With the announcement that Reddit will go dark next Wednesday the protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is getting real. In an official blog post, the site's admins cited "freedom, innovation and economic opportunity" as principles that SOPA risks stomping on and boldly said that the site would go dark on January 18 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. They say:
Instead of the normal glorious, user-curated chaos of reddit, we will be displaying a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit, link to resources to learn more, and suggest ways to take action. We will showcase the live video stream of the House hearing where Internet entrepreneurs and technical experts (including reddit co-founder Alexis “kn0thing” Ohanian) will be testifying. We will also spotlight community initiatives like meetups to visit Congressional offices, campaigns to contact companies supporting PIPA/SOPA, and other tactics.
Oof. Isn't this probably going to piss off some Redditors used to spending their days upvoting, downvoting, commenting, and lulzing? Yes, but that's sort of the point, the admins explain that "support for a blackout isn’t unanimous" and they "wouldn’t do this if we didn’t believe this legislation and the forces behind it were a serious threat to reddit and the Internet as we know it." Inevitably, the blackout is an effort to "amplify the voice of the community." Based on the pick up the announcement's gotten on Twitter, we think it's probably working.
Speaking of Twitter, Reddit's not the only online community that's taking their SOPA protest to the next level. The familiar show of support by adjusting avatars on Twitter and other social networks is quickly becoming ubiquitous. Some call this a "twibbon" (we hate the term "twibbon".) The effort is not unlike the December protest that saw a number of websites strikethrough their logos to represent the censorship that SOPA could allow or the very sticky collection of headshots on "I Work For the Internet". Blacking out part of one's avatar isn't exactly the equivalent of letting one of the world's most trafficked link-sharing sites go dark, but it's a sign that the people are taking the proposed law and it's consequences very personally. When magnified by the dedication and loyalty of the Reddit community, the possible effects of these individuals coming together and flexing their crowd power is inevitably, well, incredibly powerful.
A quick cruise of Reddit's devoted SOPA page shows that the idea of blacking out Reddit is only prompting more Redditors to lobby other sites to shut down in protest. We've already seen Wikipedia levy the threat of a blackout if Congress didn't put a stop to SOPA's progress, and folks are now calling for Google, Facebook, Twitter and the popular image hosting site imgur to do the same. Can you imagine? Reddit's shown that it can force a major corporation -- that is, if you want to call GoDaddy a major corporation -- back down from its support of the bill, and a new Android app even lets you scan barcodes to determine whether or not companies making retail products support the bill or not. Of course, there's the fact that this year is a big election year, and SOPA is rapidly becoming a big political liability for candidates and incumbents alike. Politico's Jennifer Martinez explains:
The Web-savvy anti-SOPA movement has coalesced quickly online, tapping into social sites such as Reddit. Recently, users created a digital hit list of sorts, naming lawmakers up for reelection this year who are supportive of SOPA and its sister in the Senate, PROTECT IP. On the comment thread, Reddit users strategize about which lawmakers they should try to unseat and how to go after them; one user even suggested applying for PAC status for the cause.
And it's happening. Redditors have already forced Rep. Paul Ryan to defend himself for supporting the law, and given how they picked the congressman somewhat randomly, just to show the country what they could do, there's no telling who could be next. With one week to go before Reddit goes dark and its founder Alexis Ohanian takes the stand, we wouldn't be surprised to see Redditors raise a hatchet and launch another offensive. We've said this many times at this point, but it's not a good idea to upset Reddit.