Thursday, January 19, 2012

De-occupying the web equals general strike?

So many people have written about what went dark on the web and why yesterday, you'd think there'd be nothing left to say. Well I'm going to give it a shot.

First the sound-byte version of the context of yesterday's blackout, taken from Wikipedia, perhaps the most visible and important site that participated in (led, really) the action:
Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge

For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.

Google's TakeAction page posted yesterday -- titled "End Piracy, Not Liberty" -- gives a slightly more contextualized explanation of what it was all about ... this is the page that came up on 18 January (yesterday) if you clicked on the blacked-out Google logo on the search engine's U.S. home page:
Two bills before Congress, known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, would censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American business. Millions of Internet users and entrepreneurs already oppose SOPA and PIPA.

The Senate will begin voting on January 24th. Please let them know how you feel. [...]

Both of these sites gave visitors an easy path to express their opposition to PIPA and SOPA: a petition to sign in Google's case, and a quick link to contact your representatives in the House and Senate in the case of Wikipedia. What fascinated me most about this was the huge range of individuals in my Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ circles who posted in support of the blackout: from the most libertarian Republicans I know (yes, I do know more than a few), to the anarchist lefties.

So that's all great, and you probably heard all about it already. I hope you signed Google's petition or someone else's, and found your way to your Congressperson and Senators' in-box ... if you haven't, it's not too late. Yes, I contacted my legislators, and was interested to see that Senator Diane Feinstein's "E-Mail Me" page was down in the morning, so I had to come back for a second visit last night. Heavy traffic, you might imagine...

But here's a sampling of the 'little stuff' you might not have noticed unless you are one of the web's bazillions of content providers beyond Wikipedia. You know, if you tweet, blog, tumbl, share photos or video, and so on.

Were there other ways for individual content providers to participate in the content blackout organized to protest SOPA and PIPA? Oh yes, indeed. Check out's These Websites Are Going Dark... article of 17 Jan for detail. Did the blackout have any effect? Check out this from the NY Times article In Fight Over Piracy Bills, New Economy Rises Against Old:
When the powerful world of old media mobilized to win passage of an online antipiracy bill, it marshaled the reliable giants of K Street — the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Recording Industry Association of America and, of course, the motion picture lobby, with its new chairman, former Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat and an insider’s insider.

Yet on Wednesday this formidable old guard was forced to make way for the new as Web powerhouses backed by Internet activists rallied opposition to the legislation through Internet blackouts and cascading criticism, sending an unmistakable message to lawmakers grappling with new media issues: Don’t mess with the Internet.

As a result, the legislative battle over two once-obscure bills to combat the piracy of American movies, music, books and writing on the World Wide Web may prove to be a turning point for the way business is done in Washington. It represented a moment when the new economy rose up against the old.

So this all gets me to thinking:

Wikipedia serves community-generated content, and is one of the most visited sites on the intertubes.

Tumblr, Flickr, Wordpress -- ditto, in a much more distributed, everybody-says-their-own-piece kind of a way. And these sites get a lot of eyeballs too, day in and day out.

So what we had yesterday was a political action that was, in some very significant venues, enabled by technology companies that are big and staffed and funded and organized to fight for its own self-interest ............... but that was realized by the individual writers, photographers, and videographers who pulled their contributions for the duration of the action.

That, methinks, looks a lot like a general strike.

Somebody calls a general strike. Unions and other organizations may help to make it easier by providing food, signs, organized pickets, and so forth ... but it's the people who walk off the job who make it happen.

What was proven yesterday was that an online general strike can have real political effect in the highest levels of government. Again, from the same NY Times article quoted above:
First, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising Republican star, took to Facebook, one of the vehicles for promoting opposition, to renounce a bill he had co-sponsored. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who leads the G.O.P.’s Senate campaign efforts, used Facebook to urge his colleagues to slow the bill down. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina and a Tea Party favorite, announced his opposition on Twitter, which was already boiling over with anti-#SOPA and #PIPA fever.

Then trickle turned to flood — adding Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Representatives Lee Terry of Nebraska and Ben Quayle of Arizona. At least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House members announced their opposition.

That's pretty interesting, wouldn't you say? Seems there are a fair few people who are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore.

What next?

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Rescuing freedom from U.S. government predation
The Occupy Movement and UC Berkeley's Free Speech Monument
Bioneers and Occupy Wall Street

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