I’ve been thinking a lot about Wikileaks lately. Finally there is an entity out there that is actually able to land a few blows against the war machine. Finally there is an entity that is able to really piss off all villains out there. Finally a group of journalists that is actually doing journalism. I’m tired of impotent gestures and symbolic protests. This feels like it’s making contact.
And I’ve been thinking about the COICA Internet censorship bill that is passing swiftly without public knowledge through the senate. It is things like COICA and the anti-neutrality (dressed up as neutrality) statements of the FCC and the Citizens United ruling, the stupid debate over whether we should cut rich people’s taxes by a lot or a whole lot that really push me to despair. Things are getting worse, much much worse. As bad and broken as our ‘democracy’ is right now it will be even less of a democracy soon. All of these issues (COICA, net neutrality and Citizens United, taxes) pit the public against the powerful. The public vastly outnumber the powerful but are largely unaware and uninvolved. Even today, only 7% of people have ever heard of net neutrality (according to this poll). How many have heard of the COICA Internet censorship bill? It has to be less than 1%. Yet if people knew what it was I have to believe that they’d be overwhelmingly opposed to it. Just look at who supports the bill. The Pentagon and senators like it because they can use it to shut down dissident political groups of all stripes, corporations like it because the can censor bittorrent sites that let people share rather than shop. Who is against it? The lowly American Library Association (which, you know, has always been about sharing instead of shopping), the EFF and ACLU.
So I’ve been thinking about how to actually let the public know about what is going on. In many cases we know that increased information does not really lead to changes in behavior or action, but in cases like this I think increased awareness is a necessary first step to any possible action. So how could we do it? I think the way to do it by organizing an on-line general strike. Websites of all kinds, big ones and small ones will go dark for a period of time (a day, a week, indefinitely?). Let say, for example, that when trying to go to Lolcats you land on a splash page that reads “Censored by COICA” with a link to find out more information about what COICA was and your senators phone numbers. If the Cute Cate Theory of Digital Activism is correct people will only really start paying attention when you take their cute cats away. If even a dozen of the most visited websites did this it would be covered by 24 hour news sites for days, suddenly COICA goes from something nobody knows about to something that, say 30% of the public knows about. Suddenly the political calculus for senators changes. Right now senators are being pressured only by corporate lobbyists and the Pentagon. If they vote for COICA there will be no negative political consequences because their constituents are unaware of it, but if they vote against it there will be serious political consequences as they’ve just made some powerful enemies. We need to even out these consequences. We need the senators to fear the public, at least to some degree, if they vote for COICA.
I wonder if it is possible to organize a general strike. Get tens of thousands (or more? how many would it take?) of sites of all sizes to go dark.
And I recognize that it would be a stunt, and usually I don’t like stunts, but in this case I think it is justifiable if it made a larger percentage of the public aware and engaged.
Now doubt some major sites generate their revenue by traffic and going dark would be a real cost for them. I think it would make the most impact if they really truly went dark, at least for one day, but maybe afterward they could post the splash page and then after clicking through it to the COICA info you could click through again to the regular content.
It would be kind of like a bottom up, non-arrogant version of the silly self-righteous “digital death” campaign.