While the internet is indeed a place full of an infinite number of diverse and opposed opinions, it has come to represent a space in the world free of standards for political prerogative. In acting as a housing place for so many agendas the internet itself has generally been held as a bastion of the ideals of a free society. Free web stalwarts – such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, WordPress, Tumblr, Blogspot, and countless others – those generally having come into existence in the last ten years, have been so successful partly because they are indiscriminate.
They, however, are not free from discrimination themselves, as demonstrated by two pieces of legislation that have garnered huge amounts of attention and almost as huge amounts of protest in the past months. The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act – SOPA and PIPA respectively – are aimed at diminishing the rights of internet companies to display content freely and installing punishments for non-compliance with the law. This, in and of itself, is not disagreeable; the bills are aimed reducing copyright infringement and piracy, acts that harm the intellectual properties and economic well-beings of corporations and individuals. But the bills are widely seen to take cumbersome and inefficient paths to addressing the problem, paths that threaten the open nature of the internet.
By this time, most internet users likely know this. They know this because the problem has been combated by the internet giants themselves. In the past weeks there have been numerous attempts at bringing attention to this fight, and these attempts have culminated today into a widespread day of planned online protest. Anyone who has been to Google or Wikipedia – the two sites most prominent in the fight – have seen the messages. Google has censored it’s famous logo, while Wikipedia has censored it’s entire site, not allowing any users to access any information. On Facebook, a message posted by Founder Mark Zuckerburg just an hour ago has already received over a quarter of a million likes, and likely millions more views. On Tumblr, users have been given the option to censor their own blogs for the day as an act of solidarity and awareness. On WordPress, where I’m now writing this, articles are being shown censored on the homepage that all users see when they first access the site. Of course, nearly all news outlets are covering this story. Already congressmen have backed off from their commitment to these bills, as a testament to the political power of these organizations. A political message is today being broadcast in a way likely more effective than any ever before it.
These services have mass appeal in that they have something to provide to anyone with a voice, regardless of what that voice is saying. While this commonly culminates in the worry that a flood of babble and static will standardize society in a negative way, what is more readily observed is that people are capable of using and developing their unique voices unlike ever before within a spectrum of voices far vaster than any before. The job, then, of those that house this spectrum is to guard it while staying reasonably silent to any one voice within it.
In one sense this is what we are witnessing today: the protection of an open market of expression. It is being protected, however, through the exercising of a voice by those meant to be silent. A unitary political agenda is being broadcast by those meant to protect all political agendas. It’s a strange situation that the internet has fallen into, one with no clear right answer, especially when you throw into the mix the end goal of SOPA and PIPA, the protection of legitimacy in this system.
It is likely that neither SOPA nor PIPA will make it into law, in large part because of what has happened today. Even the current detached Congress will likely receive the message. While this will be an important win for internet freedom, it will not be the takeaway point of this battle. The widespread broadcast of the political agenda we have witnessed is unprecedented and creates two very mixed emotions. On one hand, the power of the internet to protect what is right must be properly appreciated. Conversely, however, it must be watched. A shift from neutrality towards the bearing of a charged message does not work in just one direction. Those strongly in favor of SOPA and PIPA must find themselves entirely horrified at today’s events. Where most see a championed message, they see an immense and systematic attack at a legitimate belief. This type of attack is not limited and any standpoint can conceivably find itself the target. The fears associated with the amount of holding these anonymous faces have in all of our lives should be working at full steam today.
- SOPA and PIPA Blackouts (biodork.wordpress.com)
- Wikipedia Gets Political….Will Black Itself Out In Protest of SOPA (subzinfo.wordpress.com)