With the old guard of the powerful recording industry and motion picture industry working hard with Congress to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and Protect I.P. Act (PIPA) in the Senate.
New media giants answered back wielding a powerful sward — the support of the people. Facebook, Google, Amazon and many more have been communicating directly with Congress on ways to improve the proposed legislation without impeding progress in technology and communications whilst rallying worldwide awareness through their massively popular sites.
And one by one, emails and phone calls poured into Congress opposing the bills from all across America. Petitions were signed in mass and brought forward. The internet giants were quickly impacting politics in a fashion never seen before.
How did they do this? January 18, 2012, the internet went black. Well, not exactly. Several internet sites went dark in protest to SOPA and PIPA. This marks the first time in history that major internet sites used their substantial power to communicate a single message to the people and to the government. It worked.
Wikipedia and Reddit were among the most dramatic internet sites to “go dark” in protest. Neither of these sites were accessible when you went to their sites on this fateful day. Wikipedia did have a few different ways you could get around its blackout and still use the site if you insisted, such as via mobile phone and tablet apps.
Other internet big shots used their power to communicate with a mass audience in different ways. Google put a black banner over its famous Google logo that leads to an online petition against the proposed bills, which it encouraged its users to sign. Facebook took on a life of its own in the social fashion that is all Facebook—its users spread the message on a viral scale while Mark Zuckerberg distributed a post, describing his position and activity on the bills:
“The internet is the most powerful tool we have for creating a more open and connected world. We can’t let poorly thought out laws get in the way of the internet’s development. Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA, and we will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the internet.”
“The world today needs political leaders who are pro-internet. We have been working with many of these folks for months on better alternatives to these current proposals. I encourage you to learn more about these issues and tell your congressmen that you want them to be pro-internet.”
“You can read more about our views here: https://www.facebook.com/FacebookDC?”
On the local front, Tampa Bay Times journalist Eric Deggans reported, “The Downtown St. Pete/I Love the Burg website has also joined in the ‘blackout’” and the political site run by Jim Johnson, The State of Sunshine, was among the many sites “blacked out” on Wednesday.
While protests are notorious for making a lot of noise at worst and raising awareness at best, this one had teeth.
First, on Wednesday, a post appeared on Facebook from Senator Marco Rubio, stating, “I have decided to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act. Furthermore, I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor. Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet.”
This is most significant as Senator Rubio was a co-sponsor of the Protect IP Act. The reason Rubio gave to sponsoring this bill has everything to do with wanting to prevent internet piracy, “I believe it’s important to protect American ingenuity, ideas and jobs from being stolen through Internet piracy, much of it occurring overseas through rogue websites in China. As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs.” You may read Senator Rubio’s full statement here.
Following Rubio, Senator John Cornyn of Texas used Facebook to propose slowing down the bill. Senator Roy Blunt who also co-sponsored the bill withdrew support. Senator Jim DeMint used Twitter to announce that he now opposes the bill. Suddenly, many others joined in for a resounding change in sentiment opposing the bill to include Senator Jeff Merkley responding to the many phone calls and tweets he’s received, and even Senator Charles E. Grassley withdrew support from the bill he co-authored. In the end, a few dozen members of Congress changed their minds and withdrew support of the bills.
While the premise of preventing piracy is a legitimate concern to protect the intellectual property rights of creators and those who lay claim to the ownership of such things, most agree, upon hearing a resounding cry from across the land, that the legislation proposed needs significant changes. These changes include language that ensures progress in technology continues and people can continue to use this platform in innovative ways.
What might possibly be even more significant than all of this change of hearts and minds is that the people have learned, first hand, that they have not lost total control over their government. Perhaps with support of new media and the platforms they provide, change, meaningful change, is possible.
— Daphne Taylor, SaintPetersBlog correspondent.