Monday, February 20, 2012

Rage Against the Machine: SOPA and PIPA

Remember SOPA and PIPA, the two acts that had everyone on the internet scared out of their minds? The two acts that brought together wikipedia, every search engine, every web browser, and thousands of small websites in protest?

I found this ragecomic shortly after the SOPA/PIPA protest, and I found it very interesting.

Pop Quiz: What is important to Americans?

It was titled "Priorities..."

This ragecomic really hits home. The government can do a lot of things with very few people protesting. Why, then, is it possible for millions of Internet-goers to come together when something so simple is threatened? Let's break down the problem.

First, let's talk about the SOPA and PIPA acts.

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) started in the United States House of Representatives. Its declared purpose was to stop online piracy (imagine that!). Immediately, there was a division. Some declared that this would protect copyright laws. Others said it would prevent free speech. Either way, there was controversy.

PIPA (Protect IP Act) was similar. It started in the United States Senate. Its purpose was similar to SOPA, and its controversial nature was just as great.

Those who frequent the Internet began to spread information about the two acts. Most were afraid that SOPA and PIPA would prevent not only free speech, but a host of other things. Due to the loose nature of the acts, it would be possible to report any website (such as youtube, wikipedia, or your own personal blog) for copyright infringement and have it shut down immediately, with little legal standing on the part of the website owner. It was a scary law.

Immediately, the Internet as a whole began to protest the acts. Websites like wikipedia had planned blackouts, simulating the censorship to come. Other websites encourage people to sign petitions (I signed one myself). 

You even got things like this all over Facebook.


Before long everyone had heard of SOPA and PIPA, and no one liked it. Eventually both the House and the Senate tabled the acts for further revision. For now, SOPA and PIPA are dead bills, though they may resurface at a later date.

My question is this: Why was there such an outpouring of dissent for a such a simple act, when other laws go unnoticed? If it is true that raising taxes annoys people, why don't we get the same protests?

I have a few possible answers. First, the Internet is sacred to us. It is one of the few places we visit everyday solely for leisurely activity. The though of such a place being ripped from our grasp is, as stated before, very scary. People protect their leisure spaces more than they protect anything else, and the Internet is definitely a leisure space. 

Another possible answer is that this particular act crosses all party lines. You don't have to be Republican or Democrat or Independent to dislike this act. People on the Internet are just people, they aren't political parties. This makes it easier to fight against than say, tax increases or cutting government subsidies.   

In addition, the government has been messing around with taxes, welfare, jobs, and so on for centuries. There hasn't been a time where people didn't complain about these things. Therefore, they have become expected. The Internet, however, is new. When it came under attack we all were surprised. It may have given protestors the extra incentive to fight a new battle, instead of a battle that had been fought and lost a thousand times before.

There is also the fact that things like "stealing money" and giving "life opportunities" are very abstract ideas. What does it mean to get these things? What does it look like when were are denied them? Censoring the Internet, however, is very real and concrete. It's something we can fight against right now, today.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that the Internet is a social movement. It has clear, although often conflicting, goals. It is a place of coming together, of ignoring political affiliating in favor of a common good. It refuses censorship more intensely than anything has in the past. It can defend itself.

The Internet is here to stay.

1 comment:

  1. Yes it would be great if we could extend this alarm bell to sound off on laws that do not benefit us. However, these other topics are probably abstract and foreign to us, to the point where we can't relate and tell what we want or not. We would need some way to make laws easier to digest for the common person to make a better decision.

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