This is something I penned prior to reading this, whilst on holiday. It
will probably be published somewhere eventually when complete, but seems
directly relevant to this.. so have a draft. It may be lacking in places as
a current work in progress.
So we had a revolt on the internet; some large websites protested actual
real life laws which ostensibly led them to be canned. At least, that is
the story the media (and the activists) are telling you. Right now on sites
such as Reddit this is being lauded as a great success, even those
cautioning that it is not the last we will see of SOPA's proponents (a good
position to take) are talking positively. The media loves the story and
apparently big government has been put in their place. At this point any
good sceptic likely smells a rat, and they are right to do so.
Politics is a game, a game that politicians are bred to play. I know this
because, having spent several years helping fight stupid law making, I've
seen all the tricks. And, boy, have we been played.
Don't get me wrong; I have enourmous respect for Reddit, its community and
their ideals. It is very compelling that such a diverse group of people can
come together on the internet and do good things, rather than just endless
trolling and rick rolls. And I don't really mean SOPA, I mean the other
stories you hear like "I am poor and need help buying medication for my
sick aunt" and Reddit figures out if it is true or not, then raises
$100,000 in a few days.
Ok, so it's an exercise in groupthink. But who cares (and that is not
sarcasm), the sick aunt gets the money.
And then we have Wikipedia; one of the largest examples of narcissism and
groupthink on the internet (I'm allowed, as an established editor, to say
that because I am part of the problem - do you edit selflessly?). Right now
there is much patting of backs on the effectiveness of the
protest/blackout. This may not be a popular view, but it is pure navel
SOPA is not the first example of internet lobbying/activism going wrong.
Wikileaks, for example, was well positioned to whistleblow goverments and
corporations. For a brief time they were the darlings of front line
media.Then we saw messy internal politics, a guy unable to control his ego
and some badly managed security issues. Some theorists reckon there was a
conspiracy by the US government to kill of Wikileaks as a threat. I don't
doubt they are write; in fact it's pretty much public knowledge that the
government wanted them gone - but there was no need to send in the
operatives when you have an arsenal of media friendly weapons. And the
press dropped Wikileaks faster than... well, you get the picture.
Then we have anonymous - a radical grass roots movement that, even though
it did naughty things, was OK because it fed our narcissism (or perhaps
media narcissism, it's hard to separate). When they posted messages against
Scientology and hacked Tom Cruise's email it was fine because
Scientology is disturbing and dangerous anyway (the media are allowed to
attack such establishments, even about powerful ones, if we socially agree
- because if you sue, well, the Judge and jury are part of society too).
Even when it expanded that was OK, because people doing
not-socially-acceptable acts (like hounding some kid in America till she
has to go into hiding) can be disclaimed from a movement with "no
organisation". Yet, now we have an "unofficial" spokesman for anonymous.
Trust me when I say that guy isn't in it for the idealism; he is, of
course, a narcissist out for attention. And the media love him, of course
they do, because he is the overweight, slightly dorky Everyman that
represents the exact image of the internet the want to feed us. And he has
"secret informations", the public lap that one up. It's the closest to
seeing a real life spy that most of us will get.
But where coverage started out positive, vigilante justice by "people like
you", we now have an entirely different picture. Now the story is about a
slightly disturbing unknown movement acting as the modern anarchists,
hitting bad corporations because they can. The facts are much the same as
before, but we get the scary spin now because the public lost interest in
the other version.
And most recently we have the Occupy movement - a group that are closely
tied to the internet and have made almost all of the same mistakes as those
that came before (namely; lack of focus, pride in "no leadership", etc.).
And, so, now the media focus is no longer on "what to do about the screwy
financial system" but on protesters being gassed and all of the legal
efforts to kick them out of parks. For the 99% that is a much juicer story,
after all it doesn't affect them like that finance stuff did. News at 10;
people much prefer stories of police abuse than hearing about how damaged
their own finances are.
The protest has finally gotten a focus; they are protesting about their
right to protest. I hope the irony is not lost on them.
So, back to SOPA. It has been framed as a Hollywood vs. The Internet by
some. That framing has been rejected in favour of "the peoples revolt" by
others. And it was roundly considered a win. Sadly, that's not the case.
Law making, as I said, is a game. I worry that people are standing around
saying "lots of people called their politicians, and that got them to
change their stance". It didn't, of course, but lets imagine it did. Think
about why their stance changed. Was it because they suddenly were exposed
to the arguments against SOPA? Or was it because they finally saw how much
opposition it had in the public realm?
Trick question, it's probably neither. What happened is that they saw a
media shitstorm approaching and neatly sidestepped it. The bill was
politically dead anyway, switching to opposition on Jan 18 was a fairly
obvious idea. I guarantee every one of those politicos at some dinner
somewhere will cite it as an example of them listening to the people.
The worrying thing is we are talking about the millions of people who
contacted their politicians to protest, somewhere I read it was about 10
million, and this is called a big number. Some 3% of the population of the
US. I was talking to one of my friends, who volunteers to answer phones for
a US senator, about this and he laughed "10 million is nothing. Do you know
how many people called about Prop 8?"
We are lying to ourselves anyway, because this is not about the people. It
is about media pressure - that is how you attack Washington. Ask a man on
the street, who is sure to have seen a news report about it somewhere, and
ask them about SOPA. Guaranteed they won't have a clue what it is, but they
will probably know Wikipedia protested about it. See the issue; for a
protest that was intended to raise public awareness of the issues it didn't
really do that...
So, no, people calling in didn't end this. What ended this, apart from the
media, was a simple political manoeuvre called "bait and switch".
Proponents, being savvy politicians, certainly knew that it would be a
controversial piece of legislation. Indeed I am sure they knew it would be
dead at some point - that's why when you initially see bills such as this
they are so outrageous.
Here's how it works. They make it as outrageous as possible, push all the
buttons to see who pushes back. Then they water it down and let the bill
deflate and die, they hand you the battle field. And, finally, select parts
(the bits they wanted all along) are pushed through later whilst you are
looking the other way. It's no accident that this is election year.
It's weird that we see this happen over and over and, yet, plunge on
regardless. Do we like being manipulated?
But here is the crux of the problem; the SOPA protest, as with many
previous protests, is being lauded as a disorganised collective. The people
speaking up of their own volition. It certainly was that - but I don't see
why anyone should laud the idea. The problem is not the disorganisation,
that's a good thing because it is disruptive. The problem is that the
collective consistently fails to understand how to play the game. Anonymous
failed the PR game, Wikileaks couldn't understand that "putting US
servicemen at risk" is a silver bullet for big-government and
Occupy-Everything got bullied into accepting a storyline not of their own
The SOPA protest tried to play the game of politicians and, to me, appears
to have been left reeling. Perhaps long term it will work out, but I am
highly skeptical given the past precedents.
We were baited into firing our guns early. Wikipedia blacking out is a huge
move that reaches millions of people, but there is only so many times you
can do it before the disgruntlement outweighs opposition - and when the
public is moaning that is what the media will pick up on. So when SOPA-like
legislation rears its head again (and it will) what will you do? What's the
next step, the next threat?
And believe me, it doesn't take much for the story to switch - and when it
does that video of Wikimedia foundation staff cheering as the shut down
goes into effect will come back to bite. As everyone likes to point out;
once it is on the internet it won't go away!
As with any threat, once you use it the usefulness diminishes rapidly. The
game, which we've misunderstood, is to get the other side to play their
card. Darrell Issa, who lead political opposition, understands this because
he understands the game. Look carefully at what he did once SOPA was dead
and waiting to be buried on Jan 15; sure he told us about the postponement.
But you notice he also cancelled the hearings and actions he was taking
within congress, he rested his guns.
Sadly we didn't take the cue. We pulled the trigger, which is what they
were hoping for. Any regular observer or politics will notice the grace
with which this was pulled off; by the time SOPA hit mainstream media it
was dead and politicians were ready with their lines about how they were
already listening to the public voice.
And the media response has made us feel like we have a voice, that they
have to listen to us now. Sadly, history shows us it doesn't work like that.
I have good proof of this; which is that the the media story wasn't really
about how bad SOPA was. It was about the fact that Wikipedia was blacking
out in protest. See the difference? SOPA isn't good news because it means
the media has to take a stance and sell it to the public - that's divisive.
But an internet protest is a good story - and if they can spin that out
again, even as an attack on the activists, they will do. The politicians
forced this switch of focus.
Right now there are reporters hunting for stories like "my son died because
I couldn't read Wikipedia and see that his symptoms meant he had hours left
to live". I'm only partly joking - this really is how the media works. As
my creative writing tutor impressed on me once; "Wikipedia protests law" is
a happening, "Wikipedia protest kills babies" is a story.
At least Reddit has taken the next step - they have a new and unusual
threat, which is to actively try and displace senators who supported the
bill. It probably won't work this time, but it's a threat that could well
work in the future (the power of that community is astounding, and still
growing fast) and so, now, the politicos have to seriously consider that
even pulling back at the last minute might not save them.
I hate to give criticism without contributing advice on how to improve. I
think the key here is to simply be persistent. This got stopped because the
media ran the story making it a lot less good to be involved with SOPA. We
have lost our key weapon, holding the internet hostage. This is the win or
lose moment when, on the back foot, you fire whatever else you have left
until the idea is so poisonous no one will dare touch it.
The moral of this story is as follows: understand the game you are playing,
then disrupt it. Learn from this.
1. I have no idea if they did this exactly, but you get the idea.
2. Well, it's been tried before many many times - but not quite on this
scale and with such funding.
Yes we are the "creators" and "innovators". We do indeed make the
But we aren't the media industry (at least in the sense of communicating
with the mass public) and we don't *tell *the story. That is what the media
does. To believe we told this story is dangerous.
(I realise the dissenting view is a minority around here, but there you go)
On 9 February 2012 22:04, Jay Walsh <jwalsh(a)wikimedia.org> wrote:
(Sharing this oped published in the Washington Post
today. Will be printed
in tomorrow's paper)
We are the media, and so are you
By Jimmy Wales and Kat Walsh, Thursday, February 9, 4:15 PM
It’s easy to frame the fight over SOPA and PIPA as Hollywood vs. Silicon
Valley —two huge industries clashing over whose voice should dictate the
future of Internet policy —but it’s absolutely wrong. The bills are
dead,thanks to widespread protest. But the real architects of the bills’
defeat don’t have a catchy label or a recognized lobbying group. They don’t
have the glamour or the deep pockets of the studios. Yet they are the
largest, most powerful and most important voice in the debate —and, until
recently, they’ve been all but invisible to Congress.
They are you. And if not you personally, then your neighbors, your
colleagues, your friends and even your children. The millions of people who
called and wrote their congressional representatives in protest of the Stop
Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act were
“organized” only around the desire to protect the Web sites that have
become central to their daily lives.
Change like this needed a fresh set of voices. The established tech giants
may have newfound political influence, but their fights are still the same
closed-door tussles over minor details. They have been at the table, and
they have too much invested in the process to change it. More important,
they are constrained by obligations to their shareholders and investors, as
well as by the need to maintain relationships with their advertisers,
partners and customers.
Wikipedia,its users and its contributors don’t have the same constraints.
We don’t rely on advertising dollars or content partnerships. The billions
of words and millions of images in our projects come from the same place as
our financial support: the voluntary contribution of millions of
individuals. The result is free knowledge, available for anyone to read and
Wikipedia is not opposed to the rights of creators —we have the largest
collection of creators in human history. The effort that went into building
Wikipedia could have created shelves full of albums or near-endless nights
of movies. Instead it’s providing unrestricted access to the world’s
knowledge. Protecting our rights as creators means ensuring that we can
build our encyclopedias, photographs, videos, Web sites, charities and
businesses without the fear that they all will be taken away from us
without due process. It means protecting our ability to speak freely,
without being vulnerable to poorly drafted laws that leave our fate to a
law enforcement body that has no oversight and no appeal process. It means
protecting the legal infrastructure that allowed our sharing of knowledge
and creativity to flourish, and protecting our ability to do so on
technical infrastructure that allows for security and privacy for all
We are not interested in becoming full-time advocates; protests like the
Wikipedia blackout are a last resort. Our core mission is to make knowledge
freely available, and making the Web site inaccessible interrupts what we
exist to do. The one-day blackout,though, was just a speed bump. Breaking
the legal infrastructure that makes it possible to operate Wikipedia, and
sites like ours, would be a much greater disruption.
Two weeks ago we recognized a threat to that infrastructure and did
something we’ve never done before: We acknowledged that our existence is
itself political, and we spoke up to protect it. It turned out to be the
largest Internet protest ever.
The full-time advocates of freedom of information, such as the Electronic
Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge, have been fighting for decades to
help create the legal environment that makes our work possible. We cannot
waste that effort by failing to speak in our own defense when that
environment is threatened.
It’s absolutely right that Congress cares about the content industry,
recognizing its ability to innovate, to create wealth and to improve lives.
But existing copyright enforcement laws were written in a world in which
the information we had access to on a broad scale came from a few
established media outlets. The players were easy to identify. They
organized into groups with common interests and fought to protect those
interests. The “content industry” is no longer limited to those few
The laws we need now must recognize the more broadly distributed and
broadly valuable power of free and open knowledge. They must come from an
understanding of that power and a recognition that the voices flooding the
phone lines and in-boxes of Congress on Jan. 18 represented the source of
that power. These laws must not simply be rammed through to appease narrow
lobbies without sufficient review or consideration of the consequences.
Because we are the media industry. We are the creators. We are the
innovators. The whole world benefits from our work. That work, and our
ability to do it, is worth protecting for everyone.
Jay Walsh, Head of Communications
+1 415 839 6885 ext 6609
foundation-l mailing list