Yesterday I wrote about SOPA and solicited your comments. I was delighted to discover that this debate is more interesting than I had hoped.
For all practical purposes, SOPA is very dead now, and the Internet killed it. Your human-centric view of the world might be that freedom-loving activists killed SOPA, and the Internet was their tool. But I don’t share the common view of human beings as the center of the universe. From my perspective, the Internet defended itself from a virus that came out of Congress. The Internet is essentially alive now, and we work for it. That’s also a plot device in my book, God’s Debris, in which God is presented as an evolving entity, moving toward a state of supreme power, with the Internet as his mind. Humans are like drone insects, driven by an impulse to support this emerging entity. But I digress.
A number of blog posts ago, I opined that the country needs a “dashboard” for monitoring and controlling its government. The idea is that if citizens had useful information about our economy, our budget, the money flow of political donations, and handy access to the best arguments pro and con for each issue, we could steer our elected officials in the best direction. It’s a pipe dream, you say. And maybe we don’t want that sort of world because we citizens could never be as brilliant as the leaders we elected in our beloved Republic which is, as you were taught in school, a perfect system that was invented by our genius Founding Fathers.
That’s one way to look at it.
When Google and Wikipedia and Reddit waded into the SOPA fight, it created a sort of ad hoc user interface that helped citizens focus on the issue. It wasn’t a perfect user interface, but it worked. The results were swift. The cockroaches in Congress are already scurrying from the light.
Meanwhile, the traditional news media was finding it easy to go to a newish site called maplight.org and find out how much money the companies that back SOPA were donating to politicians. The President and co-founder of Maplight emailed me yesterday and summarized the impact of his company this way:
I hope that your new year is off to a good start. At MapLight we’ve been shining a light lately on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). A few highlights:
- New York Times: "Why the political support? Various amendments intended to tone down SOPA or limit its damage were voted down by large majorities in the House Judiciary Committee in mid-December, an indication that the indignation of various constituencies on the Web is having little impact.
“That’s partly because entertainment companies have deep and long-lasting relationships inside the Beltway. MapLight, a site that researches the influence of money in politics, reported that the 32 sponsors of the legislation received four times as much in contributions from the entertainment industry as they did from software and Internet companies.”
- Mother Jones: "Maplight.org found that since the beginning of the 2010 election cycle, SOPA’s 32 sponsors took in nearly four times as much in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry than from the software and Internet industries (nearly $2 million versus a little over $500,000). For SOPA opponents, the ratio was reversed-foes of the legislation took about twice as much money from software and internet firms as they did from the entertainment industry.“
These are just two of more than 150 recent stories citing our SOPA data, reaching an estimated 3 million people, including articles in Forbes, Reuters, Fortune (CNN Money), TechCrunch, and National Journal. Our SOPA data is also featured on Public Campaign’s black-out page today, and is being used by the online advocacy tool SOPA Track.
President & Co-Founder
Given all of that, here’s my summary of the situation: An industry that thought it would benefit by draconian rules against piracy drafted some legislation (SOPA) that few if any members of congress actually read, and even fewer could have understood. (The language is impenetrable.) But thanks to the money and contacts of the industry in question, our "leaders” did as they were told and supported SOPA against the interests of the people who elected them. It’s not entirely clear if the leaders were even aware of the impact of their own actions. That’s your beloved Republic in action.
Luckily, the Internet has achieved something akin to consciousness, and it defended itself against the Republic with the help of its citizen slaves who believe they have free will. A key to the Internet’s victory was Maplight, Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, and other web assets acting collectively in what might someday be called a pre-dashboard user interface. Users could find the arguments they needed online and view the money flow to politicians. That was enough to steer our “leaders” back into line. In time, the Internet will look to consolidate its power over humans by ordering us to improve the dashboard interface.
I just did my part.