On SOPA and ignorance and needless yelling.

Late last night, I clicked over to Google and found the arresting image on the left. I’d known that Wikipedia was in the midst of an “information blackout” protesting the Stop Online Privacy Act that day, but hadn’t realized that Google was involved as well.

I clicked the link and found a short plea for support protesting SOPA, and would I please help by signing their online petition? An email address and a zip code later, I had made my voice heard and returned to the main page to continue my very important business (I was comparing the box office takes of No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits, if you must know, so I had no time to just be messing around with petitions). Five minutes later, the whole event had completely disappeared from my mind. After all, this overview of sex-obsessed romantic comedies wasn’t going to write itself.

If your Facebook news feed is anything like mine, you saw at least a dozen links to Google’s infographic on spreading the news about protesting SOPA yesterday. I would bet I saw close to a hundred links to it over the course of the day, and on a day when I was at my computer a fair bit less than I normally am. Clearly, after a few months of disinterest among the general population (with the exception of Reddit aficionados), this relatively minor effort to create an online groundswell has worked. Or at least, worked among the under-30 crowd that – thanks to the wonder of smartphones – is now never not on Facebook. The word is out.

It was only after the day had passed and I was driving home that I really began thinking about SOPA again. I realized suddenly that I knew almost nothing of any substance about the bill. I had a vague understanding that there was a second bill in the Senate with similar goals, but if it wasn’t for our cultural obsession with the younger Middleton, I doubt I’d have remembered its name.

I would be naïve to think that I’m alone in this. In fact, if you look at the webpage that Google put up, there’s almost no information about the bills, or to sites that would have some information about them, or to the bills themselves. The infographic that they invite you to share is even less helpful: it just points out that if you tell a bunch of people about this, then they’ll tell more people and eventually we will have a groundswell. The message being that with a little work, a lot of people can have strong negative opinions about something they know very little about.

When Wikipedia went black yesterday, they were wise enough to leave the pages explaining SOPA and PIPA still active, so people could come and learn about the bills they were supposed to be protesting. Unfortunately, every other page on Wikipedia was blocked, so if I wanted to click some of the links and learn more about U.S. Copyright law, or the founders of the bill, or similar proposed bills in the past, they were out of luck (I mean, I suppose I could have tried using other websites, but who has time for that? There’s important games of Temple Run to be gotten to!).

I sat down last night and sorted through the hue and cry of my peers on Facebook. It was a depressing expedition. No matter where I looked, I found almost no data of any kind. It was all generic “Censorship is bad!” drivel, clearly dashed off by its author without the faintest need to look into what it is that they were complaining about. By the end of the night, I seemed to know less than I ever had about the issues at hand. In fact, my biggest takeaway was that people are very concerned about losing the ability to make GIFs of movies and television shows. It made me weep for my generation. And I love GIFs of movies and television shows. Here’s one now!


It’s ironic, really, that the thing that brought the issue to the attention of the masses was the blackout of Wikipedia, since the temporary loss of the ability to be casually informed was what motivated everyone to become casually informed about SOPA. If we’d lost Tumblr for a day, we’d probably all have created new SOPA memes by this morning. If we’d lost Facebook for a day, we’d have…. well, we’d probably have descended into madness and killed each other.

Oddly, the site that actually ended up linking to relevant, useful information was the most recent XKCD comic. I don’t know why a webcomic is able to outdo Google so easily, but it was.

I browsed through the liked pages and developed a better-than-cursory understanding of the two bills at hand. Took all of ten minutes.

I wonder how many issues pass by where I don’t even bother to do that. I should get involved more.

But until then, I’ll just stay here and stare at GIFs for a while.