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How to End the SOPA Shenanigans

How to End the SOPA Shenanigans

January 11, 2012

SOPA is one of the many silly acronyms Congress uses. But it’s clear that they’re the silly ones who SOPA stands for the Stop Online Privacy Act, an extreme legislation put in place by Congress. If enacted, it will produce a chilling effect on user generated content sites. You know, just a few small websites such as YouTube, Etsy, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. SOPA highlights just how much Congress is disconnected to logic. It’s akin to building a bridge and telling toddlers to destroy it. They don’t yet understand how the world operates, yet they want to obliterate something that connects and unites global communities and economies.

Co-founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian, and believes the internet should not be managed:

“SOPA threatens to destroy one of the healthiest parts of our economy right now. While these innovations aren’t exclusive to the U.S., by and large so much of it is happening here. The U.S sets a standard for much of the world…the world is concerned about this because if the U.S. is censored, there goes the Internet as we know it.”

It all comes down to large companies trying to protect their dinosaur business model. But the wide ranging consequences are massive. Do Congress fully understand the extent of this legislation? Joshua Kopstein, of the Motherboard, thinks it’s terrifying:

We’re dealing with legislation that will completely change the face of the internet and free speech for years to come. Yet here we are, still at the mercy of underachieving Congressional know-nothings that have more in common with the slacker students sitting in the back of math class than elected representatives. The fact that some of the people charged with representing us must be dragged kicking and screaming out of their complacency on such matters is no longer endearing — it’s just pathetic and sad.

Instead of going off on a diatribe about the inefficiencies of Congress, we should start an organized, collective education campaign (also known as lobbying). Clay Johnson, best known for his role in advocating for open source information in the federal government, writes:

It’s just as important for us to understand how Congress works as it is for the Congress to understand how the Internet works. In Washington, those who “educate” Congress the best usually end up with the winning legislation.

It’s no longer acceptable for us to not take responsibility for our Congress anymore. If we want it to be better then throwing bums out, and replacing them with new bums doesn’t seem to be doing the trick. Let’s work instead to educate whomever is in Congress, and the professional class around them. Let’s do more of the stuff that works, and less of the stuff that doesn’t.

A collective effort needs to unite to stop this harmful legislation. One of Clay’s short-term solutions is to learn how to talk to Congress. Of course meeting with members of Congress in-person can work. But an interesting longer-term solution is allowing Congress to hear what the public says through social aggregation and filtering:

But more than aggregation we also need filtering. Often times the loudest voices reaching Washington may be the most well organized but they’re likely not best voices or the majority opinion. A member wondering what to do about Net Neutrality might wonder how many of her constituents work for Verizon. Or Google. And what it is they have to say. And again, if this is public and open — and associated with our social graph, this becomes possible.

The technology for social filtering is right around the corner. It’ll be interesting to see how it shapes public discourse. Filtering focuses conversations, which leads to progress. Here’s to Congress being on-board with that.