Tired Tactics Find Public Used as Pawns, Again, in SOPA/PIPA Fight

By Jason Menard,

It would be nice if someone, somewhere could make their point without having to use that point to stab John and Jill Q. Public in the back.

Choose whichever term you like best: pawn, cannon fodder, expendable red-shirt-wearing guy in Star Trek/cop drama guy just ‘days away from retirement.’ No matter which term you choose, it all adds up to the same thing: despite whatever rhetoric you may hear, you really don’t matter.

We see it all the time in union situations (especially public sector), where picket lines go up all in the name of “informing” the masses. Somehow the price of information is inconvenience – or outright obstruction.

And now we see it with the latest SOPA/PIPA “awareness campaigns” that sites like Wikipedia and Reddit engaged in yesterday. In an attempt to express their displeasure with the proposed (and in the case of SOPA, dead before the protest/but let’s do it anyway) legislations, these sites – and others like them – chose to shut down.

Effective? Maybe. A BBC News report (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16628143) quoted stats from Wikipedia that indicated the site had been viewed 162 million times. Of that 162 million, eight million went on to contact their local politicians as per the instructions.

(Well, maybe 7,999,999. You see, I was one of those who clicked through. I was one of those who was asked to enter my ZIP code to contact my local representative. The thing is, I’m Canadian. I don’t have a ZIP code. And they wouldn’t accept my Postal Code. So I did what every right-thinking 30-something would do: I entered in the first ZIP code that came to mind. 90210. I’m sure I’m not alone, so SOPA proponents may wonder why there’s so much opposition coming from The Peach Pit.)

So just under five per cent may have gone on to contact their politician. The remaining 95 per cent? Likely people just trying to get some information; trying to use a service that SOPA didn’t shut down. A service that its own administrators closed. At least Google, who blacked out its Doodle, still let users benefit from its service. And they got 4.5 million signatures.

I think most of us can agree that SOPA and PIPA are flawed. But so too was this response. Whether it’s unions on strike, Web sites, or even the Occupy movement, the preference today is not to work with the people, but to use the people as tools.

And it’s rarely the last resort – you and I being served up as a sacrifice to the altar of “the greater good” is option 1 (or at least 1a) in the Protest Handbook.

Unions and protesters have been doing this for years, so it can be expected. But for the Internet – a culture that allegedly promotes and fosters creativity – to stoop to such a pedestrian response is embarrassing.

Call me a Pollyanna, but I firmly believe that in any negotiation, protest, or information-distribution efforts, the goal should be to get the public on your side. You do that by being creative, engaging your audience, and helping them understand the issue at hand. Understanding comes a whole lot easier when it’s not fighting through frustration and anger.

I’ve never understood picket lines that obstruct people from going about their lives. You want me to support your cause? You want me to take up the chant with you? And to get me to do that, you’re going to prevent me from getting where I need to go? You’re going to make me late for work, school, my daughter’s dance class, a doctor’s appointment, or anything else I have deemed important because your message matters more than my life?

That may not be your intent – but that’s the message you’re sending. Your picket line tells me that YOUR interests are superior to mine, so you have the right to disrupt my normal day. And Wikipedia and Reddit decided that THEIR message about SOPA was more important than whatever at least 154 million people were planning on using their services for that day.

How easy would it have been to simply add a pop-up or redirect that would be enacted as soon as the user’s browser left the Wikipedia.com domain? How effective would a form letter be that says, “Today I, a constituent in your riding and eligible voter, used Wikipedia. I feel this service has great value and is threatened by SOPA and PIPA as they’re currently proposed. I strongly encourage you to speak out against SOPA/PIPA as it stands.

Let these be pre-populated dynamically by the user inputting their ZIP code and with just the click of a mouse, your message is sent.

Sent by a user who was not inconvenienced, but rather engaged.

Sent by a user who was valued as a customer, not as a pawn in someone else’s game.

A message sent by a user who chose to be part of the process; not a user who had the process enforced upon him or her. That would seem to be a message that carries far greater value. Of course, that’s what you get when you respect the people who’s favour you’re courting.

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