Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The SOPA/PIPA Blackout: How Much Does Cyberactivism Really Matter?

In case you haven't noticed, thousands of websites today are voluntarily shutting down as a show of protest against two bills before Congress - the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

As described here before, both bills seek to protect copyrights on the Web by taking draconian measures that would severely curb free speech and enable the federal government to shut down any website even suspected of contributing toward copyright infringement, without a court order or due process. Both are the product of the music and movie industries' heavy lobbying muscle.

Thus today's Internet blackout. But not wanting to just rehash links to explanatory videos or online petitions which are proliferating all over the Web, I'd like to just highlight an observation about cyberactivism more generally. See, bloggers and cyberactivists have been ringing the warning bell over SOPA and PIPA for many months now, basically to no avail. It wasn't until a small handful of large websites like Google and Wikipedia made an effort today to highlight the dangers of the proposed legislation that any real meaningful awareness has been raised among the public. As I've argued many times before, despite what you might hear about the democratization of the Web and how it levels the playing field by empowering the little guy, the truth is that a small number of large and powerful actors are still more significant in affecting political change than are the large numbers of the mass public.

Even online, the grassroots be damned, at least until they get large institutional support.


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