Historically Speaking: Internet Freedom Day
One year ago today, something incredible happened in the land of the interwebz: regular people, using nothing more than their mouse and keyboard, actually got something done in the real world. Granted, that something was entirely about the internet, but nonetheless, January 18th, 2012 marked the day that the internet struck down SOPA and PIPA.
The bills, labelled as anti-piracy measures, created mass opposition due to the restrictive and potentially censoring nature of the language used. For example, any belief of infringement on copyright material, whether valid or not, would be enough to have a website shut down completely, and without due process of the law. User’s activity and behavior could also be closely monitored.
More than that, SOPA and PIPA were also seen as a way for the entertainment industry to protect a dying model for content distribution by making it harder for third-party sites that host content to start up. Where the entertainment industry should be embracing new avenues for content disbursement, PIPA and SOPA would have forced all legal liability on the sites themselves, meaning that new platforms for entertainment like Spotify and Netflix could never have gotten off the ground had they begun under the restrictions set up by PIPA and SOPA.
Facing the threat of corporations being able to shut down entire websites on little more than a rumor, and the U.S. government receiving online censorship powers akin to those seen in China, internet activists quickly took notice. A litany of petitions were signed and appeals to lawmakers were sent out en masse. But in a final act of solidarity against the legislation, over 100,000 websites, including Wikipedia, Craigslist, Reddit, eBay, Twitter, and YouTube, all of which operated on the free-flow of information that net neutrality provides and would have been at risk of receiving shutdown notices under SOPA and PIPA, then took the movement a step forwarded and responded with a day-long blackout of their services in protest on January 18th.
The result was stunning. Facing a level of internet activism never before seen in the political arena, both pieces of legislation were summarily shelved two days after the blackout. The backlash was so incredible that a new phrase of warning against potentially divisive legislation has become commonplace on Capitol Hill: “Don’t get SOPA’d.”
“Nobody wants another SOPA moment,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a critic of SOPA, told POLITICO in March of last year. “The nerds are more powerful than anyone thought, and the tech industry flexed its muscle like never before.”
Since then, no cause has been able to trumpet as much unilateral support as the anti-SOPA movement. But in honor of that accomplishment, internet activists have not only begun an attempt to brand today as Internet Freedom Day, but they’ve also gone as far to launch a new site InternetFreedomDay.net. It’s creators hope will serve as a rallying point for other online free speech issues by non-profits like DemandProgress and CraigConnects, including seeking justice for the recently deceased Aaron Swartz and soliciting signatures for the Declaration of Internet Freedom. As we at HackCollege are champions of net neutrality, free speech, and an open internet for all, we highly recommend you take a moment to check out InternetFreedomDay.net and see what you can do to make sure that another SOPA won’t ever see the light of day.