Though the swiftly moving Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP bills have been called a lot of things — draconian, fascist, dumb — the latest round of protests against the legislation are stepping up the rhetoric. As the Reddit army takes things into their own hands with attempts to undermine Congress and even build their own internet, the Mozilla Foundation is upping the ante in mobilizing voters in an attempt to stop the two bills from moving forward. Meanwhile, the nation's top newspapers are taking a stand with detailed staff editorials criticizing the current versions. With the Senate expected to make its next move on PROTECT IP as early as this week, we should know soon if the calls for reconsidering the laws that threaten to censor the Internet is falling on deaf ears in Congress.
Up until now, SOPA's opponents have mostly made villains of the entertainment industry, which has spent nearly $200 million in the run up to the bill's consideration in the House and Senate. However, a new Taliban-themed thread on Reddit attempts to vilify the lawmakers themselves by likening them to terrorists. Started on Sunday by Redditor and self-identified Afghanistan veteran ua_bit_of_perspective, a growing thread likens Congresses consideration of SOPA to the Taliban's habit of blowing up cell phone towers in Afghan villages, in an attempt to keep villagers from communicating with each other. While, other vets weighed in on the thread to confirm that they'd heard similar stories of terrorists blocking communication, some also challenged the comparison. "Censorship is part of fighting wars," one user said, prompting a_bit_of_perspective to clarify his point. "Though censorship may be used in conflict between two or more groups," he said, "It has little place being used by a government against its own people (especially a government that espouses freedom of speech)."
While the terrorism charge is undoubtedly sensational, the simple point of SOPA's potential contradicting some basic principles of American freedom has been echoed in loftier halls than a Reddit comment thread. Over the weekend, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times both issued staff editorials condemning the current drafts of the two bills. As the many technology companies opposing SOPA and its predecessor in the Senate PROTECT IP have protested, the legislation threatens to overextend the governments' power to block Internet content. Even though it's meant to clamp down on Internet piracy, they say, it could also inadvertently clamp down on innovation by holding social networks like Facebook and Twitter as well as search engines like Google accountable for hosting links to "rogue sites." (David Sohn and Andrew McDiarmid offer a more in depth explainer at The Atlantic.) The L.A. Times sums up this side of the argument:
Both bills go to risky extremes, however, in their efforts to stop these sites from attracting an audience. Of the two, the House bill goes further down the wrong path, weakening protections for companies — including those based in the United States — that enable users to store, publish or sell goods online. The change could force such companies to monitor everything their users do, turning them into a private security force for copyright and trademark owners.
The New York Times similarly argues that SOPA and PROTECT IP both have "serious problems that must be fixed."
At this point in time, the energies of the anti-SOPA crowd seems laser-focused on preventing the legislation from moving forward in its current form. The Mozilla Foundation supported a collective protest and corresponding letter-writing campaign on November 16, which civil rights advocates dubbed American Censorship Day, and is now preparing for a run on Capitol Hill's phone banks. The organization warns that "Majority Leader Harry Reid is thinking about moving PIPA as soon as next week" and maps out some talking points for citizens to call their Senators on Tuesday, November 29. They haven't made public the number of people who'v taken the pledge to call, but after Tumblr reported 87,834 calls placed to representatives during their phone bank campaign — a total of 1,293 hours talking to legislators — we would anticipate a big turnout.
Meanwhile, Redditors are taking things into their own hands. Andy Greenberg at Forbes reported last week that a growing community of anti-censorship users are making progress at creating a new Internet. The model uses mesh network technologies to create a censorship-proof peer-to-peer network called either Meshnet or the Darknet Plan. Like a_bit_of_perspective's now viral post on the SOPA's resemblance to the Taliban, the idea might amount to little more than angry Redditors sounding off about the death of the open Internet. But with a community of 10,000 and growing, the Meshnet supporters can certainly make a lot of noise. They've already caught the attention of those Taiwanese animators.