Posted on January 18, 2012, Ben Richardson Will the SOPA Blackout Work?
If you’re an active citizen of the internet, chances are you’ve read something about SOPA (if not, see GameFront’s complete coverage). The legislation itself might currently be in a Congressional holding pattern — a recent bit of good news — but its threat to freedom is barely diminished.
Though high-profile game developers and publishers remain conspicuously absent, a diverse coalition of technology companies has banded together to declare today, Wednesday, January 18th, a “blackout.” Wikipedia will be completely dark. Google will feature an anti-SOPA message on its homepage. The complete list of participants is long and ever-growing.
This morning, as thousands of internet users adjust to a world without Wikipedia, one question rises above all others: will the Blackout work?
Viewed one way, the answer is no. If there’s one thing the entire SOPA mess proves, it’s that the current membership of the U.S. Congress has a tenuous grasp of how the modern internet works in practice. Congresspeople do not frequent independent blogs, download game mods, or laugh at lolcats. To the extent that they do use things like Twitter, they do so with a staff member as an intermediary, in order to attract potential voters.
When powerful, monied interests complain about the very real problem of piracy, it becomes easy to embrace a simple trade-off between American business and a bunch of nebulous stuff legislators neither use nor understand. Not having access to Wikipedia might represent a serious inconvenience to you (or me, researching this article), but it won’t to someone like Virginia Congressman and SOPA co-sponsor Bob Goodlatte. It is unlikely, therefore, that today’s blackout will significantly affect the opinions of the actual lawmakers working on the bill. When it comes down to it, theirs are the minds that need changing.
Still, viewed another way, the answer to the question — will the SOPA blackout work? — is an unequivocal yes. The reason is two-fold. Firstly, the blackout will have a huge effect on the issue’s overall visibility. The Bob Goodlattes of the world won’t miss Wikipedia for a day, but millions of other people will. Those among them who were not aware of SOPA and its implications will be educated in a hurry. Same goes for the millions of daily visitors to the Google homepage.
Secondly, the blackout will keep media and public attention focused on the bill, despite the best efforts of its sponsor, Texas Representative Lamar Smith. Experts agree that by cancelling a planned floor vote and deciding to spend an additional month in “markup,” Smith is hoping to ride out the storm of public outcry and pass the bill with little fanfare in February. Today’s well-publicized “internet strike” will help shore up Americans’ notoriously short attention spans.
With these two potential benefits in mind, it’s clear that the blackout is a worthwhile endeavor. On the other hand, SOPA opponents expecting a knockout blow will probably be disappointed. The only way to change a Representative’s mind is to contact one directly!