and not just the right to download pirated material (I kid, kinda). Where is the public outcry? Why werent people searching for their congressional representatives on Wikipedia when the NDAA that, among many other things, makes the prison in Guantanamo Bay permanent, passed last month? Why dont people sign online petitions when the Supreme Court rules that corporations should have as much political say as individual citizens? A question that has bothered me for forever, ‘why dont people care about rights issues that affect them directly’ has an apparently simple answer; Google hasnt told them to yet.

While I dont agree with Sen. Dodd’s position on SOPA, the PR release he put out was spot on: ”

It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use
their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the
marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as
gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their
corporate interests.

 

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