After the Jan. 18 blackouts of four of the top 10 websites in the United States (Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist and eBay) in protest to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property), or PIPA, bills threatening the web, a worldwide problem with online freedom was brought to the public’s attention: with information being threatened in the information age, where are we to turn? Millions of people worldwide took initiative in response to SOPA/PIPA, setting up street protests; calling, emailing and tweeting at representatives in Congress; and spreading information about the consequences of such a bill passing–and We the People made enough of a difference to get the bill shelved indefinitely on Jan. 20.
However, the threat of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) still looms over both the Internet and the billions of people who use it. Even as high school students, we still have a say in whether or not ACTA has as big of an impact as it promises–we beat censorship last month, and we can do it again. Here are five concrete ways to get involved in the protection and preservation of the Internet–before the SOPA/PIPA and ACTA bills come back to bite us.
1) When Internet users caught wind of Congress’s plan to meet and vote on the passing of SOPA in the United States set for Jan. 24, according to Fight for the Future (a nonprofit organization working to defend online freedom), over 75,000 sites banded together and blacked out their content to show the public what a SOPA-patrolled web would look like. Another survey shows that over 13 million Internet users participated in the Jan. 18 protest overall–and within 16 hours of the blackout, 2.4 million SOPA-related tweets blew up feeds on Twitter, with the hashtag “wikipediablackout” constituting one percent of all tweets that day. Congress can’t turn a blind eye to the Internet community’s ability to unite over a cause that they believe in, and what better cause is there to unite users from all corners of the Internet, from Reddit to the Drudge Report, than the threat of losing free speech? By using the Internet as a mechanism to rally support, users brought about the exact change they wanted to see. And with SOPA set to make an appearance in the coming month, what better a time to tweet “#stopSOPA” or “#SOPAstrike”?
2) Being referred to on the Internet as “SOPA on steroids,” ACTA is a bill that has been being internationally negotiated behind closed doors since 2007. ACTA could potentially shatter the Internet as we know it. While the United States has already signed the treaty to put it into effect, we can still make a difference by calling European Parliament (EP) representatives and asking them to, please, vote against the ratification of the agreement–the EP has until June of this year to vote on whether or not the trade agreement will go through with all of the ramifications it is supposed to entail. A quick Google search (that, under this new agreement, could become obsolete) of “how to stop ACTA” reveals links to the phone numbers and email addresses of the Committee of International Trade members, free for contact.
3) A quick visit to SOPAstrike.com makes it easy for citizens to help sway opinions on the impending censorship bills within Congress. This website, run by Fight for the Future, offers the option to sign up to “flood Congress with phone calls” when SOPA returns to be voted on in the Senate. In the last major protest of SOPA on the 18th, Tumblr and Mobile Commons contact tools enabled over 400,000 calls to Congress, which averages to 919 calls per Congressional Representative. Wikipedia’s call look up tool also enabled over 8 million attempted calls to Congress, according to Fight for the Future. When a 45-second call can mean the difference between being able to access more information than you could read in one lifetime on Wikipedia alone and the website being shut down completely due to a lack of user monitoring, why wouldn’t you pick up the phone?
4) The pen alone can bring down institutions–SOPA’s opposition proved that when participants in the SOPA strike gathered 10 million signatures for various petitions in attempt to stop the bill from being passed. Along with petition signings, over 3,000 letters were sent to Congress in an effort to stop SOPA through the site SendWrite.com–and, clearly, they made a difference. Attempting a personal angle by writing a tangible letter to Congress can make an impact on their decision making. By communicating public opinion, we citizens have the opportunity to influence officials–which, in this stagnant political climate, is a reassuring fact. Taking the time to write out how you feel about being censored in the “land of the free” can only benefit the cause of putting an end to censorship.
5) Spread the word. Mass movements can only take place when information is abundant and people can support informed opinions. Use your Facebook account to “Share” articles and websites that inform your friends and family about the consequences of an online censorship bill being passed in the United States. Do a presentation on ACTA’s background for your history class. Bring it up at your lunch table in the cafeteria. Tweet to your followers about what websites they’ll be missing if the Internet is constantly being patrolled for copyright infringement. Above all, talk. Discuss. Form opinions. Never stop asking questions.
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