Of Black-Outs and Block-Heads19 January 2012
Those who attempted to visit this 'blog yester-day met with this proclamation that it were suspended by its author in protest against SOPA and against PIPA. None-the-less, when the Woman of Interest asked me whether I thought that the black-out protests would be effective, my answer in the late morning was negative.
First, I was inclined in advance to believe that deciding positions had already been taken (albeït not announced) some days ago by a majority in Congress and by the President, and that final outcomes would not be actually swung by the sort of protest that could plausibly be expected.
Additionally, by late morning, I felt that a rather poor protest had been mounted. Wikipedia, most famous of the protestors, ostensibly blacked-out its pages, but had left them so that hitting
Esc as they loaded caused the ordinary content to be delivered. Google merely changed its home-page graphic, partially (but, tellingly, not fully) covering-over their name with a cocked black rectangle; never mind that those who invoke searches with a browser text-field don't see that graphic anyway! Many sites did no more than change their color-schemes.
I think that least effective were those who expressed their ostensible support for the black-out by posting those expressions, through-out the day, on the WWWeb, while withdrawing nothing. Now, let me make it plain that I have no quarrel with those who simply didn't participate in the black-out, or those who shut-down only some of their sites; the former may be perfectly consistent, the latter perhaps efficient. But those who weren't blacked-out in the least and discoursed upon their support for the black-out on the WWWeb as that black-out were in-progress seem not to understand that they were providing content in attempted support of an effort to provide a sense of the loss of content that would follow upon the passage of something such as SOPA or as PIPA. And if the only content that one normally provide were tweets and such, then exactly that were what one needed to halt to actually support a black-out.
Those in that last group ought to understand that SOPA or PIPA wouldn't simply mean that the WWWeb no longer offered them so much information and passive amusement; such an act would limit their ability to express themselves as freely as they do now. Along with Google and YouTube and Tumblr would go Facebook and Twitter and Blogger and all the other centralized social-networking sites. (Which is not to say that more autonomous sites, such as mine, would be spared.) People who won't g_dd_mn'd shut-up would be quite hard hit — which might be an amusing thought, but freedom of expression is essential, and not to be reduced to quiet chatter-boxes and pontificators.
My participation in the protest, however, wasn't conditioned on a presupposition that it would sway the body politic. My actions were essentially symbolic, and it wasn't necessary for me to believe that I would sway anyone, though I would hope at least that there'd be one or two sympathetic readers.
And my negativity about the black-out doesn't mean that I expected or expect one of these bills to pass, nor for it to avoid a Presidential veto, nor for the Supreme Court to rule in its favor. I don't know about the first two. (The President will certainly require cover if he is not to veto a bill of this sort, but perhaps he will think that he can get that cover from a signing statement.) I would be unpleasantly surprised by the last; the Supreme Court seems more genuinely alert to concerns about freedom of expression in recent years.
Of course, I may be wrong about the effect of the black-out, however feeble it may look to me. Representatives and Senators have been spooked by scarecrows in the past. But, if the bills failed, that failure wouldn't itself demonstrate that the black-out had a deciding effect.
I would definitely caution at this point that what appears to be strategic retreat may be merely tactical. The interests behind these bills are not going to go away, and features of these bills may be withdrawn at one stage only to be reïntroduced at another (such as reconciliation).
The principal recommendation of many of those participating (however convincingly or pathetically) in the protest was that people should contact their Senators and Representatives. Well, the Senators from California are a knavish fool and a foolish knave, and the Representative for my district is at best a twit. I've tried moving those three in the past, and been met by silence or with inane boiler-plate. If they voted against these bills, it wouldn't be because of anything that I said to them. There's not even a sympathetic reader to be found amongst them. But I do know that other districts are not so grim.