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January 18th, 2012
04:51 PM ET

Letters to the President #1094: 'The wiki protest'

Reporter's Note: The president seems quite busy lately, but I hope he is still making time to read my daily letters to the White House. I mean, assuming he ever did…

Dear Mr. President,

I am intrigued by the online protest today by Google, Wikipedia, and others over the proposed SOPA law.  I’m not gong to get into the specifics of the law, because certainly the supporters and detractors all have their arguments and heaven knows they can make them better than I.

No, what interests me is this tactic of some of these sites effectively shutting down their service for the day.  Go to Wikipedia to look up, oh say, fishing, and you briefly see the page you are after then it suddenly changes to a dark screen and a plea from the Wiki folks for you to pester your Congress member over this legislation.

Of course, these web sites are free to do this.  Hey, it’s their business.  And it seems as if a fair number of people in the online world think it is a reasonable way to play at politics.

But I would be interested to see the reaction in the same community if some other big companies used the same kind of muscle to push their political opinions.

What if major oil companies were angry over the Keystone pipeline decision, so they cut off all their fuel to the nation for 24 hours?  What if farmers were upset over farm policy, so they locked up their milk, beef, corn, and potatoes?  I’m not sure the online world would be so sanguine in those circumstances.

I understand that “information” is a unique commodity, and we all use sites like Google for free.  Certainly that makes my comparisons not precisely apples to apples…but then, I’m not my examples are apples to oranges either.  For the record, yes I work for a big company that has supported SOPA, but I’ve not heard a word in the workplace about this matter, and the company’s view has nothing to do with the questions I’m raising here anyway.  I’m not taking sides.  I’m just pointing out that things are not always as straight forward as they appear, especially when it comes to anyone using tough measures to make a political point.

There are two ways of seeing today’s action.  In one view, it is a brave defense of freedom by champions of the cause…willing to risk their own companies for a principle.  The other view?  It is just another case of hugely successful corporations trying to affect legislation through a type of near extortion.

Anyway, I’ve been pondering this through the day and I’d love your thoughts.  Give me a buzz if you have a minute.

Regards,
Tom

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Brett

    This is an interesting way to look at it indeed. In fact, I use the internet all the time and practically everywhere I go, I see this stop SOPA stuff. Personally, I'm against SOPA, but it seems that I have all this propoganda shoved directly in my face constantly because of this. However, given that there is a very extreme difference between physical commodities and the commodity of knowledge, I don't believe this is terrible. In fact, Wikipedia being shut down had no effect on me for one day. I even had to look a few things up today. You know, as an experienced person from the internet, I found my way around that. And in fact, if you were technology friendly enough, you could still have viewed Wikipedia. What they did today was as simple as disabling your browser's java abilities.

    The thing I found unique however, is, yes they shut down their sites. But Tumblr (a popular micro-blogging site that I so happen to use) did not shut their service down and in fact just asked users to do it to their individual blogs if they wanted to. This actually saddened me. I was kind of let down by the ease of some sites. And sites like Google I didn't expect to shut down their service, but still was disappointed when all that happened was a change in their logo.

    January 19, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • Brenden sutton

      Brett I agree 100% of you're opinion

      January 19, 2012 at 10:05 pm |