Tuesday, January 17, 2012


It’s good to know that even the chief executive of Twitter uses Twitter to say stupid things.

Fortunately, the mass of public support for the internet blackout in opposition to SOPA built until Wikipedia’s awareness of it hit a breaking point and Jimmy Wales saw fit to make the internet’s massive user-generated encyclopedia the largest participant in the protest. Unfortunately, in response to efforts to goad Twitter into joining as well, Dick Costolo said via tweet: “That’s just silly. Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish.”

Well maybe, Dick, but not in this case since closing a global business demonstrates exactly what the outcome would be of letting that single-issue go uncontested. It’s not like this is just some eccentric webmaster’s pet cause. The SOPA legislation, if it were allowed to pass, would threaten the very existence of innumerably many sites on the internet. Its overbroad language makes Wikipedia potentially culpable if people ever fail to attribute quoted sources in articles, and threatens to punish Twitter for facilitating piracy if anyone tweets a link to a bit torrent, or the Pirate Bay, or an embedded video of copyrighted material.

The punishment for either site on the SOPA model could be that an entertainment company files a complaint prompting the domain owner to pull the entire site off the web practically immediately. That would look an awful lot like a blackout, except one that wouldn’t end without a great deal of legal wrangling, much less after twenty-four hours. That’s a consequence that people ought to be confronted with directly. The blackout that begins tonight is not just an impotent protest designed to outrage and inconvenience internet addicts. It addresses a single issue, but the single issue is not SOPA, but rather the witch-hunt mentality that threatens to dominate anti-piracy activism and legislation.

As long as that mentality persists, the very existence of such global businesses as Twitter and Wikipedia is in danger. To not clearly and unequivocally address that particular single-issue is foolish, and so is Dick Costolo himself for dismissing out of hand that bit of national politics that is most important to his company and to the landscape of the internet in which his business operates.

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