SOPA and PIPA are, for the time being, dead bills; this due in no small part to massive pressure from both individuals and giant Internet conglomerates.
On Jan.18 many websites finally flexed some of their considerable power to help spread the word on SOPA and PIPA by either shutting down completely or by simply changing their format slightly to promote awareness.
Among the Internet powerhouses who participated were reddit.com, wikipedia.com and google.com, causing even casual Internet users to sit up and take notice of what was going on.
“I’m really glad they did it. Otherwise I think a lot of people would have had no idea what was going on,” said South Puget Sound Community College student Cait Auer.
While a few ran to Twitter to manufacture complex conspiracy theories involving Obama censoring the Internet, many more took the time to actually listen to what these sites had to say and complain to their representatives.
SPSCC student Sam Rowell admitted having no idea such a bill was so close to passing, “but as soon as I heard I wrote emails to both [Sens.] Cantwell and Murray. I’m glad they had an effect. It’s good to see our voices still matter to these people.”
In an article for the LA Times, Deborah Netburn reported that Google alone managed to get 4.5 million signatures added to a petition to stop SOPA and PIPA in a single day.
This increased awareness and pressure finally forced most Congress members supporting the bills to drop their support, including Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the man who sponsored SOPA in the first place.
Looking back on the entire SOPA/PIPA debacle, there are some valuable lessons to be learned. Lessons about the nature of our current political system and about the continued ability voters have to affect a change in politics. In this case, youth voters, a group which in the past has been largely marginalized.
First, the bad: what is perhaps even more disheartening than the content of these bills themselves is how the entire legislative process of crafting them was handled. The willful ignorance on display in regards to these bills has been purely mind-boggling.
North Carolina Rep. Mel Watt said, “I’m not a nerd” and “not the person to argue about the technology part of this.” Watt states this moments before dismissing expert testimony that SOPA would weaken the very foundation of the Internet.
This was a running theme throughout the proceedings. Many supporters of the bill admitting that they had no idea what the bill would actually do, but still supporting it. This goes against the entire point of representative democracy.
Our Congress members, once elected, are specifically tasked with attempting to stay informed as to what the contents and implications of a bill are, so that the general public doesn’t have to. That’s the entire reason our democracy is representative.
Remaining willfully ignorant of the contents of this bill is unacceptable. Especially when organizations from all over the political spectrum that have studied the bill (The ACLU, The Heritage Foundation, The Cato Institute, The Department of Homeland Security) all universally agreed it would severely weaken the very structural integrity of the Internet. Asking that our representatives understand what they’re signing into law shouldn’t be such a monumental request.
But that’s where the good news comes in. It is a request that can be made, and if enough people make it, those in power will listen. This is what we learned when both SOPA and PIPA lost all traction and were killed in committee. Individual voices, when rallied together, can be enough to stop the passage of bills. These voices are coming from a primarily youth demographic, no less.
No matter how broken the current political system may seem, we the people can still affect change.
In the coming months this is something to be aware of, as even though SOPA and PIPA have been defeated, there are many other bills like them steadily working their way towards becoming law.
The Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the European equivalent of SOPA, is on the fast track to being signed into law. On our own home front, Rep. Lamar Smith is already hard at work on another bill, the Protecting Children from Internet Pornography Act (PCIP).
PCIP would require Internet Service Providers to monitor all Internet traffic from their users, including personal information such as credit card information and social security numbers, and store this information for 18 months. It is right up there along with the Patriot Act as far as misleading names go.
The important thing to remember is that we do have the power to stop these bills. This has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. But we need to stay informed, and just as importantly write letters to our representatives, telling them to do the same.