Many of the largest internet website leaders have joined in the protest against SOPA/PIPA in an effort to stop Congress from implementing new laws aimed at protecting intellectual property.
Regardless of where you stand on this issue–and it is more complicated than either side is willing to admit–today marks one of the more significant days in the young but world-changing history of the internet.
We saw the power of the internet in the “Arab spring.” Yet, it wasn’t the internet doing it, it was people of like mind, at least on the issue of a common enemy, using the power of the internet to focus energy. Now we see it energizing people, millions perhaps, to get involved and express and opinion on an important political issue. It is not “the internet,” of course, it is people, but these are the people who when combined together to a considerable degree control the internet. This is a whole new power base and we are seeing a struggle for power going on on a pretty historic scale. These people, the folks behind Google, Wikipedia, WordPress, Firefox, Reddit and so many others are demonstrating today that if they band together they can largely shut down our lives. (Amazon is taking a little softer line.)
It may be a strange thing to contemplate, but what if the Congress, realizing that what is playing out here is a demonstration of where power really lies, moves ahead simply to demonstrate they are still running the country? There’s almost a sense of that in Majority Leader Reid’s strategy of moving toward the quick vote on PIPA.
Perhaps our leaders need to learn what Tunisia’s, Egypt’s, Libya’s and other Arab leaders needed to learn as well. No matter how powerful you think you are, no matter how big of an army you control, the power still resides in the people. Thank God for that. But the internet leaders who have banded together for this unprecedented global protest also need to be reminded that their power, as flexed as it may be right now, is limited as well. First, by the willingness of people to grant that, and second by the dictum of Lord Acton that power corrupts.