The Power of Digital: A Week After SOPA/PIPA

FEATURE

“Educate, that you might be free. We are most anxious to get the quiet, strong minded people who are scattered throughout the country to see the force of this great truth.”–Thomas Davis

The Internet went on strike last Wednesday over two controversial proposed pieces of legislation know as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), respectively. Big names like Wikipedia, Google, WordPress, FunnyOrDie and Reddit worked together to lead an online movement to educate and inform the public. Countless other high profile websites protested the bill by blocking or restricting their sites to some degree.

Other concerned citizens sent out rallying cries to their peers via Twitter and Facebook to take action. Even Mark Zuckerberg saw reason to speak out against the bill stating:

The Internet is the most powerful tool we have for creating a more open and connected world. We can’t let poorly thought out laws get in the way of the Internet’s development. Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA, and we will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the Internet.”

As a result of this online movement SOPA was shelved and the Internet rejoiced!

The SOPA victory is just the latest in a string of digitally fueled political protests that have literally shaped the course of nations. In just the past three years, social media helped fuel revolutions in both Egypt and Tunisia, countered brutal voter suppression in Kenya, changed the face of gender equality in India, and sparked deadly riots in the United Kingdom.

Activists in each of these counties used the power of digital to create awareness and spur action. Many Tunisians used Facebook to constantly upload videos of street demonstrations and ‘alleged’ gruesome police brutality. Twitter enabled people to express their frustrations and give important updates worldwide.

The “Pink Chaddi Campaign” (aka Pink Panty Protest) was launched when Nisha Susan created a Facebook group to help fight against gender inequality in India. That group acquired more than 15,000 members in the first few days and over 48,000 people participated in the movement!

In 2008, rioting was rampant across Kenya because many citizens believed that the presidential elections were rigged. There was increasing confusion and insecurity throughout the country because of a government-imposed media blackout. The Ushahidi Platform (Ushahidi meaning “witness”) was created to fill the void left by the media. The platform allowed individuals to report on incidents of violence; as well as identify places that needed aid. 45,000 citizens actively participated and their combined efforts had remarkable results.

In each situation, the formula was remarkably similar.  Despite the efforts of more powerful parties (governments, corporations, police, and establishment groups) activists were able to leverage digital to create mass awareness and spur organized action. Tools like Twitter, Skype, BlackBerry Messenger, and Facebook made organized resistance possible in a way that was not possible prior to the World Wide Web.

It’s hard to deny the central role played by the Internet savvy people in each of these situations. Digital is able to make a far greater impact than any other medium because it has the ability to easily connect individuals while resisting the control of any one party or interest. This, of course, is exactly what opponents of SOPA fought to perserve.

It’s been a week since SOPA was shelved and I’m sure we haven’t heard the end of it quite yet. But I can only think that our future is bright so long as we have the power of digital behind us.