It seems it should have been a no-brainer that the internet would eventually find a way to save the internet. After months of internet activism lobbying against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the bill has essentially been blocked and shelved by Congress now that President Obama has come out against it.
Although the entertainment industry spent tens of millions dollars more than the tech industry in lobbying Congress for SOPA, tech companies like Google and Facebook had something entertainment empires didn’t: the internet. One of the biggest implications of the most recent success against SOPA is not only what it will mean for online piracy, but what it shows about the power of internet firms in lobbying, especially on their own behalf.
With a recent trend in online petition sites and the broad use of social media for the rapid spread of information, the internet has become a positive force in allowing average Americans access to a previously unreachable political and corporate world. What the activism of internet giants themselves show, however, is a peek into a potentially unbeatable lobbying power that, in turn, has complete control over users’ access to major internet sites.
Major websites such as Wikipedia and Reddit are staging a blackout today in protest of SOPA; websites that didn’t want to go black, such as Google, are using other methods to spread the message. Anyone visiting these sites that hadn’t already heard about the bill have now — but only from the websites’ own perspective.
There are also a number of online petitions circling the web in protest of SOPA, the most successful of which can be found on Avaaz.org, which by Tuesday night had scored well over a million signatures. Meanwhile, searching #SOPA unleashes an overwhelming surge of Twitter content, reflecting its topical spread across the internet (and directly into people’s homes and phones).
And Tumblr is in a league of its own. In November, the site censored its users’ main dashboards, directing them to this site where they could enter their phone numbers and get a recorded call from Tumblr founder David Karp, who explained SOPA and offered talking points about it. Users could then connect to their congressional office to protest the bill directly with as little labor as possible. At the time of the stunt, Tumblr said it was averaging 3.6 calls per second.
Tactics such as these illustrate the various techniques the internet offers for garnering support for various issues. In general, these techniques appear to have done great things for the average citizen, such as when customers were able to get Verizon and Bank of America to quickly overturn customer fees after public outrage found an outlet on the petition website Change.org. The one-sided influence certain powerhouse websites may have on issues that regard themselves, however, might have a darker side.
To be clear, I am in no way calling for the passage of SOPA. As PolicyMic pundit Rita Solomon explains very well, SOPA far oversteps legal boundaries by infringing on necessary freedoms for the internet and its users. Yet, a better written bill with more user and web protection might be a positive step for both business and the internet community in the future, even if it’s not in the interest of some internet giants. Will the same websites blacking out now still try to stop it then?
Through their mobilization of forces in a full-faced battle against SOPA, high-traffic websites have proven their efficiency in lobbying on the dime in ways no other business or individual can. And when users are virtually forced (through a nearly world-wide addiction to the internet) to perceive these efforts through a one-way lens, we give these websites untold power.
So while today we see these websites as the good guys – giving up web traffic and maybe even profits to support a cause they believe in – tomorrow they might not be. It’s all good and noble for them to support a cause that will negatively affect them, and oh, I guess you, too, but don’t forget they’re businesses, too, and not small ones.
Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey