Friday, January 20, 2012

Don't Be Steppin'

So, I was originally going to try and write about this with the notion that as a writer, SOPA and PIPA matter to my interests--in the future, without fair use excerpts of my work in various places on the web, I won't see as much promotion as I'd like. That's a pretty threadbare connection, so I thought I just wouldn't write about it. But I realized that the reason SOPA and PIPA and their idiocy matter to me is that I'm a citizen of the internet. As are we all. SOPA and PIPA matter to anyone at all who uses the web on a regular basis. Which means that they matter to you as well.

I think what needs to be said about the wrongheadedness of these bills is easily Googleable, and what interests me about it was crystallized by an item I read this morning from The Escapist. It seems that the hacker group Anonymous is claiming to have hacked and broken some major websites overnight: the Department of Justice, the MPAA, the RIAA, and Universal Music Group. Not that I expect these sites to be invulnerable to a serious hacker collective, but I'm still rather impressed; this ain't small potatoes.

I had kind of hoped that the peaceful shutdown protests that took place on Wednesday would go even further than they did. I hoped that Google would shut down its search function for a day, keep people from being able to Google anything for just 24 hours. I hoped that Twitter would grind to a halt. I hoped that comments forums all over the internet on sites like the Washington Post and the New York Times would cease functioning, so that just for one day, you couldn't make your voice heard (no matter what you have to say). I thought if there was serious, major disruption to the sites that people use with impunity every day--even, perhaps, sites that senators themselves visit--they would see how goddamn stupid these bills were, how too-far their reach extends.

I don't want to see the world go down in flames of chaos. Nor do I really even want people to actually suffer for their stupidity. But I know that in order to make obtuse people see reason about something that matters past the ends of their noses, you have to hit them hard exactly where they live. That means different things to different people, of course. If, as a barista, you know that a certain senator just has to have his Starbucks in order to function, and whenever he comes to the counter you turn your back and refuse to serve him--and you could be sure that all Starbucks baristas everywhere would do the same--you would probably have his ear a little more easily than if as an employee of a McDonald's you intended to refuse him, when the senator hasn't visited McDonald's in twenty years.

One of the things that troubles me about these bills is the same thing that troubles me about a great deal of legislation passed in the last 15 years: it seems to have been drafted and pressed and fed through the rollers of Congress without any sort of input from the actual constituency that elected these congressmen. I'll grant you that I have a pretty self-selecting group of friends to choose from, but I don't know a single person who thinks this legislation is anything like a good idea. I'd love to see the numbers on how many ordinary folk contacted their representatives on Wednesday, after discovering what SOPA and PIPA were all about, and said, no, we do NOT want this to be law. I'm betting it was a lot of them. I'm betting it was enough to elect somebody completely new, in fact.

For Wednesday's protests to actually hit the congressmen where they live, though, it would have to be a more dramatic gesture than Wikipedia and Reddit and what-have-you. It would have to be Google and and and the Cornell site that houses the U.S. Code and whatever other sites congressmen and their staff use to get through their workdays. YouTube, probably. It would have to matter more than just your constituency rising up against your actions, right? It would have to be your bank's website.

For Anonymous to take out these websites is--if not merely an act of revenge for Megaupload, which would be kind of lame and negate my whole point, and I can't believe it's a coincidence, with SOPA and PIPA so nearby--intentioned, I think, to send the message We Know the Internet and You Don't. Don't Be Steppin' in 'Hoods that Ain't Yourn. If this is their message, I think it's a completely proper one, if delivered in a terroristy sort of way. Of course, how the authorities will see such a message is a completely different matter. They'll smack down like parents on teenage rebellion: you little punks. How dare you fuck with us just because you can't break copyright law as easily as you could three days ago. It's meaningless defacement, taking down some websites, like spray-painting ASSHOLE on somebody's car.

This is the problem with terrorist messages, of course. They're never delivered properly. The destruction always seems to matter more than the message. Which is why the Gandhi/King-type protests of Wednesday did so much good: we're not going to wreck anything, we're just going to make your life a little harder for a day. Just to show you, and meanwhile show a lot of other people who didn't even know about it, that we think you're doing the wrong thing.

Yet I can't help having some admiration at the message, if only the message, of Anonymous in wrecking Rather than only showing you how heavy an anvil is by slackening the rope until the weight's pressing down on the top of your head, it's a razor slicing through the rope that holds the anvil up. Bang, you're dead.

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