Thinking about SOPA on a day of protest

Google's SOPA protest

Today a huge protest swept the Web, and we held an impromptu video discussion about it.  Site after site urged readers to oppose the proposed SOPA law, or even turned their main Web presence dark.

So I hosted a Google+ Hangout, joined by Melanie Hoag , jason kielbasa , and Zack Dowell .  Here are quick notes which aim to capture that conversation’s gist.

Our first topic: which academic institutions and pages have joined the protest?  We noted Syracuse University’s iSchool, MIT’s admissions page, and Baruch University’s blog hub.  Individual teachers and researchers have also done so, such as Aaron Bady and former NITLE Fellow danah boyd.  The American Library Association posted an anti-SOPA link prominently on its home page. Students have apparently tweeted some complaints.

We noted other non-academic entities participating in this day of protest, such as influential Web gateway Reddit, the BoingBoing blog, Wikipedia, the Wordpress blog service, and Google’s homepage (screenshot at top of this post).  Two California Representatives turned their sites dark as well.: Anna Eshoo (D) and Zoe Lofgren (D).  Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg,  joined the chorus.

Wikipedia's blackout page

What does this day mean for education?

One of us argued that public awareness of technology just changed, that it’s no longer ok to not know how the internet works.  As one liberal arts campus professor tweeted, “It’s the non-savvy users that this is designed to educate.”  Like Occupy Wall Street did for economic inequity, the anti-SOPA protest may have altered public discourse and consciousness of complex issues.  Were students involved?  Not too much, it seems.  Some view blackouts as an inconvenience.

It’s an interesting story about Web organizing.  Perhaps the SOPA Strike site will emerge as a hub, or planning and participation will be more widely distributed.  It could be a fine fundraising opportunity for the right groups.

How effective is the move so far?  Participants noted that some legislators were publicly reversing support for the bills (SOPA and PIPA) (one story, another, another, another).  Yet SOPA’s main sponsor reaffirmed his intention to see the bill become law.  Perhaps some legislators are grandstanding for more lobbying support.

I wondered what it would take for these measures to actually get implemented.  Participants suggested parts of SOPA and PIPA could be inserted into other, unrelated bills.  While we talked, one leading commentator suggested another way: “Even if #SOPA/#PIPA are stopped this year, they’ll be back under new names next year.”

Another participant pondered internet service providers (ISPs) and their role.  Perhaps some support SOPA because they are involved in content-owning businesses.  For example, Time-Warner.  And yet ISPs are also slated to do a lot of user surveillance under these laws.

Back to education: will students be able to cite a new excuse for late work, as in: SOPA ate my homework?  More seriously, we discussed different ways of educating students in various roles: at work-study assignments, in class, on their own.  There might be a large need for education, if the average student isn’t aware of the issues involved.  Perhaps upper-level leadership will help, or creative media sources, such as Negativland .

Resources we identified:

  • A good EFF article on free speech and SOPA.
  • Funny selection of student tweets, complaining about the Wikipedia outage.
  • One academic paper, found through SSRN: “Don’t Break the Internet.”  Stanford Law Review Online, Vol. 64, p. 34, December 2011.
    Mark A. Lemley , David S. Levine and David G. Post.
  • A manifesto.
  • Previous NITLE-hosted video impromptu discussion about SOPA: November 2011.

We’ve hosted a series of these videoconference impromptu discussions over the past few months, and hope to do more.

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Posted on January 18, 2012 at 3:39 pm by Bryan Alexander · Permalink
In: Uncategorized · Tagged with: , , ,

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