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The Day the Web Went Dark: SOPA/PIPA Blackouts and the Aftermath
By: Melody Weister
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In my post last week, I wrote about the Internet as an enemy, and different occurrences that went viral and caused the loss of jobs for different people who seriously screwed up customer service. This week, we all discovered exactly how much influence the Internet and its many varieties of social networks can wield, as thousands of websites went dark yesterday to protest SOPA and PIPA, two bills that could essentially destroy the Internet as we know it.

Although the bills are aimed at preventing piracy, they are written with such broad terms that they allow websites to be shut down and legal action to be taken for the simple failure to credit one person for the use of one copyrighted image, while giving a pass to major corporations like Comcast, who could have entire sites shut down if they demonstrate reasonable belief that a competing website is “dedicated to theft of property.” More information on these acts can be found on Digital Pivot today, as well as this post on SlashGear, which also provides links to the bills in their entirety. Before yesterday’s blackout, SOPA was temporarily shelved after the White House publicly announced its opposition to both bills, but PIPA remained a threat. After the blackout, things are drastically different.

Popular sites such as Reddit, Wikipedia, Craigslist, XDA Developers, and icanhazcheezburger/LOLCats all displayed a black background for the majority of the day and information about the two bills, why they were protesting, and what users could do to take action against these bills; Wikipedia also provided a useful lookup of users’ Senators and Representatives, so that those who wanted to could reach out and make their opinions heard. “For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia,” declared Wikipedia’s front page. Many smaller protests had already encouraged corporations like GoDaddy to pull their support from the bill, but this was the largest Internet protest to date.

For some of us, this was expected and highly anticipated; the idea was thrown around at first on the Reddit website, and gained momentum as other sites came on board, though the addition of Wikipedia was the crowning gem. However, for many others, this protest came as a complete shock. Twitter and Facebook were full of the shocked fury of the frequenters of these sites, followed by posts linking to Google’s Take Action landing page as more and more people from both sides of the political spectrum became aware of these bills, and how unconstitutional they truly are. Unfortunately, not everyone sought to educate themselves, as dedicated by my personal favorite compilation of responses on Buzzfeed.

Yesterday, the Internet flexed its muscles, and Congressmen everywhere flinched. After the blackout, 13 more Senators have now withdrawn their support of SOPA and PIPA, and more are surely to follow in both houses of Congress. This is one of the first times that such a united front has been presented on a political matter all across the Internet. We’ve always known that the Internet and social networks of all kinds were influential, but yesterday’s protests showed exactly how great that influence has become. Hopefully, this historical occurrence will prevent the passing of these bills and censorship of the largest public forum for free speech that’s ever existed.

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About the Author
Melody Weister is a technology aficionado, unashamed smartphone geek, and casual gamer from Montclair, NJ, where she works as a Social Media Coordinator. Follow her on Twitter: @msmelodyrose.
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