Jan
19

Will Internet Companies Feel Backlash Over Blackouts?

Chris Grimm

With so many issues dominating the news, from the GOP Primary, to the economy, to foreign affairs, it is often difficult to break through on any legislation, let alone one that deals with complex legal and technical issues. But some of the largest Internet companies did manage to secure front page attention with their efforts in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

As you undoubtedly know, Internet companies including Facebook, Google, Reddit and Wikipedia blacked out or altered their websites with a political call to action to protest SOPA to coincide with a hearing before the House Oversight Committee.

And this tactic met with undeniable PR success. Not only were these companies successful in elevating their issue to national prominence, but it would appear that they were successful in garnering political results as Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., John Cornyn, R-Tex., and Mark Rubio, R-Fla., who had all supported the legislation, either reversed themselves or called for more time to study the issue.

These tech organizations employed a higher-risk political advocacy – they deliberately inconvenienced their customers in order to draw their attention to a policy issue. The impact this tactic will have on the relationships between these organizations and their customers and constituents is yet to be seen.

Similar to the risk professional sports take in alienating their fan base every time players strike or a protracted lockout ensues, these companies are taking a risk in shutting down websites that many of us have come to enjoy, if not rely on, for both business and personal reasons. As MPAA President and SOPA supporter Chris Dodd pointed out, there may be the perception that these companies are “punish(ing) their users… who rely on them for information and use their services.”

Indeed, the outlook according to Polipulse, our online monitoring tool that measures conversations on social media channels such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook, shows that while 42 percent of social media users oppose SOPA, only 21 percent support the site blackouts and boycotts.

Whether you agree with their position or not, it is hard to deny the effectiveness of the “Internet Blackout of 2012.” But with only 21% of conversations strongly supporting blackout tactics, even when you win, going nuclear should remain a tactic of last resort.
On the other hand, this could launch a new era of cyber advocacy.

Only time will tell. 

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