Welcome David Segal (Demand Progress), David Moon (Demand Progress-wiki) and Patrick Ruffini (Engage), and Host Timothy Karr (FreePress, SaveTheInternet) (Twitter)

Hacking Politics: How Geeks, Progressives, the Tea Party, Gamers, Anarchists and Suits Teamed Up to Defeat SOPA and Save the Internet

Washington likes to talk bipartisanship.

During the 16-day government shutdown, elected officials from both parties clogged the airwaves with rhetoric about crossing over, finding common cause with political foes, and ending the standoff.

But sincerity was in short supply as few took real action, cheesy photo-ops notwithstanding. The agreement struck last Thursday night was more a delaying tactic than a genuine effort to resolve longstanding disputes.

This isn’t the first time reckless politics have ground Washington to a halt. Congress’ inability to agree on a budget mimics its recent failures to address climate change, income inequality and gun violence.

But there’s a new issue that seems to defy this pattern of dysfunction. It’s the subject of a hopeful new book which documents the bipartisan (some would say “post-partisan”) organizing that in 2012 led to the defeat of two copyright bills that threatened the open Internet.

Hacking Politics: How Geeks, Progressives, the Tea Party, Gamers, Anarchists and Suits Teamed Up to Defeat SOPA and Save the Internet was edited by David Moon and David Segal of the progressive activism organization Demand Progress, and Patrick Ruffini of the right-leaning consultancy firm Engage.

It was also the brainchild of the late Aaron Swartz, the open culture and Internet freedom activist who took his life last January.

While progressive in orientation, Swartz disdained political labels, and party ideology never constrained his smart, radical way of thinking.

Swartz emailed Ruffini in November 2010 to ask whether he was interested in working together to fight an early iteration of SOPA, the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeit Act,” which powerful Hollywood lobbyists and their allies on both sides of the aisle were then pushing through the Senate.

“We’d love to do some work with the conservative/libertarian community,” Swartz wrote Ruffini. “It seems like they should be against this big government takeover of the Internet.”

“Working on this right now actually,” Ruffini emailed back. “What we’re hoping to do is provide a friendly spot for people on the right to engage on this issue.”

Counter Spin

A veteran of online organizing for conservative causes, Ruffini had come to appreciate the Internet’s potential for diverse and decentralized activism. He understood that advocacy on Internet freedom issues provided an opportunity to get beyond partisan politics and disrupt Washington’s status quo.

Joining right with left was “essential to building a broad, bipartisan, populist coalition aligned against an out-of-touch, lobbyist-driven elite,” Ruffini writes in Hacking Politics.

Many of the other contributors to the book echo Ruffini’s frustration with the squalid nature of Washington politics.

In a chapter on the earlier fight for Net Neutrality, Free Press Internet Campaign Director (and my colleague) Josh Levy describes industry lobbyists’ reaction to a 2006 coalition that had formed to support the open Internet.

The phone and cable lobby’s mission was to “drive a wedge into the nonpartisan coalition of Net Neutrality supporters, politicize the issue, further consolidate industry control over Internet access, and kill Net Neutrality before the public got a say,” writes Levy.

Their tactics involved investing in fake grassroots — or “Astroturf” — operations that characterized Net Neutrality as a “Marxist plot,” in the words of then-Fox News host Glenn Beck, who joined the industry attack.

“Net Neutrality went from being a no-brainer to a supposedly partisan issue that divided left and right, progressive and conservative,” writes Levy.

Network Politics

But the industry spin against open Internet advocates didn’t stick. The campaign to protect the open Internet has always attracted strange political bedfellows who have set aside partisan differences in defense of our rights to connect and communicate.

The recent fight against NSA surveillance has been led by the StopWatching.Us Coalition, which includes groups from across the political spectrum, many of which were involved in the earlier fights for Net Neutrality and against heavy-handed copyright legislation.

These alliances are more post-partisan than bipartisan in that they transcend party politics and are motivated by the desire to protect the freewheeling, open nature of the Internet.

The Internet’s original architects designed a network where power resided not with a centralized switching authority but at the end points: with users who could shape their online experience without interference.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who later pioneered development of the World Wide Web, saw the network as a “blank canvas” upon which anyone could communicate and innovate.

These network-engineering principles have had far-reaching political implications, favoring systems that are more decentralized and democratic. But they are constantly under attack from corporations and governments colluding to alter the Internet’s basic DNA so the network tilts in their favor.

Because these attacks threaten free expression, access to information, openness, innovation and privacy, it’s not surprising that people of all political stripes have joined in their defense.

However important the SOPA victory was in 2012, its lasting significance depends on how well the diverse coalition holds together in these and other fights — and against business as usual in Washington.

It’s too early to tell whether these individual campaigns are part of a larger Internet freedom movement with lasting political power — but Hacking Politics offers a promising blueprint for breaking through the partisanship that has hobbled Washington. And that’s a step in the right direction.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

63 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes David Segal, David Moon, and Patrick Ruffini, Hacking Politics: How Geeks, Progressives, the Tea Party, Gamers, Anarchists and Suits Teamed Up to Defeat SOPA and Save the Internet”

BevW October 20th, 2013 at 1:47 pm

David S, David M, Patrick, Welcome to the Lake.

Tim, Welcome back to the Lake, thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

For our new readers/commenters:

To follow along, you will have to refresh your browser:
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If you want to ask a question
– just type it in the Leave Your Response box & Submit Comment.

If you are responding to a comment – use the Reply button under the number,
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David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 2:03 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Thanks for hosting FDL — and I look forward to the questions, Tim!

- David Moon, Demand Progress Program Director

dakine01 October 20th, 2013 at 2:04 pm

David, David, and Patrick welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon. Tim, welcome back.

David, David, and/or Patrick, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this but given the resources of those opposing Net Neutrality and such how often do you anticipate the corporations will push SOPA and all of its variants before they finally get their way? (Assuming they start taking smaller bites rather than trying to get it done in one big bite)

Timothy Karr October 20th, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Thanks for having us. It is great to see a book like this available while the PIPA and SOPA fight is still fresh in the minds of a lot of people.

We’re also really lucky to have online some of the people who fought that fight in the trenches and behind the scenes.

What happened with the fight to defeat SOPA and PIPA was unique in many ways. But it also could be the start of something bigger. The creation of a political power base of Internet users who defy easy political categorization. I’m hoping we can talk some about that and have prepared questions for the authors/editors.

Of course, they’re available to answer questions from readers, too.

So let’s get started.

David Segal October 20th, 2013 at 2:05 pm
In response to David Moon @ 2

Thanks very much. And for clarity, it’s David Segal posting under the Demand Progress handle.

BevW October 20th, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Side Note – the eBook Version of Hacking Politics is in keeping with the ideals of the public culture movement, you can pay-what-you-wish for the ebook of Hacking Politics.

eCAHNomics October 20th, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Coming from the skeptical POV that keeping the internet open is a losing cause.

Can 2012 effort defeat future efforts to subvert it? How many defenders are willing to give their lives for this cause like Aaron Swartz? What efforts are geeks making to engage ancient Luddites like me in the effort?

More Qs but will stop with those & see how conversation develops.

Patrick Ruffini October 20th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

It’s great to be here. This is not usually a venue where most people would agree with what I have to say on most issues, but when it comes to Internet freedom, I’ve seen a lot of common ground, in stark contrast to the polarization that exists elsewhere.

Timothy Karr October 20th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

We already have a question from darkine01. Here’s another for anyone, perhaps David S. you can take it but the others, including Patrick, should answer, too.

Hacking Politics describes your outreach efforts to get conservative and libertarian groups to oppose the PIPA and SOPA bills. In that outreach the legislation is describes as a “government takeover of the Internet.” But the bills were byproducts of Hollywood lobbyists, and in that sense they represented a takeover of the Internet by the private sector (in this case old media), too.

Doesn’t the threat to the open Internet come neither from Big Government or Big Business but from these two forces working together against the interests of ordinary Internet users?

If so, do you think it’s possible for both left and right to recognize this threat for what it really is and dispense with traditional left right jargon that like to paint the problem as one (Big Government) or the other (Big Business)?

David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 2:10 pm

dakine01: The corporations and their partners in both parties have been pushing SOPA-like Internet censorship policies at every level of government. They’ve taken the fight to the courts, into international trade negotiations, inside law enforcement agencies, and they’ve even created new government positions to focus on these efforts. We must remain ever vigilant against these threats, but in reality we are vastly under-resourced in the fight back and are increasingly relying on Internet users to help spread alarm.

dakine01 October 20th, 2013 at 2:11 pm
In response to David Moon @ 10


As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and comment number being replied to and makes it easier for folks to follow the conversation.

Note: some browsers do not like to let the Reply function correctly if it is pressed after a hard page refresh but before the page completes loading

David Segal October 20th, 2013 at 2:13 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

So for starters I think that it’s important to distinguish between what’s referred to as “net neutrality” and what SOPA was.

Net Neutrality entails compelling ISPs not to preference access to certain content above other content. In particular, a Comcast could have incentives to make it easier to access NBC content, since they’re part of the same multinational now. Or an ISP could be paid to preference certain content. And many of us (Demand Progress, Free Press, Public Knowledge, and others) believe that it’s important to enforce such ideals via law/regulation

SOPA was different in that it was going to pro-actively require the censorship of certain content — even whole sites — if certain “infringement” was taking place.

Many on the Right oppose both SOPA and NN for similar philosophical reasons: They both entail more expansive government regulation.

While those of us on the left believe that the former is a form of regulation that would have positive effects for speech, democracy, etc while the latter would have dire negative consequences in said realms.

And to answer your question: Corporations will keep coming back time and again to try to push for SOPA-like policies and against NN. And will do so through ever more clandestine means, such as through the TPP, which allows for obfuscation of the issues at hand and makes it much harder to figure out how to organize against bad policy.

David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 2:13 pm
In response to David Moon @ 10

@eCAHNomics & @dakine01 — one of the things I talk about in Hacking Politics is the need for our various advocacy campaigns on Internet Freedom to translate into the perception of a political constituency and power for our users around the nation. Over time, those in office must begin to get a sense that there will be political blowback over their actions BEFORE they take a vote. I think we’re slowly getting there, and SOPA was just step one. Ed Snowden’s revelations about mass Internet surveillance helped drive the conversation even deeper. The danger is that we must keep giving users hope that there is a way forward. Many people throw their hands in the air and just assume the government is watching their every click at this point.

Patrick Ruffini October 20th, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Tim, this is right. Things frequently get boiled down into the jargon of Big Government OR Big Business but in reality it’s the collusion of both that marked the SOPA battle.

Congress may be dysfunctional but it’s fair to say there’s a bipartisan majority of Congress that doesn’t get the Internet and is susceptible to arguments from incumbent players.

The movie and recording industries aren’t the biggest, most successful industries out there, but the MPAA and RIAA are among the most influential groups out there because they’ve taken care to cultivate relationships on both sides of the aisle. When SOPA was introduced, it was taken as a given by member of Congress (piracy = bad!). The other side wasn’t even being heard on the Hill. And it took everyday users to make sure a pro-innovation, pro-Internet perspective was heard.

eCAHNomics October 20th, 2013 at 2:17 pm
In response to David Moon @ 13

Over time, those in office must begin to get a sense that there will be political blowback over their actions BEFORE they take a vote.

Seems like a hope expressed as a forecast. Political class in U.S. is divorced from voters. No amount of noise we make, makes a difference as long as Koch & Soros & AIPAC etc. oppose democracy.

Timothy Karr October 20th, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Question for David S.

The fight to defeat PIPA and SOPA is often described as bipartisan or post-partisan. But the two concepts are distinctly different. Can you describe what separates the two? Or more precisely, can you describe why you think the SOPA fight is post-partisan, and why that’s more significant than the sort of bipartisan compromises and coalitions that are more common in Washington?

David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Ditto on Patrick & Tim’s comments on this. But conversely, if the government and corporations are colluding to erode Internet Freedom, as SOPA showed, our fight back was most effective when ordinary users banded together with platforms (aka other corporations) able to generate mass awareness to millions of people at once. One side effect of this collaboration, however, is that Congress quickly assumed that SOPA was defeated simply because of the power of Google. A few campaigns later, however, some members are beginning to understand that the user-base itself is a source of unpredictable citizen advocacy that can be unleashed on them quickly. We’ve gotten some contacts from legislative offices in recent months asking us not to “SOPA”-them on certain issues. That’s at least a positive sign that the users’ political clout is beginning to get noticed.

David Segal October 20th, 2013 at 2:22 pm
In response to Timothy Karr @ 9

I definitely agree with your analysis.

We progressives are in an awful bind: We recognize that the State can do much to better peoples’ lives, but also recognize that the current manifestation of the American state in many ways resembles a hopelessly corrupt conspiracy between various corporate factions.

I think many on the right also recognize the presence of such corruption — they’re more likely to call it “rent seeking” or maybe “crony capitalism”. SOPA was an egregious example of this, and I think that it’s easy for the left and right to call out analogous corruption in the military policy space — the F-35, or the NSA, or the forces driving us to war in Syria.

But I think that the Left pushes a program that — if ever, by miracle, implemented — would actually do something to make it so that this corruption was no longer a (or the) dominant effect that governs political outcomes in this country. Namely, we support public financing of elections, more revolving door restrictions, etc.

Those on the Right who recognize this corruption don’t really offer up a way to mitigate it.

David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 2:23 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 15

I think you are correct that the challenges are steep. But if you look around, we’re beginning to see numerous advocacy forms take hold that powerfully harness user-generated activities (eg: the viral protests against Susan Komen, SOPA, and even the user-attention drawn to the Steubenville rape investigations). We’re clearly not at a point where we’re consistently activating users and winning these battles, but it’s early yet. Call me crazy, but I’m hopeful…..

BevW October 20th, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Had any of you worked with Aaron Swartz before the Net Neutrality / SOPA became a fight?

Patrick Ruffini October 20th, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I think in this discussion it’s helpful to distinguish between the big issues (Obamacare, debt ceiling, taxes, etc.) that receive the bulk of press coverage and heavily divided along partisan lines, and back burner bills dealing with obscure regulatory issues that are actually the majority of what Congress deals with (especially at the committee level) and which are the focus of the vast majority of lobbying dollars. SOPA was just such a bill. It attracted bipartisan support, and eventually bipartisan opposition. The two parties in this case were not R and D, but content on one side and technology on the other (both users and big players united).

From a conservative (and non-corporatist) perspective, Congress’s preoccupation with these bills is problematic because a lot of issues that should be dealt with in the marketplace are actually being dealt with by regulators or members of Congress who aren’t qualified to arbitrate between different industries. And a lot of conservatives go along with this, taking convoluted positions that favor some form of government regulation (copyright being one, but you could go down the list and include Internet taxes etc.) and getting away with it because the issues are fairly obscure, and no one is going to call them on this inconsistency.

Our role in SOPA was to make sure that they couldn’t get away with that, and that this actually became an issue for grassroots conservative primary voters. Eventually, every Republican Presidential candidate was asked about this and all opposed it.

Timothy Karr October 20th, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Question for Patrick: It’s clear from this fight that there are some spots where genuine solidarity exists between ideologues in both parties. There seems to be a lot of common ground when dealing with Internet rights issues in general, like online privacy, openness and free expression, and it’s been great to see diverse political groups work together in that space since SOPA and PIPA – the coalition that joined to stop mass surveillance by the NSA is one recent example.

Do you see other issue areas – beyond the realm of Internet rights – where similar left-right coalitions can unite and have a real impact? What areas show promise?

David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 2:32 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 7

To the Luddites, we of course, extend an olive branch. :) But it is increasingly the case that older generations are increasingly networking themselves on the Internet.

But as time goes on, the churning of the population will actually help mitigate some of the opposition to Internet Freedom issues from older generations. TIME Magazine two years ago reported, for example that: “[Seniors are] particularly unhappy about social change, with only 22% saying a growing immigrant population has been a good thing and just 29% approving of interracial marriage. They’re wary of the America that Steve Jobs built, dominated by new gadgets and technologies that many don’t understand or use. Fewer than half of [Seniors]–45%–believe the Internet has been a positive development.”

It is not a coincidence that the younger generations have been beating the door open on issues like marriage equality, Internet Freedom, and more. I believe there is more of a fundamental shift going on here than simply the Internet becoming more prominent in our lives. There is a synergy here between issues. The Millenials are the next “boom” population, and at some point in time, a majority of voters will have come of age “post-Internet.” When that happens, I think all bets are off.

David Segal October 20th, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In response to Timothy Karr @ 16

Bi-partisan and post-partisan are both kind of dirty terms to me, as they both connote, to me, the middling corporatist policies that get us into wars or yield “grand bargains” around Social Security, etc.

But I don’t know if there’s really a name for those moments where Left and Right ideologues can team up on an issue — and, importantly do so without “compromise”, because on many of these issues, we actually agree with each other’s policy postures. Even if sometimes as a function of different higher values.

I guess some people call it cross-partisanship, or trans-partisanship. (I don’t know if I love those terms, but they’re okay for now.)

But we see this kind of alliance happen more and more — it just kept us out of a war in Syria, it might do something to curtail the NSA, it might block Fast Track and the TPP. Crim justice reform, and some other very important spots. I think we should look for more opportunities to engage in such work together.

But I don’t have any delusions that these sorts of alliances can operate in the economic justice, environmentalist, etc spaces. I’ve just found it refreshing to work in that issue realm that allows for such Left/Right synergy, because it’s more fluid and it’s easier to see how the sort of organizing that Demand Progress does can make a difference there.

Patrick Ruffini October 20th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to David A. Segal @ 18

I think those of us on the right would say that a lot of our strategy to mitigate these sorts of issues is to simply not have the government involved on a lot of these things period — particularly on issues that don’t involve the public good per se, but are really about companies arguing with each other over how to divvy up profits.

Companies aren’t hiring lobbyists to get themselves deregulated. They understand that the regulatory state, once established, is inert and hard to undo. So they try to generate momentum for regulating the other guy. They use regulatory capture not to make the system less burdensome for business overall but to make their competitors feel the pain. This is corporatism plain and simple and conservatives should want no part of it.

eCAHNomics October 20th, 2013 at 2:41 pm
In response to David Moon @ 19

Who has analyzed (i.e. link) what goes viral & what doesn’t? The specifics you mention were micro not macro.

I found Komen case discouraging. People understood that it was a bogus dupe trapping organization, but didn’t recognize that it was one of thousands that do the same.

David Segal October 20th, 2013 at 2:41 pm
In response to BevW @ 20

I met Aaron when I was running for Congress in 2010. I’d been a city councilman (as a Green) and a state rep (as a Dem) in Providence, RI. Aaron was with the PCCC in 2010, they endorsed me, and he spent a lot of time in our office that summer helping out with polls/messaging and building various tools. And after I lost the primary we went and started Demand Progress together.

The first petition we put out into the world was in opposition to the Combatting Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, which later became PIPA, which was the Senate’s version of SOPA. Our anti-COICA petition really took off, and within a few days we had around 300k people on an email list which became the backbone of Demand Progress.

David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 2:45 pm
In response to David A. Segal @ 24

Getting out of this rut will mean political players, advocacy groups, and users all acknowledging that their are times when we must band together and put issues ahead of politics. On Internet issues in particular, it has been satisfying to watch left blogs like DailyKos and right blogs like RedState both mobilizing their readers to engage lawmakers on the left and right on Internet issues. In fact, on issues of civil liberties, there have been numerous opportunities to engage folks on the right (Ron Paul supporters, Tea Partiers), and on the left (Russ Feingold/ACLU-types and liberal online groups) in putting issues over policy — but it has been much slower on other areas where there are common concerns (crony capitalism, foreign wars, etc).

I can tell you from my own perspective, I had a real AHA moment when I was working on voting rights issues many years ago, and sat in a meeting with an unnamed Democratic Congressional office, and we were trying to advance a DC voting rights bill. The effort was being sponsored by a Republican Congressman from (increasingly Blue) Northern Virginia, and so we from the voting rights/civil rights community were told that it was more important to deny a legislative victory to a Congressman who might soon run for U.S. Senate. That to me was unacceptable, and the DC voting rights effort still hasn’t passed.

David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 2:46 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 26

Yeah, no perfect examples exist. But I think this is an iterative process and advocacy groups and users are continually learning from and building upon past efforts.

Timothy Karr October 20th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

For David M. In Hacking Politics, you write about the development of a “political voice of the Internet” in the 2011 -2012 fight against PIPA/SOPA. It’s a voice that doesn’t need to rely on traditional media or lobbying to be heard.

How has that voice evolved in the 18 months since SOPA was killed, if at all?

eCAHNomics October 20th, 2013 at 2:47 pm
In response to David Moon @ 23

I’m a tech Luddite, but not an economics issue one. My domestic concerns (you guessed it given my screen name) are economic equality.

As one wag put it, be grateful for marriage equality because it’s all you’re going to get.

The tech savvy generation seems disconnected with economics, foreign policy, esp war which is tearing the world apart. Looking at screens not the world they live in.

The tech savvy generation will be 30% of voters soon. I despair that they will add anything productive to civil life in U.S. or to global stability.

eCAHNomics October 20th, 2013 at 2:49 pm
In response to David Moon @ 29

So which side learned more from the past decade? Geeks, who achieved some temporary successes, or PTB who learned how to defeat geeks?

David Segal October 20th, 2013 at 2:50 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 7

For better or worse, one reason why we retain a shot of beating back SOPA-style legislation/regulation is that both 99% of people _and_ a substantial corporate faction are on the right side of that one. That’s an easy calculation for most pols — if the money’s even and 99% of voters are on one side, run with that side. It’s actually part of why the Repubs were generally better on SOPA than Dems: The Dems were stuck in the gravitational orbit of Hollywood and RIAA money. Most of the Repubs (with the exception of high-ups on the Judiciary Committees like Lamar Smith and Orrin Hatch and some random others — like Marsha Blackburn, who’s wedded to Tennessee’s blues/country music labels) were free to side with the ascendant Silicon Valley power node, and the money that comes with.

Net Neutrality’s a much tougher fight, as the corporations skew against it and it’s a bit more esoteric. But it’s just as important.

eCAHNomics October 20th, 2013 at 2:53 pm
In response to David A. Segal @ 33

You answered one of my unasked questions, which is whether there is real analysis of political process by your side. Happy to see there is.

eCAHNomics October 20th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Gotta hop to another engagement. Thanks for being at FDL & for your efforts to maintain civil & human rights.

David Segal October 20th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 31

I’m sad to say that I share your despair. (Though I’m still not sure how to process those polls that indicate that younger voters aren’t willing to assert that capitalism is better than socialism.)

It’s a trite phrase, but Marriage Equality is the “exception that proves the rule”. We can win on issues where concentrated capital doesn’t have an interest. (Or is net a bit on our side, as is probably the case with Marriage Equality.) Much harder to get anything done on any other front.

karenjj2 October 20th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to David Moon @ 17

Welcome to the lake

noting that you’ve received contact on some issues, has there been an effort to cultivate and enlist government employees that prepare legislation to alert us when anti-net neutrality and similar legislation is sneaking in? it seems that the tactic of sen-reps attaching anti-public riders is becoming the norm just before a blanket vote. an example is the “monsanto protection rider” that keeps getting attached to the agriculture bill. we need friends in gov’t to tell friends of internet freedom to alert EFF for example.

very pleased to see that there are ways that all of us can unite for the common good versus the corporatists.

Patrick Ruffini October 20th, 2013 at 2:57 pm

We saw with CISPA that the same coalition couldn’t necessarily be remobilized on demand even though lots of people within the movement were trying. It was able to pass the House but eventually stalled out (probably due to public outcry and a White House veto threat). Nor could the SOPA coalition muster a majority for NSA reforms.

SOPA was unique in that the overreach on the other side was pretty egregious (and Hollywood couldn’t make an argument for how SOPA would actually cut piracy), combined with unified business/user opposition. I doubt we’ll see this exact same dynamic emerge again soon. I think a SOPA wouldn’t even be considered now, so the MPAA/RIAA will try to browbeat Internet companies into “voluntary initiatives.”

Patrick Ruffini October 20th, 2013 at 3:02 pm
In response to karenjj2 @ 37

This is where lobbyists on the inside can be helpful (and they’re not all bad). When our side got hold of legislative drafts, they’d very quickly be posted online where they could be scrutinized and analyzed. This helped our side get a jump on things and frame the debate.

It really is incumbent on Congressional staff, if they want to get things passed, to be transparent and actually tell people what they want to do ahead of time. Part of the strong reaction when SOPA was introduced was the extreme secrecy with which Lamar Smith dealt with the bill, the stacking of hearings, etc. You have people on record saying that this was their motivation for getting involved, and these were many of the same players behind the January 18, 2012 blackout.

David Segal October 20th, 2013 at 3:04 pm
In response to karenjj2 @ 37

This happens on an ad-hoc basis, but there’s no single choke point that all the bills pass through — like there isn’t one person who happens to be good on these issues who reads every bill/amendment that’s filed. But there’s a handful of really earnest ideological staffers and they’ll tip us off to stuff as they can.

David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 3:04 pm
In response to Timothy Karr @ 30

It was great that in the post-SOPA world, we had the GOP Presidential candidates in 2012 being forced to address SOPA at a televised debate. And in the Democratic and GOP conventions that followed months later, we got Internet Freedom issues added as planks in both party platforms for the first time ever. In that sense, you can see that Internet issues as a discrete policy area are beginning to take increasing prominence among candidates. I think even Obama took notice, as you started seeing him do things like participate in reddit AMA’s and threaten to veto CISPA (Net surveillance legislation) twice.

But even still, the Snowden & NSA examples show us that there is a difference between the walk and the talk, and we haven’t closed the gap between promises and action. This is going to have to be an ongoing process, but slowly but surely, I think Internet issues are going to surge in the future. See eg: my comments about future demography of our politics.

Timothy Karr October 20th, 2013 at 3:04 pm

For anyone: Did the PIPA/SOPA fight create any lasting or formal infrastructure for future efforts to organize across politics and party? What if anything is happening to ensure that these conversations and organizing continues?

Patrick Ruffini October 20th, 2013 at 3:10 pm
In response to Timothy Karr @ 42

PIPA/SOPA saw the rise of a number of new groups dedicated to Internet/innovation issues, from Fight for the Future / Internet Defense League on the activist side of things to Engine Advocacy covering policy research and advocacy from a Silicon Valley angle. There are informal networks that continue to work on these issues. But the process is messy, like the Internet itself. I think that the Internet itself won’t require a massive new organization to defend it, but smart collaboration amongst different nodes. It really was amazing how quickly SOPA opposition came together despite the lack of a formalized infrastructure. Both Demand Progress and I had a good perspective on this, as we were almost the only ones focused on this issue in late 2010.

BearCountry October 20th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Thanks to you all for being here today. It seems to me that there really is no govt interest and big biz interest; govt has pretty much been captured by big biz, e.g. Monsanto. The only hope we have there is that in terms of the internet some businesses are strongly in favor of a more free internet, perhaps internet stores, and some are more strongly in favor of a heavily regulated, i.e. govt controlled, internet. Although they both may be big biz, there may be no overriding, strong voice that can control the regulation of the internet. Perhaps those “free internet” businesses can be mobilized to back the free voice.

David Segal October 20th, 2013 at 3:17 pm
In response to Timothy Karr @ 42

There are a lot of connections that weren’t there previously. If we’re working on an issue like, for instance, the Amash amendment that would’ve ended bulk “meta-data” collection by the NSA, it’s pretty easy for us to confer with right-leaning orgs like the Competitive Enterprise Institute or the Campaign for Liberty and see what they’re up to — or if they’re not active, to encourage them to get engaged. There are strong relationship there now, and a sense of genuine trust that we’ll work together to forward the cause at hand and not fall prey to petty partisanship or otherwise get tripped up. The Stop Watching Us coalition has been a great example of this.

David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 3:18 pm
In response to karenjj2 @ 37

It is also the case that the lobbyists fighting us on these issues have a perpetual presence on the Hill and much deeper ties to offices (given the revolving door of staffing). As a result, it is much more ad hoc or luck of the draw, when we are tipped off by staff to a pending threat.

We’ve been trying to game out how to push freshmen electeds to pledge to not hire industry hacks as their staffers, but we haven’t operationalized anything yet. That has got to be part of the fight in the future.

David Segal October 20th, 2013 at 3:21 pm
In response to BearCountry @ 44

Yep, as I mentioned somewhere earlier in this thread, this was one of the major reasons why we were able to win the SOPA fight, and why we have a shot at continuing to maintain this sort of openness. Net Neutrality — keeping the Internet flat, so that everybody has an equal ability to share and access content — is probably a heavier lift. There’s a key court case being heard right now that will speak to the FCC’s ability to issue regulations relative to NN, and some aggressive organizing could be required in coming months. (Tim and others at Free Press deserve a lot of credit for leading that fight.)

BearCountry October 20th, 2013 at 3:24 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 32

So which side learned more from the past decade? Geeks, who achieved some temporary successes, or PTB who learned how to defeat geeks?

Even though eCAHN is gone, I believe that the ptb always learn more from their defeats. The govt control of the press in the wars since Viet Nam are a direct outgrowth of what happened. The govt in the wh has often marginalized the press since Watergate. The current state of the press attests to that. The fight against sopa would have been disastrous if the internet depended on the good efforts of the msm.

Timothy Karr October 20th, 2013 at 3:29 pm
In response to David A. Segal @ 47

Thanks David. Happy to discuss what’s next on the Net Neutrality fight. But you’re right, it’s an uphill battle against deeply entrenched corporate special interests, involving an FCC that has long been held captive to industry. The AT&T, Verizon and Comcast lobby make MPAA, RIAA look like a bunch of weenies. And a lot of the tech companies that were willing to come out of their Silicon Valley enclosures to fight PIPA and SOPA are more reluctant with regard to Net Neutrality. This is even more true today than it was before they started toying with the idea of becoming ISPs. (Read: Google)

BearCountry October 20th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Just in case I’m not here when this thread draws to a close, I want to thank you again for being here and for fighting this fight. I hope there is more that we can do as workers in the vineyards of the Lord. I hope that more people begin to see that so many of the problems we face are not D vs. R, but the ptb against the 99% of us. The 1% do have the greater resources and a bigger megaphone, but OWS and the spin-offs have shown how worried the 1% are about the power of a united 99%. I hope you are able to keep up your work.

Timothy Karr October 20th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

How does this issue play in the global realm. The PIPA/SOPA fight had international aspects to it but it was essentially an effort to kill a bill moving through the U.S. Congress.

Can we translate this model of organizing to fight against attacks on the Internet, globally? Or are we looking at completely different list of allies and tactics?

RevBev October 20th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Is there also a large information gap? NN seems to get some play, but not alot of education/discussion about all the issues involved. Any suggestions? Im sure the generational thing is part of it, but,really, seniors have been brought along on many, many issues. Ideas?

David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 3:33 pm
In response to BearCountry @ 48

The MSM had a total blackout of positive coverage of our SOPA efforts (surprise, surprise). In one instance, we tried to buy ad time to push Sen. Klobuchar, and two cable companies refused to air them. Meh.

David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 3:37 pm
In response to RevBev @ 52

One tough thing is that the Internet masses tend not to get involved until there is something crazy being proposed AND is imminent. Also, given the nature of email and social media communications, we need to be concise and sharp in our message. But even doing all of that well, it is still a challenge to raise mass awareness. On that last bit, this is where engaging the platforms in our fight has been helpful. 4chan, tumblr, reddit, Google, Wikipedia, etc were able to drive tons of awareness during SOPA. But getting them to weigh in on corporate influence or war? That’s a monumental challenge.

karenjj2 October 20th, 2013 at 3:38 pm

thank you for your replies Patrick, David S. and David M.

i wasn’t aware that the revolving door applied to staffers tho on reflection quite logical. we truely do need to cultivate the few remaining idealists among staff and lobbiests. perhaps crowd-sourced reading of materials as they come out of the committees?

RevBev October 20th, 2013 at 3:43 pm
In response to David Moon @ 54

Seems like we need a really identifiable spokesperson; a beauty or a geek, etc. With a great and clever message. Matt Damon, maybe…You know what I mean.

David Segal October 20th, 2013 at 3:43 pm
In response to RevBev @ 52

I’m sure there is an education gap. As we all know, it’s particularly hard to educate when the mainstream media has disincentives to highlight an issue. During the SOPA fight, we were hearing from MSNBC producers/hosts who were _scared_ to cover the issue, because of potential professional consequences. In that instance the online platforms picked up some of the slack, but they’re not as passionate about support NN as they were about opposing SOPA, for a number of reasons.

NN is also a bit of an abstraction — which is great, in so much as there aren’t very many egregious examples of NN policies having been violated. (Tim should correct if I’m missing something.) Comcast/Bittorent was a huge exception, but that’s an example that’s probably particularly ill-suited to explain to seniors for a variety of reasons. But if NN violations become less of a hypothetical/abstraction then we’re in a terrible bind, as it’s evidence that the politics and the PR of the situation have shifted in a way that makes corporations comfortable violating NN. In other words, the battle would have been lost, and we’d have to strain even further to scrap back to where we are today.

RevBev October 20th, 2013 at 3:49 pm
In response to David A. Segal @ 57

And scrapping back is, of course, harder, I assume. The net is such a part of the lives of almost everyone; seems that there would be more interest. EX. I have a 90 yr old friend in another city; our contact is email. So is hers with all her relatives in Europe.

David Moon October 20th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I’ve got to jump folks, but it’s been fun. If you’re so compelled by our conversation – please pick up a “pay what you want” copy of Hacking Politics: http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/hacking-politics-2/

BevW October 20th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

As we come to the last minutes of this great Book Salon discussion, any last thoughts?

David S, David M, and Patrick, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and the fight to save the internet.

Tim, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:
Hacking Politics – link

David Segal’s website

David Moon’s website

Patrick Ruffini’s website

Tim’s website and Twitter

Thanks all, Have a great weekend. If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

David Segal October 20th, 2013 at 3:52 pm
In response to Timothy Karr @ 51

I’d love to be able to speak to how these issues play in other countries in more details. There’s a robust international Internet freedom movement, and there were lots of people across the globe who wanted to find productive ways to encourage Congress to kill the bill. That’s a tall task of course, as many American pols’ attitudes towards international opinion lies on a spectrum that runs from lack of concern to active resentment. (This is obviously problematic relative to a thousand different issues, since we have such disproportionate global influence in so many realms.)

Though it was very helpful in influencing the Obama Admin for us to be able to point to the fact that SOPA would start to legitimize all sorts of Internet censorship in a way that contravenes the State Dept’s work on global Internet freedom.

Running in the other direction, it seemed like the win here helped buttress efforts in Europe to kill the ACTA treaty, which could’ve yielded similar censorship there.

Some of the tactics are generalizable, some aren’t. I’ve personally focused on domestic organizing because I know the domestic angles far better than ones that could apply abroad. And there are all sorts of start-up costs to running a Demand Prog-styled org internationally — like hiring a lot of people who speak all the relevant languages.

karenjj2 October 20th, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Thank you!

RepackRider October 21st, 2013 at 3:53 pm
In response to Patrick Ruffini @ 8


I was a participant in The Next Right, which is now logging fewer visits than my own, static website. I’m so liberal that I would have been prosecuted in the ‘fifties. I am also an Army vet (E-5, Honorable Discharge, ETS 15-FEB-1968). You can look up my posts on your old site under the same handle. I tried to represent without trolling.

That said, I found the same hysteria on your site that led us to say,
Sarah Palin being taken seriously.

Seriously. Sarah Palin? And the Pizza guy? Bachmann? I’m glad you’re here to explain these mystifying political phenomena to us.

Hopefully you will find that we deal with ideas on their merits, not on their origin.

My service in a military medical capacity has convinced me that we should be offering similar tax-paid medical services to any person who walks into any medical facility in the country. Doing so would save billions of dollars and put the insurance company death panels out of business. You probably don’t have any experience with military medicine, which is designed around large-scale treatment and multiple traumas.

The only people who say government can’t work are those with a stake in not making it work. The only people who want wars are those who don’t fight them. I would rather take my chances with Al Qaeda than allow my own government to monitor every thought I care to communicate.

Tell me where I’m wrong.

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