Ok, ok, so I’m posting content on a day when thousands of websites are going ‘dark’ in protest of bad laws in the works…

But seriously: I get about 5 hits a day. Asking my web designer to add fancy graphics to my site would just annoy him, and wouldn’t affect anyone else in any way…

For the 5 of you who read this site… I don’t need to tell you about SOPA/PIPA. (Say it quickly enough and it sounds delicious…)

Many other sites have covered this story for months, and many other sites have written up eloquent summaries of the issues involved. The Oatmeal even drew pictures of koalas and goats to make their point.

My own take on the various protests and actions happening around the web today has less to do with SOPA/PIPA itself, and more to do with my growing doubts about anything that claims to ‘raise awareness’ of an issue. 

Wikipedia went dark this morning, making it almost impossible to know who that guy was in that one movie where the car goes into the building. As a protest of bad policy, it works pretty well: anyone visiting Wikipedia today who doesn’t already know about SOPA/PIPA gets a crash course on the issues involved. I suspect a lot of people will simply end up frustrated and angry at Wikipedia, but this is precisely the point. If you want to prevent this kind of ‘random’ outage in the future, help us block a stupid law that would make the internet worse.

The good folks at Twitter, however, thought this kind of protest was simplistic and pointless. After all, they run a ‘global’ business, and SOPA/PIPA is a ‘local’ issue.

Pretty surprising to see a large, fairly competent tech company fail this much… ‘Local’ politics actually DO impact global networks, Twitter. Please don’t wait until it’s too late to figure this out, ok?

Similar protests and black-outs can be seen on BoingBoing, Reddit, and many other sites.

So… the websites participating in this action tend to be … sites frequented by relatively tech-literate users. While few of these users have actually read the SOPA/PIPA bills, many of them are at least vaguely aware of the issues. Being ‘denied’ access to popular sites for 24 hours will hopefully encourage more people to do something, and to help stop these phenomenally stupid bills from getting passed.

 

But… I still worry that this ‘awareness’ campaign is predominantly targeting the wrong audience. Not through any fault of the sites participating.

Rather, it’s the notable absences that are important.

A major disruption to XKCD.com helps generate awareness among a population that understands physics jokes. Had Facebook gone dark, on the other hand, your grandmother might have asked you what ‘SOPA’ was. (A terrifying conversation, to be sure, but maybe an important one?)

Large social networking sites are used by precisely the demographic that most needs additional ‘awareness’ of this kind of issue. It’s not the 5% of web users who pay attention to tech issues who need to get angry and call their senator. It’s the 95% who play Farmville and ask you how you made those pictures on Facebook look ‘old-fashioned and neat’.

To be clear: I’m not belittling those who are less tech-savvy. (Mostly because the majority of my close friends are waaaay more tech-savvy than I am, and probably look at me like a mouth-breathing idiot fumbling with a computer like a monkey with a camera…)

The important fact is that hundreds of millions of people use the Internet everyday, yet rarely stop to consider the political and economic forces shaping the future of the web. I don’t expect everyone to know everything about everything in their lives. But when really important decisions are being made, it’s critical that ‘awareness’ is raised, so that everyone has an informed say in the things that affect their daily lives. In the case of SOPA/PIPA, the 5% are fighting because they want to preserve the internet they currently enjoy. But it’s the 95% we need to get on board. They vote, and they spend a lot more money than we do. If most of their current internet activity takes place on large sites like Facebook, then that’s where we need to do our work.

If Facebook won’t participate in protests, then let’s find ways to make these sites ‘go dark’ ourselves. Stop supporting businesses that refuse to take SOPA/PIPA seriously (or who negotiate their own exemptions…)

Twitter believes that by staying online today, they are facilitating conversations about the issues. This is, to be blunt, a complete cop out. If you really want to help protect the future of the internet, force the larger population to give a damn. Don’t just sit back and wait for information to trickle down on its own.

Learn more.

Tell others.

And support businesses and organizations that share your values.