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Let's Cut the Bullshit about SOPA and PIPA Blackouts

Today's the day you all find out I don't actually know anything.

Hey guys, it’s time for some real talk.  Don’t worry, the dong jokes are still there in today’s episode of Podcast! The Comics and they’ll return in full force tomorrow, but it’s time to be a little serious for a second.  This is about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) and the online blackouts present today, which if you don’t follow the news you still probably found out about anyway when you went to Wikipedia to look up Community episodes.

Comics! The Blog is against the two bills, which we confirmed to some site aggregating the comics-related positions when asked that I can’t remember right now.  We think the bills are stupid and would be harmful, and we were glad to see that SOPA has been shelved indefinitely, though PIPA will come before the US Senate for a vote in the coming weeks.  A few links, to give some information on the bills:

Various sites talk about easy ways to black out your own website today or insert a banner/”twibbon” onto your Twitter avatar in protest.  I think it’s a pretty great thing that so many people are aware of the issue and concerned about it, but I think there’s one thing that bears mentioning:

Blackouts and twibbons mean jack shit if you don’t actually do something.

In essence, all that any of the blackouts do is replace their content with a note of protest and urge readers to contact their congressperson to register their opposition to SOPA and PIPA.  A lot of people use sites like Reddit and Wikipedia, and if the readers actually take action, this could result in a significant amount of attention from Congress.  However, if nobody contacts their representatives – or not many do, as is far more realistic – all it will have been is self-congratulatory back-patting and noise.  Worse, it will be the most easily ignored kind of noise: people being upset on the internet.

If any of the five hundred thirty five voting congresspeople actually give a shit about Reddit, I will be surprised.  If more than a handful do, I will be genuinely shocked.  Hell, the whole reason the bills exist in the first place is because Congress doesn’t have a very good understanding of how the internet works.  This is a bicameral body with a combined mean age of 57.  Have you heard that whole “The internet is a series of tubes” thing that still pops up now and again?  That was a real thing that a sitting US Senator said which reflected his legitimate beliefs about what the internet is.  Scratch that, he wasn’t just a US Senator, he was the longest-sitting Republican Senator in history, 40 years in total, who was at that point the second-highest ranking Senator only second to the Vice Goddamn President.  This wasn’t some crazy nutjob at the fringes, it was a major official.  Do you really think it has changed that much in the three years since he left office?  If it had, I doubt SOPA and PIPA would have ever existed.

Internet noise is only meaningful in its capacity to create genuine action.  People have talked about the role of social media in the Arab Spring or the Occupy movement, but it was only important because it was a communication/broadcast method for real, physical actions.  In comparison to that, a twibbon is completely and utterly meaningless.  It marks nothing significant and means even less.  It has no real-world correlate except perhaps smartphone ownership.  A tweet about SOPA doesn’t mean anything, especially to a congressman.  Now here’s where I get unpopular, folks:

Good.

I love the internet.  It is a wonderful, powerful creation that has allowed so much of my life to be possible and has helped me generate many valuable friendships from all across the globe.  It has democratized information, discourse and dissent like nothing since perhaps the printing press.  However, it has made some thing too easy.  The internet is not always a friendly place and a big part of that is the ease of use.  You can say things to or about someone without having to consider any kind of consequence.  Call me crazy, but I think that something as important as a law should be beholden to something that’s not as easy as calling somebody a junkslut or entering to win a free iPad.  It should mean something the way a tweet or a blacked out WordPress blog doesn’t and can’t.  Your online presence isn’t Wikipedia to a congressperson.  It’s not even Reddit, which at least has the dignity of being a lot of things they haven’t heard of that don’t matter together.

If all you do today is tweet about the blackouts or change your avatar or not use Wikipedia because you can’t, you haven’t done anything.  Anything you think you’ve done is only valuable so long as somebody important doesn’t close a browser tab they probably didn’t have open anyway.  Internet noise is in itself meaningless.  Don’t be meaningless.

If SOPA and PIPA represent something you care about, do something.

Of course, if you’re not American, you shouldn’t contact any of these people because there isn’t a congressman around who is obligated to do any more than have his or her assistant delete that email and go back to their morning coffee.  At least if you’re American, your congressperson is obligated to pretend they care what you think.  If you’re not, however, there’s still something you can do:

If you have an opinion, don’t just tweet it.  Don’t just blog it.  The US Congress doesn’t care about what you have to say until you tell it to them directly.

2 Comments

  1. Actually, they may not even be obligated to delete it, depending on records retention policies. In short, they may do exactly nothing with it besides ignore it and go on about their day.

    But don’t be upset or offended – a lot of them do that with their constituents too.

  2. But the internet IS a series of tubes!

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