The First Amendment Power of Online Protest: The SOPA and PIPA Example

January 24, 2012 | | Comments Off on The First Amendment Power of Online Protest: The SOPA and PIPA Example

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by Tony Guo

The battle over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) was determined by an unlikely source, online users. Although it is hard to quantify the impact the online protest had, it is certain that without it far fewer people would know what SOPA and PIPA is about.  Goggle, Wikipedia, Craigslist, and numerous online websites made SOPA and PIPA part of the news and part of the discussion.

As citizens voiced their displeasure about the laws, lawmakers quickly abandoned the two bills.  The vote on PIPA was delayed in the Senate while Lamar Smith the lead SOPA sponsor killed SOPA in the House.

Internet users stopped raiding and pillaging on World of Warcraft, raising animals on Farmville, and logged out of facebook to impact the congressional process.  And they were successful.  They made their opinions known by signing petitions, writing to their senators and representatives, and most importantly discussing the issue with friends and family.  The idea of citizen participation in the legislative process was revived over-night as many took to Twitter, Youtube, and blog websites to discuss privacy and piracy issues.

The response from the web was a surprise to both sides.  Online protests are sure to gain in popularity.  Why protest in the cold of winter a la Occupy Wall Street when you can protest from the comforts of your home?

The supporters for the bills chose the true and tested of forcing a committee vote (there was not one public hearing dedicated to SOPA).  The protestors against the bills turned to the web.  When it became apparent to the supports that the battle would be determined by the people, the response was too little and too late.

SOPA and PIPA are not bad ideas. Piracy is a huge problem and is stealing.  However supporters were unable to offer rebuttals to the points the protestors were making.  A well planned counter explaining why the bills are necessary may have mitigated the online storm.  The future of the protest is online.


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