I hadn’t planned to write about SOPA at all. It has been covered far and wide and, at first blush, conclusively. But the more I think about the outrage that SOPA has caused over the past three months, the more I think about what other particulars are making people upset besides the ones that get discussed a lot (i.e., censorship, extraordinary lobbying influence). While the obvious reasons are certainly cause for ire, I’d like to take a moment to talk about some other – perhaps less obvious – reasons that that SOPA is enraging so many. Believe me when I say free speech on the internet will be the defining issue in the coming decade. I hope this post can define the debate in terms that as many people as possible can understand and the tide can turn in favor of people fighting for rights on the internet.
1) It is a Bipartisan Issue
In the morning of the Great 18th Blackout I posted a helpful link on my Facebook status explaining SOPA and what it is all about. I don’t often post things to Facebook that are not updates about me and my family because I have so many friends and family who have – to put it lightly – strong political opinions on both sides of the ideological spectrum. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I had anticipated some sort of debate in the comments between my left and right leaning friends. Much to my surprise – and delight – no such debate erupted. In fact, two of my most vocally political friends expressed their displeasure at SOPA. ‘Touched’ is a bit strong, but that’s close to how I felt.
As in my Facebook comments, so it goes in the national debate. The political divides in the US are deep but SOPA-fueled anger crosses those canyons like Evil Knievel on motorcycle. Seeing someone you usually disagree with get up in arms about something that you yourself are angry about creates a beautiful cyclone of hate directed at …
2) Clearly Corrupt Legislators
Lamar Smith (R-TX) who has no constituents in Texas clamoring for added protections to content providers and their lobbyists. This is not to say that there are no other cases in all of congress where corruption and bribery are clearly at play, however, SOPA has the added benefit of being a non-partisan issue and so it doesn’t have any interference of one side or the other attempting to say that the corruption at hand is not a by-product of partisan meddling.
I want to make a distinction too, about the particular type of corruption that is at play here. Many have talked about how Smith and other sponsors of SOPA are guilty of succumbing to bribery by lobbyists and their constituents, but nobody is talking about how cavalier the sponsors are about it. Of course there is the minimal handwaving from Smith and others about SOPA being necessary to save American jobs but considering what is on the line with SOPA this subterfuge is almost lazy. But none of this would matter, in the end, if SOPA were some impenetrable piece of legalese whose consequences are unknowable. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
3) The Consequences of SOPA are Easy to Understand
I can admit that I did not fully comprehend the repercussions of the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act the first time someone explained it to me. And that’s not even a particularly difficult concept to understand, either. When I first heard about SOPA, however, I immediately grokked that this would be putting too much power into the hands of content providers, producers and other third parties. I bring up this point in particular because it is crucial to understanding how the debate will change in the near future. Sponsors of legislation that will limit free speech on the internet will begin to bury the negative effects in more and more obscure places in their bills. In fact, it’s already happening. Everyone can agree that protecting children is important but I doubt many would agree that required data retention by ISPs is the best way to protect said children. As we move forward, it’s important to pay attention to every bill regardless of how innocuous it may seem at first glance.
4) Generation Y Has Something to Get Behind
Being a Gen Y’er (or Millennial, whichever you prefer) I think I can safely say that my generation feels more attached and at home with technology and the Internet at large than any generation that has come before us (certainly not those that have come after us). We remember times before the Internet was easily accessible and dread returning to draconian days of incredibly restricted access to the World Wide Web. Essentially, we remember the days of AOL and can’t help but imagine a neutered Internet at the hands of SOPA sponsors and a government that is looking for pirates behind every URL. While our generation did not invent the Web, we have been there as it has developed into the incredibly powerful tool that it is today. And, frankly, the idea of anyone tampering with it pisses us off. We’ve seen what it was, we’ve seen what it can be and we’ll be damned if we let anyone tamper with it.
Even though the blackouts on the 18th marshaled a lot of support in opposition to SOPA/PIPA, the debate is far from over. Tell me your thoughts below.