The Day The Internet Struck Back

When your 14-year-old son and the checkout guy at the supermarket are thoroughly conversant with the latest attempt at Internet-controlling legislation, you know someone, somewhere, succeeded with their communications.

And so it was yesterday, with the forces unleashed through the most powerful Internet companies in the world -- which, in a movement that built up to one big day of protest, effectively killed SOPA and PIPA (aka the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act). But, of course, this wasn’t just about the power of Internet companies; it was about all of us, using the technologies they created, pointing out the ludicrousness of both bills.

I’m probably not as well-versed in either as I should be, but I know enough about them to know this: that yesterday, in the U.S., we crossed the Rubicon. It was the day where we proved the online world’s power as a social medium in a way that no amount of wildly popular cat videos ever could. As Wikipedia went black for the day, and other sites obscured their logos (Google), or became points of distribution for protest (Twitter), the Internet showed the true reach and force of its intensely interconnected world.

In a world where power has usually meant money and connections, yesterday was a breakout in terms of permanently altering those concepts. In fact, on one cable news show last night, the hostess mused whether -- despite all the coverage the issue had gotten yesterday in traditional media -- it was actually needed to spread the word about what was going on at all. She rightly guessed “no.” Ditto to all those who went to K Street thinking money and connections would get these bills passed. What’s money and connections when pitted against hundreds of millions of people with the ability to express themselves?

Just how powerful is the online world? Well, I went to the supermarket right after I noticed that Mark Zuckerberg’s status update on Facebook on the topic had received almost 300,000 “Likes” in three hours (he has slightly over 10 million Facebook followers). That’s when, as I was loading frosting and cupcake mix into my bag, I heard the college-aged guy at the checkout counter next to me going to great lengths to explain the evils of SOPA and PIPA to a customer, who, in case you were wondering, was listening quite intently. Surely this was a first for DeCicco Family Markets.

So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that when I got home, I discovered on that as the Washington elite was closing down for the day, it was also effectively caving on its proposed legislation. The updated headline on the same story late in the evening put it best: “In Fight Over Piracy Bills, New Economy Rises Against Old.”Wow, that was fast! While at the same time being very, very slow.A search on Wikipedia about SOPA (that page was not blacked out) led to sources confirming what was already clear: that the legislators who drafted these bills had little appreciation for, or understanding of, technology, and -- no coincidence – also little appreciation for the new-world economy and all of the jobs, innovation and passion it has brought to our country for the last 16 or 17 years. This was apparent in the drafting of the bills, but made ever more so in how people and companies online mobilized against the bills using the very technology that Congress doesn’t get.

While no reputable Internet company is for online piracy, the devil is in the details. Imagine if Facebook had to police everything posted by its hundreds of millions of U.S. users. Well, it couldn’t, of course, but that’s essentially what such legislation would do. It’s astonishing that in 2012, none of the above was apparent to anyone involved with these bills. One can only assume that the old-world power of old-world media had blinded legislators from seeing the world as it really is. How else to explain that no one with the technical expertise to understand the ramifications of these bills was involved?

I don’t have a great closer here, except to state what readers of this column have thought all along: Power to the people -- and the almost-entirely U.S.-based Internet companies who enable them.

9 comments about "The Day The Internet Struck Back".
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  1. Chris Stinson from Non-Given, January 19, 2012 at 2:42 p.m.

    The biggest problem in Washington isn't a issue or "left or right", but the issue of who is really writing the legislation. It seems like for the last 20 or 30 years, it's not the folks who are supposed to represent the people, but the folks who represent the corporate interest.

  2. Alice Wessendorf from, January 19, 2012 at 2:49 p.m.

    It truly was stunning to watch the power unleashed in one directed laser-focused strike. There's no going back now.

    We ARE our own lobby and we ARE powerful. We can move mountains. Or at least poorly written bills backed by lazy uninformed politicians. We are the Free Internet Denizens hear us roar!

  3. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship, January 19, 2012 at 2:56 p.m.

    Hear, Hear! Return on Relationship™

  4. Chris Gleason from Servant Marketing Group, LLC., January 19, 2012 at 3:49 p.m.

    Not all representatives in WDC are corrupt, not all hedge fund/wall street money movers are either. Sometimes "the system" is set-up to favor those with the largest donation or investment or both. We need to pay closer attention to the 50,000 page laws and what is written into them - anyone have an app for that, yet?

    "We have met the enemy and he is us". Pogo

  5. Cathy Taylor from MediaPost, January 19, 2012 at 4:39 p.m.

    Hi all,
    Thanks for commenting. Jon Stewart had a hilarious take on this last night. He had clips of all these Congress people saying that maybe they ought to have a few of these "nerds" into Congress to explain how the Internet works...Stewart's retort was something to the effect of "I think by 'nerds' you mean 'experts.'"

  6. Catherine Wachs from Right Brain, January 19, 2012 at 6:12 p.m.

    There was a great op-ed piece in the Times by Jaron Lanie, researcher at Microsoft. File under "Be Careful of What You Wish For":

    "We in Silicon Valley undermined copyright to make commerce become more about services instead of content — more about our code instead of their files. The inevitable endgame was always that we would lose control of our own personal content, our own files. We haven’t just weakened Hollywood and old-fashioned publishers. We’ve weakened ourselves."

  7. Steve Sarner from if(we), January 19, 2012 at 6:45 p.m.

    Great story Cathy and great post as well. It was a powerful day and great to see the results. I had to chuckle at the sour grapes quote from former Senator Dodd and SOPA supporter saying that people were "being used as pawns of internet corporations" in the protest. Sorry Mr. Dodd but it was checkmate over you in a failed attempt to make pawns of our representatives. Game over.

  8. Alison Provost from Touchstorm, LLC, January 19, 2012 at 9:58 p.m.

    Cathy, that was an outstanding piece of writing. Love all that irony. Thanks for the potent insights.

  9. Shelly Kramer from V3 Integrated Marketing, January 20, 2012 at 5:24 p.m.

    I loved seeing this. It was also interesting to me seeing the commentary from people (and friends) who are knowledgeable in the online space bash the efforts of those of us who worked to spread awareness and/or the sites who went dark. This kind of activism DOES work. It spreads awareness where otherwise there be none. Educates and, hopefully, compels people to not only conversation, but to action. Loved your post, Cathy!

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