Yesterday saw a â€˜blackoutâ€™ of several popular websites, including Wikipedia and Reddit, whilst other popular websites like Google and Craigslist displayed messages on their homepages, protesting against two separate anti-censorship bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP [Intellectual Property] Act (PIPA).
Both are meant to attack the problem of foreign Web sites that sell pirated or counterfeit goods. They would impose restrictions forcing U.S. companies to stop selling online ads to suspected pirates, processing payments for illegal online sales and refusing to list websites suspected of piracy in search-engine results. But, protesters say, the bills would actually do very little to prevent piracy and illegal websites, and instead may result in the extreme censorship and even takedown of websites that rely on user-generated content, like Wikipedia or YouTube.
The protest is the first of its kind, where some of the most visited websites on the internet have voiced their discontent with the proposed law. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, while having issued statements against the two laws, have been noticeably absent from the protests, aside from a status update by Mark Zuckerberg:
The internet is the most powerful tool we have for creating a more open and connected world. We canâ€™t let poorly thought out laws get in the way of the internetâ€™s development. Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA, and we will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the internet.
The world today needs political leaders who are pro-internet. We have been working with many of these folks for months on better alternatives to these current proposals. I encourage you to learn more about these issues and tell your congressmen that you want them to be pro-internet.
This points to the larger issue of trust, and the lack of it, that is apparent in these legislations. Curbing access to the internet, censoring online content and preventing free expression (singing a cover of your favorite song on a YouTube video would be made illegal under these laws) only leads to discontent and a greater crisis of trust. Like in the recent episode in Egypt where the government attempted to block internet connectivity, citizens are left with little illusion about the governmentâ€™s protection of their rights to information and expression.