Much has been written in the aftermath of SOPA – how it shook up the established power structure in Washington, DC, how it demonstrated the power of social media in our democracy, and how the free, open web will defend itself when threatened. The ramifications of the SOPA backlash are indeed profound – probably moreso than any of the headlines can even describe – but as the issue subsides until after the next election, few people are asking: could we do it again?
This was the first time in recent memory that the web has put together such a coordinated, high profile effort – the blackouts, the calls to action – you had to be living in a cave not to notice. But much like drug resistance, humans have an uncanny ability to build up tolerance to these types of things. The medicine works well the first time, but with each subsequent use, it becomes less effective. If the web repeatedly comes under attack, will average people still be willing to go out of their way to call and write representatives, share pleas with their networks, and mobilize to the same degree?
The SOPA backlash was a battle – the war will go on for years. Lobbyists and career politicians know this and they know that people may not be so fired up the second or third time around.
So how does the internet community create a more robust, enduring defense of its values and interests? Certainly, the majors in tech are adopting old-school tactics – hiring lobbyists, making campaign contributions, and paying more attention to Washington, DC. This is important, but the web can also be more creative.
We need to find ways over social media to support causes for the long term – signing a petition on Change.org should be the first step, not the only step. We need to be able to “subscribe” to causes, monitor outcomes, and step up repeatedly if necessary. It also needs to be granular: is our representative changing their stance on a critical issue? Concerned citizens in their district should know immediately.
Think tanks, entrepreneurs, and even politicians and lobbyists should find ways for citizens to be more involved – we can’t blackout some of the web’s most popular sites every time a bad piece of legislation comes up. Our baseline level of engagement with the political process needs to be higher.
SOPA was a dramatic gesture – one that showed that when average people care enough about an issue, they will stop their daily lives and demand change. This was a victory for the open web and for good governance, but we can’t count on this tactic working every time. We need more robust strategies, and more creative ways to engage citizens. If we can do this, SOPA will be the first shot in a war that will be won – and victory will mean more than just an open web – it will mean better governance.
If we do nothing and bask in the glow of this short term win, in five years SOPA may be nothing more than a blip on our Facebook Timelines.