It’s as if a TED conference smashed headfirst into a hackathon and then fell into an NGO strategy summit. CEOs sit next to non-profit employees and eat boxed lunches as a dominatrix (@MClarissa) presents a slide on teledilonics followed up by a garage hacker-turned-million dollar project director quoting Alexis de Tocqueville. It is a supremely uncanny experience that all happens within the confines of a movie theater (and, later, a sushi bar). This is what one can expect when they attend the Freedom to Connect conference (#f2c) held in Silver Spring, Maryland. The conference is meant to bring “under-represented people and issues into the Washington, DC based federal policy discussion…” I left the conference feeling generally good that there are people out there working to preserve and protect open infrastructures. I just wish that team were more diverse.
While tech geeks and Silicone Valley execs have been decrying the the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its sister bill, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), today, January 18, 2012, marks an unprecedented day of action across the Web. The protest is remarkable because it fully utilizes the Internet’s unprecedented ability blend top-down and bottom-up organization. Specifically, the action achieves maximum effect because major sites like Wikipedia, Google, and reddit have blacked-out part or all of their pages while individuals users also black-out their own profile images and posts. As a result, it is near impossible to surf the Web without encountering a deluge of such images and, thereby, being encouraged to do at least a little investigating into why these bills provoke such ire.
Interestingly, the debate of intellectual property law pits new, social media against old, broadcast media. For this reason, the anti-SOPA movement may be the clearest demonstration to date of social media’s superior capacity for organizing and mobilizing social or political movements (vis-à-vis broadcast media). New media is clearly winning the messaging war. A recent Zogby poll finds that 60% of likely voters are aware of the SOPA legislation and 68% of them oppose it; the same number also believe it infringes on First Amendment Rights.
The following is as scrapbook-style archive of anti-SOPA images from across the Web. more...
EDIT [2:49PM EST]- Saw this on my wall:
This is the full size of the picture:
EDIT [1:24PM EST]- Buzzfeed has compiled “25 Angry Kids Who Can’t Do Their Homework Because of the Wikipedia Blackout.” While this is pretty funny, it also underscores the need for educators to not just say “don’t use wikipedia” but to help students use networked resources in an appropriate and effective manner.
EDIT [11:25AM EST]- Google has put a black sensor bar over their logo on the search page. Facebook has not done anything officially, but my newsfeed is full of my friends talking about it. Maybe that’s the appropriate response? Public spaces are meant to be forums for discussion, the space itself is somewhat ambivalent.
Original Post- If you’re reading this on January 18th, 2012, then you are probably happy to find something that is not completely blacked out. While many of us, personally, are very much against SOPA and PIPA, all of us at Cyborgology thought it would be better to provide information about participating sites, rather than blackout the blog entirely.
Usually a strike is the beginning of a political battle, but it seems as though the fight to kill SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act) has already been won by the activists and businesses that feel threatened by some of its provisions. As of last night, Cory Doctorow reported on BoingBoing:
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has killed SOPA, stopping all action on it. He didn’t say why he killed it, but the overwhelming, widespread unpopularity of the bill and the threat of a presidential veto probably had something to do with it
The companion senate bill, the “Protect IP Act” or PIPA is still alive and well though. If you are unfamiliar with SOPA or PIPA, here is a great video from americancensorship.org that describes why the two bills are so concerning:
It is easy to accuse SOPA and PIPA supporters as money-grubbing intellectual property hounds; greedy millionaires who care about their bottom lines over the freedoms on democratic citizens. But I think greed is only a necessary -not a sufficient- condition for supporting bills like these. The truth is, Congress does not understand the Internet.
For me, the late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) is synonymous with “Congress doesn’t understand the internet.” If you’re of college age or older, you probably remember the 2006 senate hearing in which Stevens emphatically declared that the internet was not “a dump truck” but was in fact, a “series of tubes.” Technologically mediated communities immediately jumped on the gaff and produced shirts, songs, and even powerpoint presentations to share in a common joke. Once the novelty had subsided though, some started to worry about the fate of the internet. The blog for 463 Communications, a consulting firm in DC, was one of the first to raise the concern:
Regardless of what side one takes on net neutrality, it must be recognized that when the industry gets involved in a pitched, focused battle, not a lot of broad-based education unattached to a specific agenda is going to happen. Quite the opposite.
Now, six years later, we are facing the same problem and it is a lot less funny. Even if you choose to ignore the humanitarian and civil libertarian arguments for why SOPA/PIPA is a bad bill, it is still incredibly destructive to business. It threatens to undermine the very basis of the so-called “information economy.” By making web site owners liable for something as mundane as a link to a soundcloud page, Congress would effectively halt some of the most innovative work being done in the fields of social media and web design. Even though the MPAA and RIAA are supporters of SOPA/PIPA, they also stand to lose from it as well. The culture industry relies on the ability to remix and appropriate existing material and turn it into something new and unique. But even something as mainstream and pop as Justin Beiber was originally discovered covering Justin Timberlake songs on Youtube.
At the end of the day, I don’t want my congress to pass a bill that would give Girl Talk more years in jail than a serial killer. More importantly, I certainly do not want to see a bill pass that could give governments the ability to shut down entire web sites. If SOPA/PIPA passes, there will be no more augmented revolutions on these shores.