SOPA, PIPA and the future of the internet

I think the internet is headed for a large shift in the near future. I’ve been reading about a lot of different things, each rather unconnected, but all of which I think are related. Everyone is talking about the U.S. legislation SOPA & PIPA, both designed to combat internet piracy, but many believe it may change the nature of the internet itself. Big names like Google, Facebook, Wikipedia are all protesting the legislation. You very likely have heard/seen Wikipedia’s blackout. Piracy and plagiarism are serious problems. So is censorship. And what scares me a bit is that even without SOPA and PIPA, the internet as we know it is changing, and perhaps not for the better.

I also recently read Unfriend Yourself, by Kyle Tennant, a book which looks at the role of social media and the church. Essentially, he observes that social media, rather than making us more connected, actually isolates us–if we aren’t careful.

Yet another recent read of mine has been on blog plagiarism and various ways to fight plagiarists (to my knowledge, no one has copied my work from here–here’s hoping it stays that way!). I started researching this a bit because I recently signed up for oDesk–a freelancing site–and was amazed how many job postings were asking for writers to essentially plagiarize content from the web. Here’s a search for “spinning“–what seems to be the term for this rather dubious activity. Now, obviously, I’m sure plenty are legitimate: there are reasons you might already own the rights to an article, but want it rewritten. [1. Many people “spin” articles that are not copyright infringements to simply get better search listings. Google essentially ignores duplicate content, so it is a way to try and generate more “hits.” Still perhaps a bit unethical, but that’s just me] Still, I find it rather appalling.

I won’t even touch software, ebook, music & video piracy. SOPA and PIPA are addressing a legitimate problem.

On the flip side, of perhaps the same coin, I for one, am very concerned that SOPA and PIPA may lead to a more censored internet. And that is something I am very concerned about. However, I came across a video which I think makes a very, very important point: a kind of “censorship” is already happening. Watch and see what you think:

(And yes, if you are wondering, I did find it through Facebook 😉 )

I think this is a very important message that needs to be seeing more discussion. I was aware of these techniques already, but I must confess I had never fully thought through their implications. You may not like his politics, but I think Pariser does make a really important observation: the “personalization” of the internet may isolate us more than it connects us. The reality is that we are perhaps experiencing a kind of censorship right now. And that should scare you, at least a little bit.

This may all be a bit random, but it also to me suggests that the internet is, or is about to undergo some substantial changes. Even if SOPA/PIPA fail, I think this has perhaps started a discussion about online privacy, in a way that it might not have before. I knew that Google and Facebook filtered search results and the newsfeed, but hadn’t thought through just how isolated that could make us. Still, though I find this concerning, I believe that these factors can all create a discussion towards a better internet.

Still, maybe just as Kyle Tennant suggests in Unfriend Yourself, it’s time to unplug ourselves for a while.

Further reading, if you are interested:

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2 thoughts on “SOPA, PIPA and the future of the internet

  1. Great post, James! I have been reading a lot about SOPA and PIPA. As a artist, I notice a huge amount of online piracy and I go to efforts to protect my own work. I do think something needs to be done about the abundance and relative ease of digital piracy —but censorship is not a good option. That opens a a huge can of worms that is much better left untouched. Thanks for sharing the TED talk. I thought it was also very interesting. It begs the question of how we dance the line between individuality and isolationism.

    Like

    • Definitely a great question! I’m sure the internet will look wildly different 5 years from now. Maybe these problems we have now will be a laughable thing of the past in just a few years…

      Like

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