SOPA: Information Controlled Society?
There is little doubt that today, in 2012, the world wide web of electronic interconnectivity has had profound changes and impacts on all dimensions of our lives. One wonders if the social engineers deep in some lab ever imagined or predicted just how far-reaching the societal impacts of the Internet would become. The Internet has created a worldwide communications grid, resulting in the free flow of information, outside government censorship and corporate control. And this is exactly what concerns some governments. China is a famous example. In an attempt to control public media the Chinese government has completely blocked websites including Facebook and YouTube and continues to shutdown weblogs on a daily basis. Other governments may have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the extent of free-flowing information due to the rise of websites such as WikiLeaks, distributing highly confidential government documents and information. Many governments have swiftly created institutes to monitor online activity, and one of those institutions is the American ‘Social Network/Communication Capibility’ under the US Homeland Security Department. The department routinely tracks and monitors websites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as sensitive and ‘risky’ websites with content on inter alia the bird flu and terrorism in order to, as it argues, maintain ‘situational awareness’. Legitimate or not, the monitoring does create a sense of Big Brother watching all of us.
Then there is the much debated Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA (H.R. 3261), which, if passed by the US Congress, will give corporations extensive power to censor, block and sue websites that post copyright infringing content. Many fear that this will severely limit freedom of speech on the Internet and will block many free-flow information websites. Websites such as Facebook and YouTube, for example, could be at risk of lawsuits or even a shutdown, as they would become liable for any infringing content posted by any of their users. And let’s face it: haven’t we all once posted a link to our favorite song or video? The argument continues. If other countries were to pass similar laws, then every country would have its own individual, censored Internet and what was once a global flow of information, entertainment and communication may be at risk of a cold, anti-piracy shutdown led by corporations.
These corporations, very much the promoters of SOPA, argue that they merely aim to protect their products and profitability, and wish to copyright laws that are currently subject to infringements by sites such as PirateBay. But will extensive censorship really change todays reality? The reality of lines of cheap $4.95 DVD’s infinitely on sale at Walmart? Will people, without access to streaming content, return to the shops to buy the very cd’s and dvd’s that many have already disposed of? Or is perhaps time for these industries to innovate, as they already have done to a considerable extent?
The year 2012 might be a milestone year and, if the US legislator is to have its way, may be the year in which the Internet ceases to be a free and open forum for all. It may turn into a censored, commercial marketplace, where little is available for free and thoughts are thoroughly screened.