Occupy Online: The Next Great Frontier
After recent events including the SOPA blackout and related opposition, it seems we’re embroiled in a year which will be characterized by online dissent. American internet behemoths Google, Wikipedia and Mozilla, together with an extensive list of allies went dark on Wednesday in solidarity against proposed Congressional and Senate legislation, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). While some sites opted to stay online and provide information about SOPA and PIPA, other sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit went completely offline for 12-24 hours.
Internet-based dissent is not a new phenomenon, though the official SOPA Strike website (sopastrike.com) touted January 18th as "the largest online protest in history” and events aren’t planned to stop there.
SOPA and PIPA are both designed to fortify and expand laws that protect intellectual property theft and copyright infringement. The bills target web platforms that direct internet users towards digital content classified as illegal. As a result, websites that host access to un-authorized, copyright-protected material would be susceptible to legal retribution, regardless of their intentions or location around the world. The bills would also allow plaintiffs and the government to cut-off funds to websites in breach of the law. Websites like Wikipedia and WordPress, both hosts that provide platforms for user generated content, would be responsible for policing and filter all content on their servers in order to ensure its compliance with the law. The result of which could be "a tremendous chilling effect on people trying to conduct political discourse and trying to use content in a fair use context," said senior fellow at the nonpartisan New America Foundation, Rebecca MacKinnon in an interview with CBS.
There were similar cyber demonstrations in 2011 when hacktivists and activists called for boycotts of Amazon and PayPal. The call to boycott the two sites came as a result of Amazon's refusal to continue to host non-profit whistleblower website Wikileaks on its servers, and when PayPal froze Wikileak's account to prevent it from receiving donations vital to sustaining the organizations operations. Amazon and PayPal's actions were widely perceived as corporate political acts of retribution in response to the organization's release of US diplomatic cables.
The January 18 SOPA/PIPA blackout and the Amazon/PayPal boycotts are both examples of modern forms of protest.
In an era of national politics characterized by perpetual Washington stalemates and dollars over sense, the trend towards individual action has proven to be a powerful response to stagnation. While nations such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are budding democracies, America's established democratic tradition is entering a new stage of refinement.
The public has realized that in the current political climate the success of a candidate depends on the depth of their supporter's pockets, and that lobbyists determine legislation. The result is a need for a new way to affect change, one that gnaws at the hands who feed the campaigns and lobbyists.
Since it has become difficult to expect elected officials to succeed in representing its constituents it is now the public's turn to speak for herself. In this new era of self-representation, the SOPA/PIPA blackout and the Amazon and PayPal boycotts are sources of inspiration. When the individual can no longer rely on her vote at the polls it becomes necessary to cast small votes throughout each day. This is the re-politicization of the individual after having so long invested disappointed hopes in elected representatives.
The key way to re-politicize the individual on a daily basis is by spending dollars with sense.
With corporate sponsored politics leading the race, one of the key methods individuals can use to exercise their liberty is by spending hard earned paychecks on businesses that hold up to personal scrutiny. If a business' practices, products or political allies do not match up with your values, the most effective way to voice your opinion is to stop investing in them and redirect your finances towards businesses you thoroughly support.
In the 1950s, television programs and their advertisements were targeted towards women. At the time, women were predominantly in the home and held the most influence over household spending on both large and small purchases. Who better to select food, furniture, appliances and clothing than the individuals in the home who used them the most? The entire television industry was grounded in the notion that women controlled the money and that appealing to them would make for better and more profitable business. If a business failed to adhere to this knowledge it would not succeed. While the proliferation of television networks in the past decade has diversified the television audience to include young, old, male and female with a variety of interests, women across America still hold considerable influence over household spending. Only today, women have the additional influence of a personal income. Women now decide how to spend both household and personal incomes.
It is individual daily actions such as supporting businesses or websites whose values reflect your own that can lead to the re-empowerment and re-politicization of the individual in America. If the Arab Spring, the internet blackout and the boycott of Amazon and PayPal have taught us anything it is to remember that the influence of the individual is a muscle that deserves respect.
Francesca Weller grew up with the internet and cares a lot about it. As a writer in the finance sector she normally blogs on the best savings rates, but her personal passion is the future of the free internet.