Sober somber post-SOPA: Six lessons

In the explosion of comment, one or two from me. C-PET is hosting a telecon in a couple of weeks with various views around the table; who knows what stage the debate will be at by then. (Email emily.stubbs at for info.)

1. It’s hard not to reflect that we have just seen a vast new economy flashmob take down old economy lobbyists and a business-as-usual Congress with a nuclear detonation that has not before been heard. Hard not to because there is a tad of truth in both these aspects. But there is a lot more going on here. For one thing, new economy lobbyists (and donors) have been at it. The White House intervention came (ahem) when it was already clear how the wind was blowing.

2. Of course it isn’t over. What have been seen as the more pernicious threats to the internet will now not end up in legislation; but SOPA opponents are right to be on their guard, and its supporters have not struck their tends and departed.

3. The issues remain, with vast concerns (which most though not quite all participants in this discussion share) that IP is being vastly abused, mainly outside of the United States, thanks largely to an invention birthed and controlled in the United States.

4. One plain lesson is: Washington had sure better improve its capacity to engage in foresight and deliberation on emerging issues driven by technology. This is not the last of them! Indeed, we have barely begun.

5. Another lesson is, properly, to recognize the potential of this novel and near-universal medium to mobilize support, and – not least – defend its own territory. Hence my flashmob language. Instant, widescale, mobilization. When Google and Facebook and Wikipedia and Craigslist decide to campaign, and when that campaign is driven by as well as to hundreds of millions of their users, a fresh political force is being generated. In some ways it could be seen as part and parcel of the “exopolitics” (my term for it) which has birthed the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street and No Labels and many other aspects of a growing across-the-spectrum engagement in politics powered by disinterest in politics rather than fascination with it.

6. Specifically, in defense of internet freedom we now know, and I hope Washington has got the point, that a new and potent force is out there, a crowd-sourced highly-informed mob who when mobilized can generate millions of calls and faxes and emails and twist every arm in Capitol Hill. “Leave our internet alone” may or may not be a rational response, but it is deep-rooted and has been energized by the kind of passion that drives people into public demonstrations. It will not go away. Social media is not just about projecting party and candidates’ images and messages; it has a life altogether of its own. Internet policymakers now know they have to work with or around what we might call the Internet Party (IP!). A slumbering giant is awakening, and I have reason to believe will have more and more impact on the options facing policymakers. (Next stage: the mob goes global.)

Post-SOPA: the path forward for addressing piracy.

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