Link-sharing Website Reddit forced Congressman Paul Ryan to defend his position on the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act Thursday after the Internet hive-mind pledged its support for his opponent, Democrat Rob Zerban, a harsh critic of the anti-piracy legislation.
"Contrary to false reports, Congressman Paul Ryan is not a cosponsor of H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act," said Ryan press secretary Kevin Seifert in a statement. The wrath of Reddit, which was recently tested in a successful boycott of domain registrar Go Daddy for supporting the same legislation, is proving to be more fearsome than one might expect from a website that also trades in kitten photos and WTF ephemera. This week, Reddit's increasingly ambitious users aimed to unseat a member of Congress who supports SOPA, pointing its attention toward Ryan. “Let’s pick ONE Senator of voted for NDAA/SOPA and destroy him like we’re doing for GoDaddy," said one user. As a result, Reddit users began coordinating opposition research campaigns against Ryan and support for his opponent via a money bomb and widely-popular Q&A session.
Today, in an effort to clarify his boss's position, Ryan's flak did not say the congressman opposes SOPA, a law that gives the federal government expanded powers to order American Internet companies to sever ties with foreign domains that offer copyrighted content such as music and films. "He remains committed to advancing policies that protect free speech and foster innovation online and will continue to follow the House Judiciary Committee's deliberations on this issue carefully," said Ryan's spokesman.
So why are Redditors after him? It's possible they were misled by this letter to a constituent mislabeled by someone unaffiliated with Ryan's campaign "Paul Ryan Supports SOPA," which merely notifies a constituent that Ryan is looking into the issue—not that he supports the bill. As the New York Observer's Adrianne Jeffries points out, the SOPA Track website says Ryan has not taken any money from "big media" donors who support SOPA. Still, the SOPA Track file appears to be an incomplete log of the financing by SOPA-supporting organizations.
According to Center for Responsive Politics, Ryan has received $288,600 from groups that support SOPA and $39,950 from groups who oppose the legislation. Obviously, it's fair to question Ryan on his position on this high profile issue. Ryan does, however, seem to be an odd target for Reddit in this case given that other members of Congress have openly supported the bill and the fact that the bill has been shelved until January 2012. Perhaps Reddit activists should wait until Ryan has made up his mind about the bill to go all knives out on the guy?