The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an excellent checklist of 12 things you can do to fight the U.S. Congress’ attack on the Internet. Most of them are tiresome rearguard actions against this particular legislation (though most can have secondary long-term effects of educating policymakers and the public about the harm of attacking the Internet). All this is necessary, please take action now.
Action #12 is long-term: contribute financially to the EFF so they can continue “leading the fight to defend civil liberties online, so that future generations will enjoy an Internet free of censorship.” Indeed, please do this too. I’ve recommended becoming an EFF member in the past, and will continue to do so. Actually I’m even more enthusiastic about donating to the EFF in 2011 than I was in 2005. In addition to playing an absolutely critical role in fighting SOPA, PIPA, and their ilk, the EFF’s small technical staff is working on some of the most important technical challenges to keeping the Internet open and secure. They are awesome!
There’s one more item that needs to be in every responsible digital freedom activist’s toolkit: the digital commons, meaning free and open source software and their analogues in culture, knowledge, and beyond. Using and consuming free software and culture is crucial to maintaining a free society. There are many reasons, some of which I mentioned recently at OWF, and with a bit more focus in a FSCONS 2008 presentation (slideshare, .pdf, .odp), but here’s one: imagine a world in which most software and culture are free as in freedom. Software, culture, and innovation would be abundant, there would be plenty of money in it (just not based on threat of censorship), and there would be no constituency for attacking the Internet. (Well, apart from dictatorships and militarized law enforcement of supposed democracies; that’s a fight intertwined with SOPA, but those aren’t the primary constituencies for the bill.) Now, world
dominationliberation by free software and culture isn’t feasible now. But every little bit helps reduce the constituency that wishes to attack the Internet to possibly protect their censorship-based revenue streams, and to increase the constituency whose desire to protect the Internet is perfectly aligned with their business interests and personal expression.
Am I crazy? Seriously, I’d like to make the case for the commons as crucial to the future of free society more compellingly. Or, if I’m wrong, stop making it. Feedback wanted.
Support doing something powerful. I blackout would be that. I do have some reticence though. Making the knowledge in English Wikipedia and maybe other sites inaccessible feels a bit like protestors who destroy their own neighborhood. Sometimes necessary to gain attention and perhaps justice in the long run, but always painful and with collateral victims. Sure, visitors to Wikipedia sites can come back later or find a mirror, but just as surely, the neighborhood will recover. Maybe. Admittedly the analogy is far from perfect, but I wish there were something the Wikimedia movement could do that would have power analogous to a mass physical action, but avoid costs analogous to the same. Long term, I think fulfilling the Wikimedia vision is exactly that. In the short term, maybe a total blackout is necessary, though if there’s a a way to equally powerfully present to viewers what SOPA means, then let them access the knowledge, I’d prefer that. UI challenge? Surely some A:B testing is in order for this important action. I’d hope that at least some messages tested convey not only the threat SOPA poses to Wikimedia, but the long-term threat the Wikimedia movement poses to censorship.