Yesterday Wikipedia was down in protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), two pieces of legislation that many (rightly) argued would violate the First Amendment and hinder a free internet. Wikipedia provided information as to why they opposed the acts and encouraged their users to contact their congresspersons to protest and urge them to vote against the acts. Millions of their users did just that.
Even Google helped organize the protest by providing information and initiating a petition that got 4.5 million signers on board.
Needless to say, many congressional leaders saw their phones blow up, and Forbes reported that, "Eighteen Senators changed their position." The article also went on to say that,
I honestly can’t recall a similar effort – eighteen Senators changed their positions – or a similar instance of online activism. As Paul notes, it wasn’t out of the goodness of our elected official’s hearts either that made them run. They read the political writing on the wall, turned tail in the opposite direction.
This isn’t purely online grassroots activism, obviously – Google is a huge corporation as are many opponents of SOPA – but to see sites like Reddit and Wikipedia, both largely user driven and community oriented, help start to change the political outcomes of major pieces of legislation is to take a glimpse into the future.
The playing field is shifting. Technology is helping to level that field. Bills like SOPA and PIPA threaten to return us to the status quo – not just in arts and entertainment and the issue of fair use, but in the way we are allowed to be free on the internet. We have the capacity to make a difference. Laws that threaten freedom of speech threaten that as well.
Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, et al, played the largest roles in organizing the protests and actions yesterday, and it made a tremendous difference. SOPA and PIPA are pretty much done with, even though Wikipedia is saying, "We're not done yet." According to BBC: "The encyclopaedia said the site had been viewed 162 million times, with eight million people following instructions to contact politicians." They go on to quote Wikipedia as stating to its users that,
You said no. You shut down Congress's switchboards. You melted their servers.
From all around the world your messages dominated social media and the news. Millions of people have spoken in defence of a free and open internet.
BBC even notes that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg was on board:
Elsewhere, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg deemed the occasion worthy enough to post his first tweet in almost three years.
"Tell your congressmen you want them to be pro-internet," he wrote, linking to a longer statement on Facebook.
Remember, just last June CNN reported that, "The U.S. is by far the most active, and successful, solicitor of private info from Google, accounting for about one-third of all federal requests last year, and that, "For the U.S., Google granted 94% of the government's requests." Google is no friend.
Nor is Facebook. Keep in mind that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has said the website is the "most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented," and that, "Here we have the world’s most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations, their communications with each other, and their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US Intelligence.”
Like Forbes, I too can't recall a similar effort that was so successful. It was a testament to how an organized population could easily make gains, and Forbes is right when they say that many in the government didn't back down out of the goodness of their heart, but because they read the writing on the wall.
When reflecting on climate justice, the economy, the wars, torture, Bradley Manning (and other political prisoners like Leonard Peltier, Mumia abu Jamal, etc), assassinations, a spying government, and much, much more, we need to ask why Google, Wikiepedia, Reddit, et al, weren't on our side, helping organizing the population to carry out actions against the government.
Simply put, Google and other corporations are not our allies. They do not share the same interests. They were motivated by interests which just happened to share space with ours. They want a growing internet in which they can get more ad revenue. They want more and more customers to visit them so that they can charge advertisers more. They don't want to spend money on policing themselves.
We, on the other hand, want free and unfettered access to information. We don't want to be made into criminals simply for wanting to know things, or for sharing information.
An important battle was won, and while Wikipedia might be correct in saying that it's not over, an important lesson should be learned. We can win, but we shouldn't expect corporations to always be on our side. We have to organize ourselves. We can't wait on Google and Wikipedia and Facebook to do it for us. We may not have control over the most visited websites, and it might not be as easy for us to mobilize the population as it is for them, but if we want to win other battles important to us we will have to do it nonetheless. If it means getting out of our comfort zones and going door-to-door in our communities and organizing our neighborhoods, or if it means organizing our workplaces (and it does mean just that) then that is what needs to be done.
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