it’s probably a good thing, but it’s at least a little scary

Today’s coordinated action in opposition to SOPA/PIPA by the internet community is something that’s both heartening and inspiring.  Its volume–despite a lack of coverage that should deeply embarrass the traditional media–and the speed with which it’s prompting legislators to reverse position are both impressive.  It could easily turn out to be remembered as the moment when “the internet” emerged not just as a political force but as a political constituency.

Still, those pointing out that today’s site blackouts are corporate speech are not wrong.  And this community’s ability to call what amounts to a general strike is more than a little worrisome, at least in principle.  The country is ever-more reliant on web companies to conduct normal business, but it has gotten into this position without entering into contractual arrangements with those companies.  The nature of information technology’s ability to scale means that the decision to deny web service will often rest in relatively few hands (with the exception of explicitly communal projects like Reddit and Wikipedia).  This all makes me at least a little bit uneasy.

In practice I suspect it’ll all be fine: there aren’t a lot of issues with the positive optics of speech rights; and the mass net movement around SOPA/PIPA really has originated with the grassroots.  I don’t think this kind of campaign would be thinkable for web companies without some genuine democratic underpinnings to support it.

Still, all of this positive activist energy would be much less charming if it were being directed toward sales tax amnesty or another one of the web startup community’s harebrained political priorities.

UPDATE: Some similar thoughts over at GigaOM.

2 Responses to “it’s probably a good thing, but it’s at least a little scary”

  1. Brian

    I see wikipedia is leveraging Sunlight Labs APIs to look up your congress person for you.

  2. Tom

    Indeed! Unfortunately there were some implementation problems on their side that resulted in inaccurate zip->rep matches. We tried to help them through it but ultimately there was a limit to how much capacity they had to fix things after it went live. As a result we didn’t talk about it much today. But we were all thrilled to see them using our stuff!

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