tweet withheld

Blackouts, Boycotts and Regressing From Progress

A couple of weeks ago, the United States, and in fact, the world saw the internet grow up. Namely, through the use of blackouts – a previously unused tactic of protest and grassroots organizing – we saw the evil Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and it’s evil twin Protect IP (PIPA) anti-piracy legislation fail in what seemed like an instant.

Back in December, it became clear that Congress would hearken to their corporate sugar daddys and shove these two pieces of legislation through the Congress without so much as a minimal amount of input from the technology world that would be devastated by their provisions. After votes on these bills were delayed until after the new year, the Internet – led by Wikipedia, Google, Craigslist, and hundreds of thousands of other sites, including this one – self-organized a protest that would involve “blackouts” of sites (and in some cases, very pronounced messaging in he case where blackouts were not feasible.

Despite defensive posturing by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and others who served to benefit from the legislation, Congressmen and Senators began fleeing the bills en masse. We had successfully made our mark on Washington.

But then a funny thing happened. Twitter made some changes to it’s infrastructure to make it possible for them to operate transparently and legally inside countries that have stricter laws on free speech. It’s a necessary problem that companies have had to face for decades in places like China where speech is censored. I’ll let you read their blog post on the topic.

A small portion of the internet cried foul, claiming censorship. They looked at Twitter as anti-free speech and attempted – unsuccessfully – to self-organize a boycott of Twitter. It failed.

A very specific truth is at play and this is the crux of things. We matured on SOPA blackout day. We decided we wouldn’t be independent and fractioned, which is our nature as independent organizations and people. We had a desired goal (the defeat of SOPA/PIPA) and very specific actions and messaging that needed to happen.

The Twitter boycott (and most boycotts like it) cannot be effective in the same way. The Twitter boycott was a regression in our maturity. We didn’t have the same goal with surgical precision. We didn’t have any ground-swell of support. We had no stated goal or desirable outcome. We can’t use the same tactic every time. We regressed.

And by we, I don’t mean me. I knew it would be a failure.

Grassroots organizing is important and there will be other necessary flexing of muscle. But we can’t just cry foul because we don’t like a decision a company has made. We need to be selective about the fights we engage in and do them tactfully, strategically and surgically. That is maturity.

The Internet is Not a Free Speech Zone

It would seem that people, by and large, think that the internet is a free speech zone. We have blogs, these are our personal spaces and we can do whatever the hell we want.

In case you missed the memo, this is not the case.

Sure, you might not go to jail (actually, this increasingly becomes possible) but as bad, if not worse, is the possibility of destroying relationships because of your actions on the internet.

It’s not a free speech zone.

A few days ago, Loic Lemeur, the founder of Seesmic and someone who I have yet to meet in person, put out a very impassioned video calling Kosso (who is my friend and the developer of Phreadz) to task for disseminating private conversation.

I find this video very honest and transparent. Loic apologizes for direct comments that may have been inappropriate. From Kosso’s standpoint, he explains in a very coherent way why the whole thing is very awkward:

Now, if you’ve made it this far and watched the videos, you can understand that the politics of the web is a very delicate thing. It’s easy for people to get twisted up, but there’s always two sides to every conversation.

A few months ago, Loren Feldman started a series of parody videos mocking Shel Israel’s videos at FastCompany.tv. Quite a number of people took offense to these videos and that particular conversation got downright nasty. What some people don’t understand is that the internet is not a free speech zone and, if Loren wanted to, he could destroy their lives, businesses, client relationships, etc.

Does that make Loren a bad guy? No, I hardly think so. I personally think that Loren is one of the nicest and most honest guys on the internet. But I know he could destroy me.

That in itself doesn’t keep me from stepping into that fray, but it’s a healthy respect valve.

So to everyone I have bitten harshly in this internet world, accept my apologies. There have been a lot of them, but to name a few: Tyme White, Mike Rundle, Kris Smith, John Havens, David Krug, Robert Scoble, Mike Arrington, Jason Calacanis and others.

Life’s too short.