The new media masters of the internet flexed their political muscle yesterday; galvanizing opposition to pending legislation (House version SOPA, Senate version PIPA) viewed as threatening to freedom of expression.
Google’s ploy of putting black tape over their logo was dramatic enough to garner 4.5 million signatures on their anti-SOPA petition. Another 1.458 million people signed a similar petition at the activist website Avaaz.org, and Fight for the Future said that its sites generated 350,000 emails to representatives in the House and Senate. A graphic put out by Google shows that 3 million Americans had already signed various petitions against the pending legislation even before the protests started.
The OB Rag’s ‘Uppity Women, Freaks and Politicos’ joined with twenty five thousand WordPress blogs by blocking content and urging our readers to write their Congresscritters. Our stat counter tells us that about three thousand people stopped by to see if we were serious about taking the day off.
So it was a big deal. Eighteen U.S. Senators, including seven that were formerly co-sponsors of the bill, rushed out public statements saying that they could no longer support it. Websites for both the Senate and the House crashed under the strain of the email onslaught.
To understand just how powerful the interests allied in favor of these bills are (and what a big deal this really was), head on over to MotherJones for a most insightful analysis. Moneyquote:
Only two American industries have ever had the clout in Washington to force Congress to ban Wall Street from trading futures on their products. The first was onions—futures trading in no one’s favorite root vegetable was banned in the 1950s after farmers protested that Chicago speculators were manipulating prices. The other ban is more recent: In 2010, at the urging of the Motion Picture Association of America, one of Capitol Hill’s most powerful lobbies, Congress banned movie futures as part of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform bill.
The big studios took on Wall Street—which isn’t known for losing lobbying fights—and won. So this month, when all the big entertainment companies joined forces with Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and the US Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s foremost big business lobby, to fight for sweeping anti-piracy legislation, it was almost a foregone conclusion that they would get what they wanted.
Instead, Big Hollywood lost.
The New York Times quoted Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu:
“This is the first real test of the political strength of the Web, and regardless of how things go, they are no longer a pushover,” said Professor Wu, who is the author of “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.” He added, “The Web taking a stand against one of the most powerful lobbyers and seeming to get somewhere is definitely a first.”
Meanwhile, the mavens of the old media went into full apoplexy mode. The Wall Street Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (into dead tree journalism, television, films and cell phone hacking), called Wednesday’s on-line activism a “cyber-tantrum” and –gasp—warned readers that “The offline analogue is Occupy Wall Street.”
The Motion Picture Association of America trotted out former Democratic Senator turned lobbyist Chris Dodd who huffed and puffed and called the protests “an abuse of power”, going on to say:
“A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals.”
Dodd, whose hometown paper once characterized him as a “lying weasel”, is perhaps best remembered for facilitating bonuses for AIG executives even as the federal government was bailing out that failing company.
In New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas and Washington DC the online activism generated street protests. The group New York Tech Meetup protested against SOPA and PIPA outside of the offices of New York Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats.
Meanwhile, Over at Twitter…
High school kids (and a bunch of teachers!) around the country freaked out upon finding that Wikipedia wasn’t happening. Gawker has compiled a very amusing (and sad) bunch of reactions on Twitter—my favorite:
How am I supposed to do homework tomorrow without wikipedia? Seriously how about Washington gets rid of SOPA, and President Obama of course
Blogger and media critic Andy Daglas gets my nod for this most clever read on Twitter:
The Wikipedia blackout presents a horrifying picture of a world with no knowledge. So does the Fox News website, which is running normally.