Google, Facebook and Co hold the key cards in Reddit’s SOPA Blackout
It is well known by now that popular social news sharing site Reddit are going ahead with their January 18 2012 twelve hour long scheduled PIPA/SOPA protest blackout by replacing their regular site’s link sharing and forum style services with messages on how PIPA/SOPA legislation would effectively force the shutdown of sites like theirs and generally threaten the Web as we know it. The question is, will it really make any difference unless the true mainstream U.S. based Web monopolies and juggernauts like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, eBay, PayPal, Wikipedia, LinkedIn, Bing (Microsoft), Yahoo and other such big name sites get involved and implement their own SOPA blackouts?
While it may be a straight forward decision for smaller privately operated sites like Reddit who in reality do not have consequential revenues or expenses nor do they provide vitally important underlying infrastructure or services to the online and consequently offline economies, for companies like Google, Amazon, eBay and PayPal (in particular the publicly traded ones) it is a totally different story. Millions upon millions if not billions of people rely on such services for more than merely passing the time by looking for some interesting links or comments to read or worse yet internet memes and pictures of cats. Wikipedia is another site albeit a more serious one which seems to have had an easier time deciding to likely participate in a blackout but yet again for such a site which is supposedly not for profit, what is a few hours of blackout to make a point? It’s not as if in that time span they will lose millions upon millions of dollars in revenue or seriously hinder individuals and businesses the world over, in fact if anything they may even gain a bunch of new donations for having taken a symbolic stand against SOPA. As with Reddit it would be good free PR and thus isn’t all that hard of a decision to make.
While without out a shadow of a doubt Google Inc. has the most influence and capacity to influence change on any SOPA blackout front, will they really be willing to risk their 24/7 365 day a year uptime business model and risk the annoyance or potential losses of millions upon millions of consumers and customers revenue (not to mention their own)? Of course they’re protected legally through their Terms of Service and would not owe anyone anything if they did purposely make their services unavailable even if only temporarily, but I doubt they would be willing to do that merely to protest against SOPA. Google is a multi-billion dollar public corporation and the way they deal with situations like this is precisely why they pay millions upon millions of dollars year in year out to lobbyists and politicians, so that they don’t have to resort to disrupting their business model or customer base no matter how short term. Granted free PR is always tempting though, so if Google gets involved in any online SOPA blackout protests this coming week it would likely be nothing more than another gimmick Google logo or Youtube video on their home page, or an info notification of some sort which 98% of people going about their online business unfortunately would likely simply have a glance at and then pass over. I could be entirely wrong and I hope I am, but I somehow doubt Google Inc. would ever go so far as to purposely making all or even one of their services such as Search, Gmail, advertising, Youtube, Google Plus, Analytic s, Blogger, etc. unavailable even if only for a few hours. Of course this remains to be seen. Mind you, even a small notification on Google’s home pages would have a far greater effect then a site like Reddit going offline, even if it they decided to go offline for a whole week or month.
Amazon, PayPal, eBay and pure e-commerce orientated sites are also likely not going to damage their corporations daily revenue stream voluntarily or impede people from using their services to make them money no matter for how short a duration. Perhaps also a little pop up or info notification is their likely option? Better than nothing I suppose.
Facebook and Twitter on the other hand are in a bit of special place. While completely blocking access to their services for x amount of hours would likely result in substantial revenue losses and a lot of annoyed users, in reality they do not really operate on the same infrastructure or services level as Google, in fact not even close, in particular in regards to business services. People could definitely live without Facebook and Twitter for several hours although a whole day would drive the point home better and the effect of the reach would be huge in terms of getting the word out to the mainstream, in particular with Facebook’s massive user-base and fervent daily user activity. Of course for the effect to truly hit home to people, it would have to be an actual blocking of access to the sites services and not merely another information notification on the front page, although unfortunately if they participate that seems like the more likely route they’d take.
All in all the whole idea of an online SOPA blackout protest might in actually be starting to lean at this stage more towards a positive PR exercise to the benefit of some who spotted a potential hot trend, let’s hope this turns out not to be the case. While it is respectable that a site like Reddit would get the ball rolling on something like this and I agree fully people need to keep mounting the pressure as without it SOPA could very well been pushed through unimpeded “as is” by clueless legislators getting their arms twisted, in reality though, without the backing of the big online players and proper sustained direct political pressure it’s simply not going to have the effect they hope for as it will not truly leak out of the “techies” sphere into the US mainstream which is of course ideally what needs to happen. It’s still impressive that Reddit is now being mentioned alongside such big names though, it must make their founders proud and shows how far they have come as a web site. Nerveless, PR stunts aside, I remain optimistic though, because while companies like Google Inc. may not be pulling all their services offline in a move to insight people to act and get the word out, they may have a better weapon, their economic clout and high paid lobbyists and political donations which if mobilized correctly, whether for better or worse will likely have far more influence on U.S. law makers then a few million people on Reddit wondering why they can’t post up or comment on a link for a few hours. Besides us Redditors are used to that anyways by now, remember “Reddit is under heavy load, you broke Reddit”. Sad to say it, but welcome to reality.
It is certainly true though that companies like Google and Facebook have far more to lose then a company like Reddit when it comes to SOPA/PIPA style legislation, it’s still hard to envisage them making their services completely unavailable voluntarily. One can still hope. Let’s wait and see.
If you want to throw your 2 cents in their direction and give them your support you can contact them through the following links.
You can also contact the NetCoalition which represents many of the big name Internet companies mentioned above.
Also for our American readers probably even better then spending time writing to Google or Facebook and Co you’d be far better off contacting your congressman/congresswoman or senator and telling them you categorically oppose PIPA/SOPA style legislation and expect them to do something about opposing it too.
One thing’s for sure, the next week will certainly be an interesting time to see the effects of online mobilization and protest against unpopular legislation in the United States of America. It’s still funny how much public outcry and mobilization seems to be taking place and gathering pace against a law like SOPA when bills like the Patriot Act and other draconian legislation seem to remain largely ignored, unscathed and unchallenged. Welcome to the Internets, where we care more about being able to access our favorite content and websites (ideally for free) than international wars, environmental degradation, economic injustices and disparities of wealth, our personal privacy or individual and human rights.
A little simplistic background info on PIPA/SOPA for those who somehow may not be aware of what it is by now.