SOPA PIPA Bills 2012: Why Facebook and Twitter Shouldn't Black Out in Protest

 @redletterdave
on January 18 2012 6:29 PM
Even though Facebook and Twitter have spoken out against SOPA and PIPA before, they refused to participate in a blackout protest on Jan. 18 when other Internet companies like Wikipedia and Reddit did.
Like SOPA and PIPA before it, the CISPA bill aims to allow sharing of Internet data between companies and the government, but many opponents believe CISPA threatens civilian privacy and Internet freedom due to its dangerously broad language and lack of sufficient limitations. Reuters/Murad Sezer

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke out against the 2012 SOPA and PIPA bills Wednesday, as several other Internet companies decided to black out their Web sites in a 24-hour protest.

The SOPA and PIPA bills, as currently written, would allow the government to effectively shut down any Web site found with copyright-infringing content. This could include infringing links or posts on Facebook, or images reposted to Reddit or Tumblr. It's all being done in an effort to curb illegal distribution and pirating of music, movies and software.

The Internet is the most powerful tool we have for creating a more open and connected world, Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post on his profile page. We can't let poorly thought-out laws get in the way of the Internet's development. Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA, and we will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the Internet.

Despite his disapproval of SOPA and PIPA, Zuckerberg chose not to shut down access to his site on Wednesday, while prominent sites like Wikipedia and Reddit blocked their services for the day. Other sites that went dark included Imgur, Mozilla, Wordpress, MoveOn.org, TwitPic and Destructoid. Google was operating, but covered its logo with a black bar.

The world today needs political leaders who are pro-Internet, Zuckerberg said. 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.

Beyond urging his fans to reach out to their congressmen, Facebook's CEO did very little to help the anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA causes. Yet originally, Facebook joined with Google, Twitter, eBay, AOL, Yahoo and LinkedIn in sending a joint letter to Congress opposing the SOPA 2012 bill.

We support the bills' stated goals -- providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign 'rogue' Web sites that are dedicated to copyright infringement or counterfeiting, the letter said. Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action and technology mandates that would require monitoring of Web sites. 

We are very concerned that the bills as written would seriously undermine the effective mechanism Congress enacted in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to provide safe harbor for Internet companies that act in good faith to remove infringing content from their sites. Since their enactment in 1998, the DMCA's safe harbor provisions for online service providers have been a cornerstone of the U.S. Internet and technology industry's growth and success.

While we work together to find additional ways to target foreign 'rogue' sites, we should not jeopardize a foundational structure that has worked for content owners and Internet companies alike and provides certainty to innovators with new ideas for how people create, find, discuss and share information lawfully online.

Yet, despite the camaraderie among tech companies to put a stop to SOPA and PIPA, two of the companies with the most clout -- namely, Facebook and Twitter -- had absolutely no role in the big day of protests.

Should they have stepped in? It would be fair to criticize Facebook and Twitter for their inaction, but Facebook and Twitter make money -- Wikipedia and Reddit are non-profit sites, so they don't lose much by going dark for a day -- and those two companies are two of the biggest news networks. You heard me, not just social media sites, news networks.

People rely on Facebook and Twitter regularly, not just for status updates and pictures, but for important news. Facebook has literally saved lives when others have discovered ominous status updates and gone on to prevent suicides. In addition, Facebook now has a Suicide Prevention Hotline where users can chat with live counselors 24/7.

Twitter, on the other hand, tells us in real time about major world events, including births, deaths, wars and natural disasters, straight from the horse's mouth. Hell, if it weren't for Twitter, nobody would've known that Amanda Bynes wanted to retire from acting, or that Alec Baldwin was thrown off an airplane for playing Words With Friends.

Facebook and Twitter know better than to shutter their services, even for a day. It feels weird to say this, but these companies are literally responsible for people's lives now.

But also, if Facebook and Twitter decided to black out for this protest, many would begin to question their integrity. It's a slippery slope when a company decides to fight a cause: Hey Facebook, you fought against SOPA and PIPA, but why not protest this bill? Or that war? Or this politician?

There's no doubt that if Facebook and Twitter decided to rally against SOPA and PIPA, both of those bills would be history. Dunzo. No buts about it. Yet, there are unforeseen consequences to these actions, and Facebook and Twitter could suffer scrutiny for being biased, self-serving companies, instead of merely free platforms for Internet folk. It would've been nice to see banners on top of their pages speaking out against SOPA and PIPA, but Facebook and Twitter decided to take the high road, and the more responsible road. Better Facebook and Twitter stay active so people actually have platforms to discuss these bills, than if the companies actually got involved themselves.

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