Creating Technology for Social Change

Defending the Internet

The closing ROFLcon keynote. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to defend These Internets from those that would take away its freedoms. On the heels of the SOPA/PIPA debacle, we’ve assembled this final boss panel to scheme and plan for the next time some baddies come around the corner.

Internet Defense League


Derek (@derekslater): We need to fix the process of how internet policy is made. Internet policy should be like the internet, not politics as usual.

Alexis (@kn0thing): I just want up and down vote arrows on everything that comes out of Washington.

Elizabeth (@starkness): The RIAA and MPAA don’t really like the internet. We’ve seen them fight every new technology that emerges, whether it’s VHS or MP3. Every minute you’re spending on Reddit or other sites, you’re not spending it watching a TV show or a movie. They’re doing everything they can — last year they spent $94 million to lobby, versus $14 by all technology companies — so we’re fighting a pretty strong opponent.

Tiff: Until the SOPA battle, we hadn’t collectively said together, “We believe in an open internet.” We should work to expand and protect that power and that public good that the internet provides.

Elizabeth: Technically, Facebook has a policy that, if 35% of users agree on a policy, they can bring it to Facebook and modify official policy.

Derek: We have freedom online. You can choose to join or leave a conversation online. But when it comes to governance and internet policy, we can’t just pack up our toys and go home. We actually need to engage with other people, have empathy for where they’re coming from, and try to find a way forward.

“Why do you care what I think? I care what you think.” The great thing about the internet is that you have a voice to say something.

Anil: If we can’t rule ourselves, who are we to say you should be making policy for us?

Alexis: Ostensibly every American cares about privacy and personal rights. That’s part of being an American.

Elizabeth: Media was not even covering SOPA until the very end. SOPA became a meme and it propagated through the internet. Did anyone see the SOPA toilet paper on kickstarter? The SOPA glasses/t-shirts/etc.? This the first time we saw mobilization at this scale.
The internet’s response was chaotic, distributed, and decentralized.

Anil: But there were instigators. What happens between “this is a bad bill” and “we need to do something about this?”

Tiff: It’s not about policy. Nobody here actually cares about making policy. We work to represent and push for the broad capabilities of the internet. Reddit works on this principle of openness that drives ingenuity on the web. Participatory culture-making is where we want to go.

Alexis: It’d be great if we could get Congress to publish all bills as advice animals. A bunch of folks from the New York tech community got together

Elizabeth: So many Democrats were lined up to cosponsor SOPA, they couldn’t all get their names on it because they wanted the bill to be seen as bipartisan.

Tiff: We’ve lost on copyright for 20 years, and this was going to be another slam-dunk for them that they put a ton of work into, so the fact that we won on this was a big deal.

Anil: Skeptical observers point to Google’s influence behind the scenes.

Derek: It’s hard for people in Congress to understand how the internet could mean so much to so many people. Generally speaking, people in DC went there for good reasons and are busy trying to keep our democracy and our economy going. We had this moment on January 18th, but what’s next? The next big threat won’t be a SOPA, it’ll be death by a thousand cuts. They’ll try to split the coalition between “I work for the internet” and “the internet works for me.” We need to work to keep these groups together. How many of you know about the ITU’s attempts to take over more control of the internet? [only about ten hands go up]

Anil: $94 million isn’t actually that much money, relative to Microsoft Office sales or the box office for the Avengers.

Elizabeth: You give me $94 million, I’ll get a lot of shit done, OK?

Anil: I want Hipmunk for Congress, where I can sort members of Congress by influence and then buy advertising in their districts.

Alexis: What gives me hope is that a bunch of people with phones and email addresses were able to scare Congress and remind them that they work for us. I believe we can do this job without playing their game.

Derek wants voters to get together, and build the tools to help voters organize.

Anil wants to know when the panelists got passionate about

Elizabeth doesn’t necessarily trust Google. The decisions are made in backroom deals, where one corporation can pretend to represent everyone using the internet. “We are the fucking Internet, and we are not going to let these people take it away from us.” She had basically given up and resigned herself to maybe out-innovating policy with new technology. SOPA came around and was the worst legislation she had seen in at least a decade, so she called some folks at Mozilla. Capitol Hill insiders advised them that, unless something huge happened, SOPA was going to pass. The November 16th day of action turned the tide, and Elizabeth decided she hadn’t given up.

Alexis was headed down to testify in Washington. He brought with him his personal success story of founding Reddit and selling it to Conde Nast for lots of money. Redditors advised him to ignore the censorship argument and focus on the internet’s role in job creation and as an economic growth engine. My entire identity is, like many of you, forged by the internet. The thought that the MPAA and others were going to take that away hurt so much. It became personal.

Derek argues for a big tent of internet freedom fighters, one that includes the Tea Party.

Where’s the next battle?
Elizabeth: The Obama Administration has given a nod to the MPAA and RIAA to enact a six-strike campaign based on Bittorrent activity. They’ve also given a nod to other legislation that would allow blocking of foreign websites.

The internet is international, and the open internet is an international issue. We don’t even know what the TPP says because we cannot get access to it. It’s becoming law through extralegal means. The US has a tendency to export its extremist copyright laws elsewhere around the world.

Tron Man stands up to comment. He says he’s the poster child for “made famous by the internet.” But he’s also a conservative, “and damn proud of it.” He’s upset with the anti-corporate rhetoric he’s heard here, and thinks we need to do a better job explaining the importance of the open internet to the political right.

Elizabeth: The conservatives and Republicans have been better than the Democrats on these issues.
Anil: Well, they’re not getting money from Hollywood.

Q: Did anyone in Congress honestly believe their constituents wanted this bill?
Alexis: They didn’t know about the ones who didn’t. Some of the best conversations I had were with FOX News and conservative congresspeople. Everyone thinks they have the best ideas, so let’s duke them out on a level playing field.

Derek argues that our representatives in Washington want to support innovation, but they’re just so busy and only hear from well-paid, well-connected lobbyists.

Consider: Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works vs. Dear Internet: It’s No Longer OK to Not Know How Congress Works.

The groups working to close the internet are well-funded and are paying very close attention to Congress. The online masses are already showing signs of outrage fatigue. CISPA is seeing less backlash than SOPA. Each new threat requires further education, and not all threats will be as clearly labeled as SOPA was. The price of libery is eternal vigilance.