“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”~Edmund Burke
If you went to A Shroud of Thoughts yesterday, you would have encountered a 503 error accompanied by verbage explaining why the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act bills are dangerous. The 503 error was coded by me at the suggestion of Google (503 error prevents one's rankings on Google from being affected). The blackout template was designed by April Russo of Cranial Soup. The reason that A Shroud of Thoughts went dark was quite simply that it was part of the much larger internet strike protesting both SOPA and PIPA, in which several sites throughout the Web went dark. I don't want to talk here about why SOPA and PIPA are bad here (you can read all about both bills at Fight For the Future). What I would like to discuss is the fact that what happened yesterday was, quite simply, unprecedented.
Indeed, according to Fight for the Future some 50,000 websites blacked out all or some of their sites. The most publicised was perhaps Wikipedia, where the only entries one could look up without encountering the blackout page were "SOPA," "PIPA," and "Censorship." Google blacked out their famous doodle. Clicking on the big black space that covered the doodle took one to an online petition against both bills. Both Wired and The Huffington Post redacted large parts of their site. Matthew Inman, creator of the popular webcomic The Oatmeal, replaced his strips with a long animated GIF explaining SOPA and its dangers with his characteristic humour. For Wordpress bloggers there was a blackout plugin available, although the popular blogging service itself participated in the blackout by redacting the blogs hosted there. Even members of Congress blacked out their web sites in solidarity with the protests against SOPA and PIPA: Representative Anna Eshoo and Representative Zoe Lofgren. Fight for the Future estimates a total of 116,000 websites participated in the protest in some way, shape or form.
Indeed, according to Fight for the Future, 3 million people emailed congress and another 10 million people signed petitions. Fight for the Future estimated that 2.2. million tweets on Twitter mentioned SOPA yesterday. In fact, at times yesterday Congressional websites were receiving so much traffic from anti-SOPA/anti-PIPA protesters that they crashed. The offices of Congressmen and Senators were inundated with calls and emails from people protesting the two bills.
What is more is the online protests seem to have had some effect. The number of Senators supporting PIPA dropped from 40 to 20. Six of the Senators who had co-sponsored the bill withdrew their names from it. In the House of Representative, three Congressmen who had supported the bill backed away from it. Given the fact that this happened on the same day as the blackout to protest the two bills, it would seem that the blackout had its intended effect. In fact, on his Facebook page Senator John Boozman of Arkansas said that he had changed his position on PIPA because of the protest. Sadly, many Senators still support PIPA and many Congressmen support SOPA (for those of you who might want to contact them and convince them to straighten up their act, here's a complete list).
Three things strike me with regards to yesterday's protest against SOPA and PIPA. The first is how large the protest actually was. As shown above, individuals who took action in some form against the two bills was estimated to be in the millions. In the seventeen years I've been online I don't think I have ever seen that many people gathered together on the internet for one cause. The second is that this was a protest as never has been before. Websites either went dark or redacted much of their text. It was as Fight for the Future describes it, an internet strike. What is more, it was not simply the big name websites that went dark, but small websites like The Oatmeal and many blogs (like this one). Quite simply, the technoscenti and those of us who regularly use the web stood up together and told Congress, Hollywood, the music industry, and the various other corporate supporters of the bills, "No." The third is that to some extent the internet blackout actually worked. PIPA and SOPA both lost supporters.
Of course, the fight is not over yet. SOPA could still pass. And while President Obama has said that he will veto it, it is possible that it could pass with the two-thirds majority necessary to override his veto. Because of this we must keep up the pressure. Contact your Senator or Representative and let them know how dangerous these two bills are. Whether they are intended as a means of censoring the Web or not, the way that they are written that is certainly the effect they will have.