If there’s one thing the US government probably should have learned this year, it’s that internet users are not to be trifled with. Once users became aware of the dangers of the Stop Online Piracy Act, Protect IP Act and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011, they picked up their digital pitchforks and went to work to bring down these proposed bills. It was truly a magnificent moment for online independence, but that’s not how the US government sees things.
In fact, it believes that the protests against SOPA, PIPA and CISPA were “orchestrated by [the] misinformation by a few actors.”Or at least that’s what the Democratic Chief Counsel for the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet Stephanie Moore said. At a panel focusing on PIPA and SOPA at the American Constitution Society’s 2012 National Convention in Washington DC, she insinuated that it was hard to tell if the many calls coming into the US Congress were in fact from concerned citizens who understood the legislation or if the calls were prompted by a nefarious campaign of misinformation.
And while Moore’s criticism of whether or not all the calls coming in were legitimate, she’s not giving the American citizenry enough credit. It’s an impossibility for every single call about SOPA or PIPA to be from a constituent who read and fully understood both bills, but to discount the majority of the calls as the result of a smear campaign is unfair. She said, “Congress was criticized for not being tech savvy, but from a lot of the comments we got it became clear that the people who were calling us did not understand the bill any better than we did.” And therein lies the problem: Congress didn’t even understand the legislation it was fighting to pass.
Google’s copyright attorney, Katherine Oyama, understands Congress’ fear of misinformation, though. Oyama said, “I can understand why in D.C. people think there must have been a company behind the opposition because here people are so used to deals being done behind closed doors. But for folks that have grown up with and rely on the internet, [the opposition] was a visceral response to a bill that was much broader than was originally advertised.”
And as Oyama rightly points out, if the protest of SOPA and PIPA was orchestrated by just a few tech giants, then why did more than 115,000 “go dark” on Jan. 18 in protest of SOPA? The protests, online and otherwise, were more than a few of the largest tech companies playing puppeteer with American “netizens.” It was just an example of what the American public is capable of.