I’ve been hesitating to write about SOPA for a few reasons, but mainly for the fact that there are a number of far more knowledgeable individuals writing about the topic. I knew I had something though when web users started targeting companies that support the SOPA bill. The most recent wave of companies to renounce their SOPA ties include Sony, Nintendo, and Electronic Arts. The movement didn’t start there, though. It started on Reddit as a force against GoDaddy, the popular domain name registrar. The social content site didn’t stop there, though. They’re also going after legislators who favor the bill, like Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan.
We’ve seen focused activism from the internet before, but never quite on this scale. In just a couple of days GoDaddy lost more than 40,000 domains and, although hard statistics are tough to nail down, something to the tune of $500,000. That’s not exactly small money. Then again, roughly the same number of people registered new domains in the same time frame, so it’s difficult to say just how much of an effect the movement will have on the domain registrar.
It is having an impact on the SOPA bill and the bill’s supporters, though, as evidenced by the aforementioned media companies’ stance change and the impact on Paul Ryan’s campaign. That’s not to say web activism is without its flaws. In another recent news story, Redditors rallied against Ocean Marketing’s Paul Christoforo, who horribly mismanaged one customer relationship over email. Unfortuntely the company that hired Christoforo for marketing was caught in the crossfire and took a lot of negative press on Amazon and other review sites.
I find this type of mistargeted web activism just as disconcerting as I find the SOPA activism heartening. SOPA is a terrible idea, supported for the most part by people who don’t understand the way the internet works today. But so much of the experience on sites like Reddit revolves around feeling like a part of the collective “we” that people often get caught up in the movement without considering where the gun is being pointed.
I do, however, find it difficult to hold activist groups to such a high standard without doing the same with the politicians crafting this legislation. Lamar Smith, who wrote the SOPA bill, said the following about Reddit:
“It’s a vocal minority. Because they’re strident doesn’t mean they’re either legitimate or large in number. One, they need to read the language. Show me the language. There’s nothing they can point to that does what they say it does do. I think their fears are unfounded.” A simple look at the GoDaddy numbers could show anyone just how legitimate a force sites like Reddit can be, to say nothing of the fact that Smith clearly doesn’t understand how vague language in a bill like SOPA can affect its interpretation down the road.