Last night, New York Times’s Nicole Perloth published a post titled “The Day the Internet Didn’t Fight Back.” It presents Tuesday’s protest in a negative light, claiming that it “barely registered.”
I’m biased as someone who’s been working on the campaign for the last month, but the article strikes me as a little lazy. It contains factual inaccuracies that could easily have been fixed by reaching out to the organizing. Even after we notified her of the mistakes, only a few of them were fixed in an update made late this evening.
A list of inaccuracies:
“The protest on Tuesday barely registered.”
I’m not sure how 80k calls and over 500k emails counts as “barely registering.” That’s not to mention over 400k shares on Facebook, and another 100k on Twitter and Google Plus. And over 200 million page views of the banner.
Compare Tuesday with the lead-up to the vote on Rep. Amash’s bill to defund NSA’s call records program. In two days about 15,000 calls were made through DefundTheNSA.com. Staffers reported that their phones rang heavily in support of the bill.
“Most of those [calls and emails] were directed to Senator Dianne Feinstein.”
I have no idea where she got this from. Feinstein did receive 2420 calls, but saying she received “most” of them is wrong.
“Sites like Tumblr, Mozilla and DuckDuckGo, which were listed as organizers, did nothing to their homepages.”
But neither Mozilla, Duck Duck Go, nor Tumblr were “organizers.” They were simply participants. There were about 40 logos on the domestic site, and another 31 on the international - all of groups participating in the day. Perloth assumed they were organizers and didn’t send an email to fact check.
“On privacy forums and Reddit, significant discussions failed to materialize.”
Is 7,000 comments not significant discussion?
Comparing Tuesday to SOPA
David Segal’s comment in the article sums up the comparison to SOPA aptly:
“To mark all organizing a success or failure by measuring it against the single biggest online activist moment ever is ridiculous.”
But it’s also important to note that Internet Censorship Day preceded SOPA. ICD happened a full two months earlier than SOPA, and was much smaller than the SOPA blackout.
While we branded yesterday as “the day,” this is by no means the end. It’s one in a series of actions and a continuation of projects like Stop Watching Us. The actual votes on bills like the USA Freedom Act and FISA Improvements Act are yet to come.
We made a dent, but challenging the NSA’s surveillance apparatus will be a long process.
On big tech companies' involvement
It’s well-known that defeating a proposed law is much easier than passing one. The legislative process is easy to block and people respond more strongly when asked to help defeat a bill. Nevertheless, The Day We Fight Back generated a significant number of calls and emails.
But why didn’t those companies didn’t take part?
Well for one thing, they did. Google sent emails to over a million people who took part in SOPA, asking them to join the campaign.
As was the case with SOPA, larger tech companies left their decision until the last day. This time around they decided to support the protest in a more limited way. I imagine this is due to a confluence of different factors. Those companies have also grown their lobbying presence substantially since 2011. Maybe they want to see whether they can push through reform through that route before resorting to a larger action. Or perhaps they simply didn’t view this as being the right moment for an all-in action.
But the Internet isn’t comprised solely of Facebook, Twitter and Google. To consider an online action successful only when they join is wrong. If anything, Tuesday showed that Internet as a community doesn’t rely on big tech companies to make itself heard.