Unless you aren’t constantly logged in — and face it, who at AU isn’t? — you know by now that the English Wikipedia went black last Wednesday, Jan. 18, in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) with many other internet powerhouses (Google, Facebook, etc.) discussing following suit.
SOPA is a bill that is working its way through Congress that would essentially erase websites that host material that infringes copyright laws.
In response, many Web giants (like the ones listed above) have been very vocal in speaking out and in extreme cases, blacking out.
This creates an interesting thought experiment. What would happen if Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Flickr and every other website went dark to protest this bill? To say that society is dependent on these Web outlets would be a gross understatement. And while it would be fun to explore what direction society would travel in a world without Google, I’d like to explore a post-SOPA protest world. The way I see it, there are two possible outcomes to these SOPA protests.
The first outcome is one where the protests fail and SOPA passes. We’ve read all about how SOPA would change the way the Web functions forever.
As stated above, SOPA would erase websites that host copyrighted material from the face of the Internet. This makes sense until you realize that our entire Internet experience is made up of user-posted content that we don’t own.
That video of you performing a cover of “Edge of Glory,” that funny picture you shared with your friend on Facebook and that Eagle article you put on your blog would all be reason enough for corporations to shut down whole websites and block them from showing up in search engines. In short, the government would control the Internet.
However, I find the alternative more fascinating, and just as terrifying.
The second outcome, of course, is that the protests are successful and SOPA doesn’t pass. Nothing changes and all is right in the world once again. Until a new bill comes up that Mark Zuckerberg decides he doesn’t like and he shuts down Facebook in protest.
Internet giants protesting SOPA by going dark or shutting down creates a nasty precedent.
We all know that we are dependent on the Internet, but if these protests prove to be successful, it shows that we are at the mercy of these services. All of a sudden, they have unlimited power to further their political agendas.
If a bill comes up that a Web giant (or an advertiser that pays lots of money to the Internet giants) doesn’t like, the company would only have to shut off its service for a couple of days “in protest” and the bill would die.
So it seems like our two options in a post-SOPA protest world are that A) the government controls the Internet or B) the Internet controls the government.
Frankly, I don’t know which one is more frightening.
It seems like the Internet has forever been changed by SOPA even if it doesn’t pass. And we’ll just have to hope that these web services are responsible enough with their newly discovered power and don’t abuse it.
Ian C. Urriola is a sophomore in CAS.