The blackout that saved the Internet

Of course everybody has heard about Wikipedia’s controversial blackout in protest of SOPA. And while some may be quick to credit the online encyclopedia as our shining beacon of online freedom, let’s not too soon forget another little blackout that made a not-so-little impact…

That’s right, we’re talking about the blog of Joe Schmoe. And although the blog only had four regular readers, which included his Mom, his friend, and himself on another computer, when he decided to take his blog offline to protest the possibility of someone else taking it offline, the entire Internet was shaken.

We talked to Joe on Skype. “At first it seemed nobody noticed,” he said. “I spent several hours watching my Google Analytics in realtime, but nothing was happening. That’s when a realized I had to spread word of my decision.”

And spread the word he did. Joe tweeted his personal blackout, and posted broken links to Facebook and a Wikipedia article he wrote on himself which will probably be deleted soon due to lack of verifiable citations.

The news spread like wildfire. A congressman from Florida said: “I had never heard of Joe Schmoe. But when friends of mine began tweeting his broken link, I suddenly really cared about what he had to say. And of course I couldn’t find out what he had to say because he had taken his blog offline. I felt so ashamed. I’m now starting to really question everything I believe in. Clearly we can’t have this. These blogs are important for the nation, I think, maybe.”

“This is a real victory for us bloggers,” said another blogger who took his blog offline to protest SOPA. “It just goes to show that while the pen may be mightier than the sword, taking all the ink out of your pen is the mightiest of all.”

And Joe Schmoe isn’t through yet. He’s now planning to burn books to protest of book censorship.

“Censorship can’t exist if there’s nothing to censor,” Joe said. “We can show the men in Washington that if they keep trying to do things like SOPA, we’re all just going to not blog or look things up on Wikipedia or really do anything… oh, wait a second, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.”

In loving memory of Joe Schmoe (1983-2012)

More serious thoughts on SOPA

This is not a comment on SOPA itself, but a comment on other comments about it:

What has emerged on the Internet is this system in which people who want to help piracy, or who are at least indifferent to it, start websites which allow anonymous users to upload and share data. If that data is copyrighted, making the data exchange illegal, the owner of the website can say: “Well, it’s not my fault!” Well, yes it is; you’re the one allowing people to anonymously share data on your site. You don’t have to do that. I can understand the argument that you shouldn’t be swiftly punished for an infraction you weren’t even aware of, but I don’t accept the notion that all website owners out there are truly doing what they should to stop piracy, or that there’s not much we should do about it. If drug dealers are ridiculously easy to find, shouldn’t they be ridiculously easy to arrest? Yes, and they are. Hence their usual discretion. If piracy sites are ridiculously easy to find (which they are, just Google around), why aren’t they easy to stop? I don’t know. I’m tempted to say it’s because a lot of people just enjoy pirating stuff and eating up my bandwidth.

I think people get easily paranoid. Even now, people can leave drugs in your car and get you arrested. Or they could just go ahead and stab you if they wanted to hurt you. If we’re thinking worse case scenarious, the physical world already provides plenty of them. That’s what makes many of Hitchcock’s movies so compelling. But we’re used to living with those risks; if it’s a new digital risk, the worst case scenario suddenly seems more palpable, more threatening.

“The new Facebook is being created in a garage somewhere, and nobody will want to invest in it because they’ll be too scared that it will be shut down too easily! The Internet will die!” That’s ridiculous. Investors would have no choice. That’s like claiming employers would stop hiring people if our nation’s stupid degree system was retired, and the end of the world would follow. No. Employers are still going to need workers, and retiring the degree system would force them to change. If investors have to work within the confines of new anti-piracy laws, they will. They may upset about it, especially if they were hoping to go into the piracy business, but they won’t all suddenly just stop investing altogether.

Or: “My blog will be shut down because someone will post copyrighted content!” Yes, you’re little blog there is so important.

Then there’s the other argument that those who fully admit to being pirates often make: “If content providers would just give me access to their offerings at a reasonable price, I wouldn’t have to steal!” What they fail to realize is that if they all collectively just stopped consuming the content altogether, the content providers would have no choice but to change their distribution business. But that requires too much organization and discipline, which most people don’t have, which is why unions exist in the labor force — people can’t make intelligent collective decisions otherwise. (Not that unions always make intelligent decisions, but that’s beside the point.) And this digital content is not like food. You don’t need it to live. Maybe you should just do something more useful with your time? I just can’t sympathize much with your plight, and the legal leniency of piracy sites is not worth defending for your sake.

All that said, I don’t know enough about SOPA to comment on it specifically. The arguments, however, should’ve been centered around its details in enforcement and how to make sure it’s not easily abused, not its principle of making website owners responsible for content, or making shut downs easier to enforce. If you disagree with our need for such a bill, you’re either a pirate or an idiot.