In the past few years, as the Arab spring sparked uprisings throughout the Middle East, we’ve seen how the Internet and social media, as tools for organizing, can impact politics. This year, Congress got a taste of the power of the web.
The grassroots activism that rose up against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act killed both proposals, even when, just weeks before, strong support in the House and Senate judiciary committees made passage of the two bills look like a sure thing. Millions of people signed online protests and tens of thousands of websites went dark.
Wikipedia turned out the lights. Google blacked out its logo. For the first time, an internet reaction changed the way Washington does business. This is a spin-off of Occupy Wall Street — Occupy the Internet. The people have had enough.
Don’t get us wrong. Online piracy is a problem. Movie and music companies say violations to copyright holders cost billions of dollars in lost profits. There should be stronger enforcement tools. But SOPA and PIPA are like fighting ants with nuclear weapons. Giving the federal government the power to shut down websites is a slippery slope, a quick tumble to infringements of First Amendment rights. As presented, the bills gave the Department of Justice power to require service providers to shut down foreign websites accused of copyright infringement, and gave site publishers no chance for response to the accusations.
This is a win over the special interests that have spent years pumping money into legislators’ campaign financing for support of these bills. Maybe a new generation’s “clicktivism,” from the comfort of their sofas, can spark social change after all.