Last week’s “SOPA blackout” was a massive success. Almost 100,000 people changed their Facebook or Twitter profile pictures in support of the blackout; Google blacked-out their logo on their homepage and sent people to an online petition against SOPA, resulting in upwards of seven million signatures; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted on (of course) Facebook strongly criticizing the bill; and Wikipedia shut down entirely for one day, resulting in eight million people searching for contact info for their member of Congress. The public outcry was so overwhelmingly anti-SOPA, that 90 Senators and Congressmen came out against SOPA in less than 24 hours.

In the week since the blackout, there has been much self-congratulating in Internet circles (what a shock), and perhaps rightly so. An article on TechCrunch aptly entitled “SOPA Scorecard: Internet 1, Lobbyists 0” sums ups the jubilation like this: “Not a single anti-SOPA lobbyist was hired for yesterday’s protest . . . A well-organized, well-funded, well-connected, well-experienced lobbying effort on Capitol Hill was outflanked by an ad-hoc group of rank amateurs, most of whom were operating independent of one another and on their spare time.”

I admit, I had a good feeling on blackout day. It felt like a victory for citizen democracy and a victory for free expression online. But I’ve tried to live my life by the credo best expressed by Bob Dylan: “Don’t follow leaders, watch your parkin’ meters.” Whenever I suddenly feel myself swept up in a surge of populist enthusiasm, I try to step back and ask myself: do I really support this cause? Do I even understand the underlying issues?

I remember after 9/11 how easy it was to rally Americans to support virtually any Draconian law, abuse of human rights, or aggressive military action – all in the name of fighting ‘the war on terror.’ I was 100% in support of the Iraq war, and I ignored the naysayers (few that there were) that questioned the evidence of weapons of mass destruction or that the Iraqis would welcome us as ‘liberators.’ Most Americans were like me; when the Iraq War initially started, 72% of Americans supported the decision to go to war. That’s more Americans than believe in the theory of evolution (note: by 2008, support of the war had dropped to 38%).

My point here is not to argue the justness of the Iraq War, but rather to note how easy it can be to get caught up in a moment, often without fully thinking through why we are for or against a cause. So now that the initial ebullience of our anti-SOPA moment of triumph has worn off, it’s worth reflecting a little deeper on this moment in Internet history. How exactly did the SOPA blackout come about, and why did so many people rally to its cause?

Was SOPA Blackout Day a Grassroots Movement?

The SOPA blackout was about as organic as the masses of North Koreans crying in the streets upon hearing of Kim Jong Il’s death. Behind the scenes, the SOPA protest was a well-organized campaign, fueled by the lobbying arms of major Internet corporations.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, eBay and many other companies have been aggressively lobbying Congress for months regarding SOPA. The major Internet companies have gone so far as to propose an alternative to SOPA, called OPEN. Google’s lobbying expenditures tripled to $3.76M in Q4 2011, largely due to SOPA lobbying.

The history of public reaction to SOPA is really a history of effective public relations. SOPA was introduced into the house in late October of last year by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. You probably heard little about the dangers of SOPA, however, until mid-November, when Google, Facebook, and several other large Internet companies bought full-page ads in major newspapers outlining their opposition to the bill. Shortly after these ads, and testimony by a Google attorney in front of Congress, and who knows what else behind the scenes, editorial and tech writers started to come out against SOPA.

Just days after Google’s testimony and full-page ads, Nancy Pelosi (CA-D) and Darrell Issa (CA-R) publicly came out against SOPA. Google is the 8th-largest contributor to Nancy Pelosi and is listed as a “top contributor to Darrel Issa” on Facebook is listed as a top contributor to Pelosi.

All of this activity resulted in the first noticeable blip on the Twitter radar, with Trendistic reporting .14% of all tweets on Wednesday, November 16th referencing the hashtag “#SOPA.” That may not sound like a lot of action, but when you consider that .14% is more traffic than #Obama gets most days, it’s a significant number.

The next big surge of Twitter traffic came on December 13th, when the Washington Post ran a story about a “visual petition” against SOPA on the Website The IWorkForTheInternet site doesn’t have any contact info on it, and the domain was registered privately. The site was created by “FightForTheFuture,” whose Web site also doesn’t reveal who registered the domain name, and apparently was created in 2011, given their slogan “Fighting to Keep the Internet Open Since 2011.

The only names listed on the FightForTheFuture site are “Tiffiniy Cheng” and “Holmes Wilson.” I looked up Tiffiniy online and she apparently works for “DownhillBattle,” which as best I could tell is a blog that is mad about record labels. But she also lists herself as the “Founder, Executive Director, PPF, Open Congress.” PPF is the “Participatory Politics Foundation,” a 501-c-3 non-profit that was founded and funded by The Sunlight Foundation, which is also a non-profit. The Sunlight Foundation is funded by folks like Adobe, Google, Craigslist, the Hewlett Foundation, Reid Hoffman, Esther Dyson, Matt Cutts, and Mark Cuban. Anyways, I’m not an investigative journalist, but all of this strikes me as quite odd; the sudden launch of some very nicely designed, privately registered, anti-SOPA Web sites without any contact info other than a woman who once founded a non-profit that gets money from another non-profit that gets money from technology companies? Methinks something is rotten in Denmark.

In late December, NetCoalition, one of several lobbying organizations that represent the tech community, hatched the idea for the SOPA blackout day. And of course, as we know, eventually the blackout took place, leading to the dramatic increase in awareness and outrage about SOPA that the tech giants had been hoping for all along:












And just to state the obvious, when was the last time Google gave their Google Doodle team discretion to post political commentary on the Google homepage? How about never! You may hate Chris Dodd – the head of the Motion Picture Association of America – but I think he had a point when he noted: “It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.”

The notion that this was a battle of David vs. Goliath – the unwashed masses versus powerful Hollywood lobbyists – is a fiction. The outrage against SOPA simply would not have occurred without well-funded, well-organized efforts led by lobbyists and lawyers at major Internet sites. This was a battle of lobbyists versus lobbyists. It so happens that the Internet lobbyists were much more effective at mobilizing the masses to their cause than those in the entertainment industry, that’s all.

What Were We Protesting, Anyway?

I admit that I’ve never read SOPA (or PIPA), and I’m guessing that about 99% of the seven million people who signed the petition on Google’s homepage also never read it. I’m guessing that my understanding of the bill is pretty consistent with most people’s: it’s a bill that attempts to protect copyrighted material online, but it’s been constructed in an overly broad manner that could result in the government having the authority to shut down commercial web sites for minor copyright infractions.

That sounds bad to me – heck, I make my living helping Internet sites prosper – the last thing I want is for Congress to enact a bill that has a chilling effect on current and future Internet commerce! Of course, it’s also worth noting that everything I’ve heard about SOPA has come directly from the anti-SOPA lobby. I never read anything from the MPAA or even bother to really understand their side of the story. I suspect I’m not alone here.

I’m sure there were some anti-SOPA activists who were staunch libertarians or conservative anti-big-government idealists; it’s understandable that those groups would oppose SOPA. But then, those groups are vocal about a lot of issues online, and none of those other issues generated the massive consumer response that SOPA did. As an example, consider the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that President Obama signed into law in late December, 2011. The NDAA has a little provision in it that has enraged civil liberty activists and libertarians alike: it allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens, on American soil, by the military.

One would think that a law that takes away one of our basic Constitutional rights (the right to due process) would be more worthy of mass protest that SOPA. Apparently, most Americans do not worry about whether a black van might someday pull up to their front door and whisk them away to a military prison. But take away my LOLCats? Well, now you’ve got me mad!

Can’t We All Fight A Better Fight?

All of this brings me to my last point: in hindsight, I wish all the mass anger about SOPA was directed to a better cause. To be clear, I’m not saying it would have been OK to let SOPA pass, but given the massive lobbying power of Internet companies and the potential financial impact of a bill that could hamper the Internet economy, it seems likely that without the SOPA blackout day, a compromise would have been reached. Congress is dumb, but not that dumb.

In marketing, we have a term called “frequency.” It means the number of times we show an ad to a specific user. Frequency is important because showing an ad too many times is inefficient and may eventually piss off a consumer. No doubt there is a similar frequency metric when it comes to social causes. Americans can be mobilized for a good cause, but only to a point. We choose our favorite charities, our favorite volunteer activities, and our favorite political causes to support. Every time a cause gets us on board, another worthy cause ends up out in the cold.

In my opinion, SOPA was a cause that should have been left to the lobbyists, and perhaps to us Internet insiders who had a financial stake in the outcome. I’d personally rather see average Americans up in arms over the issues that impact them more directly – how we spend tax dollars, our foreign policy, local governance – instead of the proper regulation of copyrighted material online (and basically, that’s what SOPA really is: an attempt – perhaps a bad one – to prevent wanton violations of copyright law). For that matter, I’d rather see multi-billion dollar Internet conglomerates dedicate their home pages to raising money to cure cancer or stop poverty than to political battles that benefit their bottom line.

I love the fact that the Internet has become a powerful channel for popular outrage. Today you can piss off one consumer and he’ll tell three or four million people, thanks to the viral nature of the Internet. I would love nothing more than to see the power of lobbyists damaged or destroyed by the collective voices of millions of online users. But that’s not what happened with the SOPA blackout. At its origin, the blackout was the result of an effective lobbying effort that drove populist action. Who’s to say that the next time around, it’s not the MPAA that comes up with a clever scheme to convince Americans that theirs is the just cause? Enact “SOCA” (Save Our Culture Act) today or the movies and music you love might disappear forever – talk to your Congressperson today!

David Rodnitzky, CEO


  1. Sally K Witt, Social Media and Ministry January 26th, 2012

    Very interesting

  2. ethel January 26th, 2012

    i wholeheartedly disagree. considering the movement was much more underground than you were obviously aware of, i don’t think you can say w/absolute certainty that lobbyists are why SOPA/PIPA were retracted. the reddit community played a huge part in organizing the blocking of the bills by publicizing the issue and educating internet activists on how to educate our end users. obviously, the lobbyists against sopa/pipa were ineffectual. the fact that the 2 bills nearly made it to a vote indicates to me that lobbyist efforts weren’t enough.

    are there “better” fights to fight? that’s completely subjective. one could argue this type of fight is the only one that the Internet can fight b/c it’s the only time we all have a cause so much in common. otherwise, our interests and focus are so widely spread that this type of culmination isn’t possible at the same scale.

  3. steer February 1st, 2012


    I think David is spot on. Even Reddit involvement wasn’t organic…rather, opposition was seeded there by the paid advocates – like Fight for the Future – of the Internet monopolies. NetCoalition (the lobbying group of the Internet monopolies), the Consumer Electronics Association, and others spent an enormous amount on national and DC print, online, and even TV advertising in opposition to the bills.

    I also applaud David for admitting something that other SOPA opponents refuse to admit. For instance, Ethel, Have you actually read the bills?

  4. Matt February 1st, 2012

    I think the author concedes that the Reddit community (and similar grassroots groups) had a major impact on the outcome of SOPA/PIPA. The point is that those groups were merely the tools of lobbyists. In other words, what is being held out as an organic grassroots opposition was, in fact, a carefully orchestrated effort by lobbyists.

  5. David January 26th, 2012

    Thanks for the comment Ethel. I think the Reddit community definitely played a role here, as did many other groups of users across the Internet. My point was that lobbyists also played a huge role in inciting action, in some cases by apparently concealing their true identity and pretending to be random Internet users.

    Moreover, the SOPA blackout day could only have been successful with the participation of major Internet companies like Google. Without the Google homepage “blackout”, the impact would have been much less.

    So, yes, there was grassroots activism, but there was also pre-grassroots lobbying PR and direct corporate action condoned and perhaps suggested by lobbyists that was a major factor here.

    As to better causes, I agree there is a level of subjectivity here. As noted, however, if given the choice between rally citizens to fight copyright litigation and rallying them to, say, stomp out poverty, to me its a no brainer that the latter wins.

  6. David January 26th, 2012

    Brian, that’s a valid point. You are correct that, say, a day of protest online to get the Iranians to stop developing nuclear weapons would be futile. My point, I believe, is still valid, because there are many, many causes that we could mobilize for online that would result in impactful change.

    And while I know it is subjective to state that one is “better” than another, its hard to look at copyright legislation and not conclude that there are other causes that we could fight for that would be a) achievable, and b) ‘better’ for America. To me, the indefinite detention provision of the NDAA example is but one example. Had millions of Americans demanded that congress preserve due process, I guarantee you that that provision would have been stricken from the bill. But, as Jon Stewart noted, poor people don’t have lobbyists. Due process rights don’t have corporate lobbyists either.

  7. Mithu Hassan January 26th, 2012

    Whenever world are being worried about SOPA and finally Social Media has established their demand by spreading in different ways! So everybody should know the real fact and history! Nice posting! Thanks a lot!

  8. Brian January 26th, 2012

    It’s one thing to argue that the success of the blackout, while highly effective, was driven by corporate interests and their lobbyists. It’s another thing altogether to lament that we weren’t mobilizing against hunger, world peace, or the insane provisions in the defense authorization bill you mentioned. Marketing rules may dictate that an average number of impressions will dictate a consumer’s level of action, depending on the cause. Lost in this argument however, is one’s interest in and mobilization for a cause which they might actually have a chance of impacting. Perceptions of futility, or one’s *actual* proximity to any given issue is just as effective a determinant for involvement as lobbying dollars.

  9. Mike Seidle January 27th, 2012

    SOPA’s opposition was underestimated by big media. Big media thought it would be tech industry lobby vs. big media. Yes, there were big lobbying firms. But at the end of the day, it was the thousands of websites and millions of posts, emails, tweets and emails that changed the game. Unlike other issues, SOPA was easy to understand and people were quickly able to form an opinion on it.

  10. Robert February 1st, 2012

    Let’s not kid ourselves SOPA was not a fight by the little guy against big corporate interests but a battle between big data and big media, and big data being so much bigger and wealthier, they won. Let’s not forget that lobbyists don’t just talk to congressmen. Their job is to do whatever it takes to serve their clients including galvanizing public support for their positions. What the lobbyists managed to do effectively use their massive amounts of cash to disseminate a false story of what SOPA was supposed to do. If SOPA really said what the opposition said it did, any sane person would be against it. Unfortunately, no body really read the bill and those that did didn’t understand it (it was actually quite complex) You say “SOPA was easy to understand and people were quickly able to form an opinion on it.” That proves that their propaganda was successful — you bought the “easy to understand” lies about what the bill said while the opposite side was unable to explain their position because the truth was complex, not simple.

  11. Laura February 13th, 2012

    I’d echo this. My understanding of the situation as it applied to Wikipedia was Jimmy Wales, who has corporate interest in Wikia, talked about how the English Wikipedia community was going to be blacked out before there was even community consensus for this action. When community consensus did happen, there were very mixed opinions about how it should be implemented, and a number of people quite upset the blackout occurred in countries outside the United States with out showing adequate participation from members in those countries.

    English Wikipedia top level users were largely not impacted by the blackout, as they continued to make edits on Wikipedia, including the deletion of content during this period. The blackout was also limited in scope because anyone using the mobile version could still view the site, as could anyone who turned javascript off.

  12. Matt February 1st, 2012

    SOPA was easy to understand? I think the opposition to SOPA/PIPA was so effective precisely because the legislation was NOT easy to understand. SOPA was a dense, 70-page piece of legislation. While proponents were making nuanced arguments about the applicable standard for a website dedicated to infringing activiity or about the due process standard embodied in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, oppoentns were yelling “They’ll kill YouTube!!! – it’s censorship!” Which argument do you think will prevail in the shouting-match world of Internet comments?

  13. saulgoode January 28th, 2012

    There is a rather large distinction between a PR lobbying effort where corporations try to persuade the populace to express their support, and one where the corporations attempt to influence lawmakers directly to the exclusion of the public.

    There is even a difference between PR lobbying efforts using the Internet and those employing the traditional media channels. The Internet is a communications medium, not a broadcast medium. Any issue presented on the Internet will receive much scrutiny and a goodly amount of skepticism and, unlike with the broadcast media, contrary or alternative viewpoints are afforded full opportunity to be heard.

  14. steer February 1st, 2012

    Boy, do I have to disagree. Opposition to SOPA received almost no scrutiny and skepticism from the online community. It was taken as gospel because it came from Internet sources (Google, Facebook, Twitter) that Internet users trust and love, and because the opposition messages pushed out to the online community cleverly played into biases shared by Internet users (open Internet vs. censorship;; geeks vs. lobbyists; Hollywood vs. tech).

    For instance, since you sound like you are a SOPA opponent who actually participated in the protest to a certain extent, did you actually read the bill? If you didn’t, where was your skepticism?

  15. saulgoode February 3rd, 2012

    Boy, do I have to disagree. Opposition to SOPA received almost no scrutiny and skepticism from the
    online community.

    Upon what basis do you draw that conclusion? Do you have any evidence that would justify dismissing the opinions of tens of thousands of people who contacted their congressional representatives or is it just that since they don’t agree with you, they must not understand the situation?

    … did you actually read the bill? If you didn’t, where was your skepticism?

    If I have drawn erroneous conclusions about the bill, it should not matter that I had read it and misconstrued, or not read it at all. So let us progress to your latter query, that you might argue against my views, and not against how they might have been reached.

    My biggest complaint about the SOPA bill is the false claim that there was no language in the bill that would harm American (U.S.) businesses. If you tell money tenders such as Paypal, Visa, or Mastercard that they have to stop servicing customers whom they have previously been servicing, that is harmful to Paypal, Visa, or Mastercard (all of which are American companies). If you tell American domain registrars that they must stop servicing customers whom they have previously been servicing, that is harmful to those registrars (already we are seeing the start of an exodus from U.S. controlled TLDs). Those who claim otherwise — as the sponsor of the SOPA bill has done — are either being disingenuous or do not fully apprehend that which they are proposing, neither of which makes me inclined to support their position.

    Furthermore, even if SOPA resulted in no direct harm to American businesses, there is the spectre that other countries, inspired by the U.S. actions, would adopt their own SOPA-like laws, authorizing the blacklisting of American websites without any due process or fair hearing being offered. This would have a deleterious effect on those American websites and is the exact opposite of what our congressional delegations should be striving for when crafting Internet legislation.

    There are other aspects of the law which I find disconcerting, but the fact that its sponsors are saying that it won’t do things which it obviously will do makes me extremely skeptical of those sponsors and of the law.

  16. dataferret February 3rd, 2012

    I think you nailed it. Reading is the key. That’s the distinguishing line between a lobbyist and a mob. Up until mid December, all hands were on deck for this one, from big media special interests to big data interests, all the way down to the lowly ACLU which spends quite a lot lobbying as well. The manager’s draft is quite different from the original and you can see where the lobbying was moving the bill forward to a balance for all sides.

    The problem is that one side figured this wasn’t enough and finally decided to press the big nuke button and incite a mob, knowing full well that most people wouldn’t read the bill. We’ll probably look back in a decade from now and realize that this was the turning point when the US became a banana republic.

  17. Catherine Fitzpatrick February 4th, 2012

    That’s not true. Social media *is* used as a broadcast medium with one-to-many constantly, and the big “thought influencers” who run giant groups of followers whether on Facebook or Twitter or G+ deliberately manipulate the tools to make it broadcast, not interactive.

    Example: Lory Kolodny of Fast Company who has gadzillion followers everywhere as she is an influential tech writer helping the tech companies to sell the tech. She put up a blog from one of the influential sites that screeched that Congress was too ignorant to understand the bill it was passing. Not the case, as even Google testified and they had Issa and others in Silicon Valley’s pocket who raised all the engineer’s panic-stricken claims about “killing the Internet” — it was from TechDirt’s lips to Zoe Lofgren’s ear and then speeches in a matter of days.

    I objected to her incitement of the mob — and pointed out that not all Congressmen were even against SOPA and those that were for it were making very astute arguments against the engineered hysteria, i.e. that companies should abide by their own TOS and that the text of the bill had remedies that precluded the insane outcomes the anti-SOPA mob claimed.

    She began to pretend that she wasn’t really taking a position, even though she linked to a blog hating on Congress with a nudge and a wink to her masses of readers. She pretended she was “still thinking” about all this even though she was with Fast Company that is essentially a marketing magazine for the tech industry. She began to get all personal and pork about my continued challenge to her insinuations about Congress and then she muted and blocked me. She is typical of the thin-skin geeks who run these huge broadcasting operations on social media who routinely mute and ban any sort of critic. She then incited her loyal fanboyz against me trying to justify her actions. It was truly creepy. But I’ve seen it before with Dan Gillmor, Jeff Jarvis, and all the other gurus agitating for copyleftism. You can’t disagree, or they use the same tools for their broadcasting to mute your supposed “two-way street” on the Internet.

  18. robin January 28th, 2012

    Great job assembling and linking to the facts in this matter. I have to disagree with a couple of things though if I may.

    The fact that internet industry lobbyists were involved in D.C. before this thing came to be is not evidence of corporate leadership. Everyone has lobbyists in D.C., in fact the internet industries are particularly underfunded and ineffective overall. They were not leaders, but became for once important players.

    Yep, 10 million signatures would not have been possible without Google, sure, but you’re putting the cart before the horse. The blackout was already decided upon and in place, lead by the users of Reddit and the editors of Wikipedia, using evidence provided by lawyers, engineers and all manner of experts. Google was late to this party.

    My point being, the success of Blackout Day was not a top-down driven event, but rather, like the internet itself, a networked effort. All networks have ‘supernodes’, think Google, but they’re just one node when all is said and done.

    The cool thing though is that when 10’s of millions of people are conversing, cool things happen. Thanks for contributing!

  19. DavidB January 28th, 2012

    If Mike Seidle thinks SOPA was easy to understand, he can’t have tried reading it.

    I guess what he means is that the objections put about by the anti-SOPA lobbyists were easy to understand. But these had precious little connection with the actual contents of the Bill. The amount of distortion, exaggeration, and sheer dishonesty that went on in the lobbying is a disgrace which should be investigated by Congress.

  20. Elliot January 28th, 2012

    Those thousands of websites, millions of posts, emails and tweets were all spurred on by Big Tech

    “Easy to understand” is a joke. Most of the people whipped into a lather over Silicon Valley propaganda had no real comprehension of the bills they so readily “formed opinions on”.

  21. David January 29th, 2012

    Thanks everyone for the comments.

    @Robin. You said “The blackout was already decided upon and in place, lead by the users of Reddit and the editors of Wikipedia,” – is that for certain? I quoted an article in which a lobbyist group said they were thinking of creating a blackout, as if it was their idea.

    @SaulGoode. You said “There is a rather large distinction between a PR lobbying effort where corporations try to persuade the populace to express their support, and one where the corporations attempt to influence lawmakers directly to the exclusion of the public.” This is a great observation, and it strikes me that lobbyists may learn from this experience that effective lobbying requires instigating popular support. The Internet makes this possible for the first time in history.

  22. Watchit February 1st, 2012

    Did you ever think that perhaps the reason their was so much anti-SOPA support was because it really was a bad bill? The reason the grassroots movement started wasn’t because google spent $3.76M on lobbying (just a note the US Chamber of Congress spent $46M on lobbying congress in 2011 to support SOPA The movement started because the MPAA and US chamber of congress drafted their dream bill to “end pirating” and paid congress to pass the bill, claiming it was nessasary based on false “studies” and “figures” that claim the Entertainment Industry was failing because of pirates. If you think the anti-SOPA side is skewing facts, you really should look up what the entertainment industry is saying about SOPA, it’s not skewing facts, they are ignoring facts and reality all together. The Entertainment Industry is in fact NOT failing, its actually been growing faster than ever. When it was negotiated the MPAA, Hollywood, etc… and the legislators did it behind closed doors and denied any tech industries or experts any say at all, and then dismissed them when they brought up any objections. You talk about “back room deals,” there’s your back room deals. And that Google lawyer that “went before congress,” I think you are referring to the hearing on SOPA where every member was a SOPA supporter and they only invited the one Google representative to use as a punching bag to insult Google and blame it for all the piracy problems they ever encountered ever. While Google was the main driving force early on in 2010, that is untrue later on. In fact many complained Google didn’t do enough, if all of this was some scheme by Google, why did so many independent sites blackout their sites themselves? What about Reddit? While it may be convenient to blame Google for all of the Entertainment Industries problems, the opposition against SOPA and PIPA could never have lasted without the Internet users themselves, the ones that Congress and the MPAA fail to realize are the people who would be really effected by this bill and who really matter, the voters and customers.

    Lastly don’t think of this as “This would have been great if it was for a better cause” but think of, as you originally had, what the Internet can do now that it has been proven, now that the people who use it realize, that public opinion can speak louder than campaign donations. In fact many users and organizations (not Google) are moving on to raise awareness on issues such as the NDAA and more recently the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

  23. steer February 1st, 2012

    Your comment exemplifies EXACTLY the point of David’s article. You claim that the Chamber of Commerce spent $46 million lobbying for SOPA, and then cite the online source where you apparently read it as if that proves your assertion.

    Of course, this is completely false. The Chamber of Commerce spent $44 million lobbying for EVERYTHING on which they lobbied, including health care, free trade, etc., etc. The amount spent on SOPA was a bare fraction….only $230,000 according to

    But, you read it somewhere online, and you thought the source was credible, so you just regurgitated the falsehood as fact WITHOUT being the least bit skeptical about such a huge number. Kinda like Michele Bachmann claiming that President Obama spent $200 million on a trip to India, if you just think about it for a moment, you know it isn’t true, but you didn’t think.

  24. Matt February 1st, 2012

    The Chamber of Commerce did not spend 44.2 million lobbying SOPA to Congress. 44.2 million represented the Chamber of Commerce’s ENTIRE lobbying budget for the entire year. Only a fraction of that money went to lobbying for SOPA. This post is a good example of why, in the Internet age, where comments, message boards, blogs and viral e-mails are the way information is conveyed, nuanced, policy- or fact-based arguments may be destined to lose.

  25. David February 1st, 2012

    I wonder how many of the people who protested SOPA and PIPA actually read them, or had any real understanding of what they would do. I did read them, and most of what I saw in the anti-SOPA/anti-PIPA protests had little basis in reality. It’s easy to get a lot of people worked up about something by telling them that it does all sorts of things that it doesn’t really do.

  26. Devika Chawla February 1st, 2012

    I hope the real issue will not get lost. I am an Independent Artist, I have outlined what I believe the problem statement is and why its complicated. My perspective on my blog at

  27. Catherine Fitzpatrick February 4th, 2012

    Your article here is really a public service, putting together a lot of the troubling aspects to the anti-SOPA/PIPA campaign. Of course it’s in Google’s business interests, and I’ve been asking these questions for awhile on my own blog. Why doesn’t the “progressive” left have the natural antipathy to the Internet’s corporations that they bring to every other corporation on the planet?

    You mentioned the tech press and blogs. This “administrative resource” is basically in the hands of the big IT companies, the platformistas. So you have BoingBoing, TechDirt, Redditt sections, all virulently copyleftist, and TechCrunch and Mashable and others more mainstream but still favouring the “California Business Model” (free accounts, look the other way while users upload infringing content, make ad revenue from them, then play “catch me if you can with DMCA takedown notices).

    This tech press, not seen by most Americans but passionately favoured by the geek set (and the highest-ranking in Google of any blogs) has a huge influence on public policy related to Silicon Valley’s business interests — whether it be net neutrality or anti-SOPA.]

    I saw two main aspects that made this campaign very viral and panic-inducing among masses of people: Tumblr’s threat to teenagers that their blogs would be removed, which caused them to riot on Facebook and even Twitter, and viral Youtube videos spread among gamers, hackers, etc. that fanned panic and hysteria about “entire sites going down” over one piece of content. I bet if you look closely and how some of those rather slick Youtubes got made, you would find it’s not just amateur nerds in their basements but the IT companies or their lobbyists.

    Sunlight Foundation is all over Gov 2.0 and many other “open source” sorts of demands that really amount to a demand for power for Silicon Valley and what I call the “Wired State” of their main constituency — Internet engineers, coders, gurus and marketers.

    A flow chart of “follow the networks” for all this shows Joi Ito, Mitch Kapor, Cory Doctorow at the main junctures.

    You’re right to raise the question of why “the Internet” (i.e. this class of people and their overlords) doesn’t raise more pressing issues than whether they get to download their Lost episodes for free or their WoW patches faster. The same “progressive” lobby that hyped “Internet” claims has also edge-cased the issue of whether indeed Americans would end up imprisoned forever (they imply it depends on whether you have a decent president or not, which is an isolated approach as it assumes the rest of America’s checks and balances wouldn’t function).
    I’ve signed petitions against the NDAA’s over-reach myself, but there is a similar group-think and blog-beating going on around this from the “progressives”.

    But the real concern I have about “The Internet” (the copyleftist hacker mobs and their enablers) is that they overthrow elected representatives and sideline democracy with a fake “netroots” and “direct democracy” gambit that is all about being whipsawed by a few cunning platform owners and investors.

    Silicon Valley had its “bought” Congress people like Daryl Issa and Zoe Lofgren; and Hollywood had its “bought” Congress people like Al Franken or Gillibrand in NYC but it wasn’t a fair fight merely among congress people — they never got to vote, and what we know of their votes, the pro-SOPA outweighed the anti-SOPA.

    I don’t buy the crude nature of the “Congress-is-bought” explanation being fanned by long-time copyleftist Lawrence Lessig as his new project to have the Wired State take over power. And in any event, the far bigger threat is the IT companies, their enablers in the lap-dog tech press, the geeks who depend on them literally for a living as a power grouping in today’s world that is willing to literally destroy the Internet to save it, hacking and harming businesses they don’t like.

  28. David February 6th, 2012

    Thanks for the reply Catherine. The bottom line is that it is troubling when masses of people are swayed by propaganda without really bothering to understand the underlying issues. When the masses support a cause we support, we chalk this up as a victory for “grassroots democracy.” When the masses support a cause we oppose, we accuse lobbyists and politicians of fanning the flames of dissent.

    To me, the best thing any American can do is to be informed before taking sides on any issue, and to make sure that you hear both sides arguments in full. If we all simply follow the leader, we are taking our democracy for granted.

  29. Sherwin February 16th, 2012


    Thanks for writing this thoughtful post. I agree that people should be aware of what they’re doing when they participate in a grassroots campaign; that they understand the issue they’re advocating for and against, and they know who is spinning and on what.

    Disclosure: I work for Public Knowledge–we’ve been advocating against SOPA/PIPA and its predecessors for a while.

    But I also want to caution against the idea of “leaving it to the lobbyists.” This runs just as much a risk of oversimplification of the issues just as much as listening only to one side does. That’s because lots of times, there’s not just two sides to an issue. MPAA may be affected one way, Google another, with users not necessarily aligned neatly with either. “Leaving it to the lobbyists” to reach a compromise can leave compromises that don’t reflect users’ individual voices.

    To take one example, look at the fight about CALEA in the 90s. CALEA is a law that requires phone companies to make their systems easily wiretappable by law enforcement. Telecom companies and consumer privacy advocates both fought against it. But their objections weren’t necessarily the same–as soon as a compromise was reached that would reimburse the telephone companies for the costs of changing their systems, their opposition dropped off. Similarly, Google and Facebook (to say nothing of GoDaddy), however much they might agree with reddit and Wikimedia, will have different self-interests and points of compromise.

    “Congress isn’t that stupid.” Maybe not, but they can definitely be isolated from genuine voices. They can hear that lots of people are upset, but not actually have that factor in until their phones are actually ringing with their constituents on the line. And grassroots organizing certainly isn’t new–I think what was new about this protest was that it was coming from a particular subset of voters who hadn’t spoken together on any one issue before–people who would disagree with each other on non-Internet political issues. And I think that that was valuable.

  30. David February 16th, 2012

    Sherwin, thanks for the comment, and thanks for disclosing your affiliation.

    I probably overstated the point a bit by saying we should leave things to the lobbyists. My primary point was simply to say that the populus will eventually get “protest fatigue” if they are rallied to fight for too many causes, and I worry that SOPA used a silver bullet that could have better been used for another cause.

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David Rodnitzky
David Rodnitzky is founder and CEO of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates), a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to 3Q Digital, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up. David is a regular speaker at major digital marketing conferences and has contributed to numerous influential publications, including Venture Capital Journal, CNN Radio, Newsweek, Advertising Age, and NPR's Marketplace. David has a B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago and a J.D. with honors from the University of Iowa. In his spare time, David enjoys salmon fishing, hiking, spending time with his family, and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes, not necessarily in that order.