Post-blackout analysis continues today with a general recognition that US legislators have been scared away from legislating, and a new approach to attacking the problem of online piracy will have to be designed.
You can see this as something anywhere on the spectrum from great victory for grassroots democracy to needless waste of time and legislative effort. My view should be apparent.
Before I leave the topic for now, though, there is one aspect of the this blackout story that continues to nag.
How the message was spread that SOPA and PIPA were apparently so threatening to humankind.
Google and Wikipedia, among a number of other prominent web-based companies (mostly for-profit... mostly for obscene levels of profit), have permanently handed in their neutrality cards and made it perfectly clear that they will do everything in their power to influence your political opinions.
Fair enough for Google, I suppose. I don't know anyone outside the free-culture fanatics club who still believes Google has only our best interests at heart. How Wikipedians deal with their own suddenly unmasked bias will be interesting to watch. If Stephen Colbert has not yet coined the term factiness, I offer it to him free of charge.
Very sadly, the popular teaching site Khan Academy also got into the act on Wednesday. Who does not love the idea of Khan's short, engaging, simplifying video lessons for kids and adult learners on subjects as broad as simple arithmetics to advanced physics? During the blackout, we learned that Khan had uploaded a special lesson on SOPA. I encourage everyone to go watch it here - but as you watch it, I would ask that you apply as fine a legal filter as you can muster. To me, there is something simply horrifying in the lack of legal nuance on display in Khan's anti-SOPA lesson -- and let's not fool ourselves, this is not a lesson about specific legislation; it is teaching against specific legislation that reflects an undisclosed worldview.
Khan very engagingly draws out a diagram of how SOPA is intended to work. He then goes into the language of the proposed bill to show fearful consequences. Those consequences, he emphasizes again and again could be as bad as someone shutting down YouTube or Facebook or any other prominent American site "on a whim."
Here's how he does it. Have a look at the legislative language quoted below, especially the words in red text:
(1) DEDICATED TO THEFT OF U.S. PROPERTY- An `Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property' if--As though breaking down the reasoning behind 2 + 2 = 4, Khan explains that since YouTube and Facebook can be seen as sometimes enabling or facilitating copyright infringement, they would qualify as "dedicated to theft of U.S. property," and QED they could be shut down ... on a whim.
(i) the U.S.-directed site is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of, has only limited purpose or use other than, or is marketed by its operator or another acting in concert with that operator for use in, offering goods or services in a manner that engages in, enables, or facilitates--
Teach your children well.
Let's look at that wording again with a slightly different emphasis:
(i) the U.S.-directed site is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of, has only limited purpose or use other than, or is marketed by its operator or another acting in concert with that operator for use in, offering goods or services in a manner that engages in, enables, or facilitates--Who believes YouTube or Facebook are primarily designed or operated for the purpose of, have only limited purpose or use other than, or are marketed by their operators to steal U.S. property? Raise your hands.
I thought not.
Now, none of these examples of naked bias are particularly bad developments in my view. I hope everyone learns a lot from what has happened this week. I hope high school students everywhere now realize they need to ruthlessly question everything they read on Wikipedia and everything they watch on Khan Academy. I hope web searchers wonder how Google might just be filtering search results before they click I'm Feeling Lucky.
SOPA is dead, for now, and new legislation will have to be designed. In the meantime, I hope more folks start wondering just how much of that scary SOPA story we were told this week was actually true.