News of the Tweet: The Week The Net Found Its Bite

SOPA, PIPA, LOL and 24/7 CCTV.

By Seb Kemp

The big news this week was that the much-loved SOPA bill cracked under immense public pressure and went slinking down the drain. Almost. Sort of.

At one point this week, 1% of all tweets carried the #wikipediablackout tag and the term SOPA was used in a quarter-million tweets hourly during the blackout. How do I know that? Well I copied that directly from Wikipedia's SOPA page so I suppose that makes me a nasty, little copyright rapist, and the SOPA bill is directed at having me put in the stocks and rotten vegetables thrown at me.

Well, actually no. How SOPA (and its cousin PIPA) would have worked is that Bike magazine would be the ones held accountable, and the penalty would be far worse than time spent in the stocks and week-old cauliflower.

The idea behind the Stop Online Piracy Act bill was to allow intellectual property owners to pull the plug on sites against whom they have a copyright claim. Search engines, social networking sites and domain name services could be demanded to block access to the targeted site.

The Protect IP Act (or full title: Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) is the next step in the war on piracy and would give additional tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods”, especially those registered outside the U.S. One of the means they could employ would to be block US firms making payments for advertising on offending sites.

Why would this matter? Well, pretty much every single one of your favorite mountain-bike sites could get shut down because most of their content fits under the description of copyright piracy. You see, all those three-minute edits of roosting, flying loam, and close up shots of chainsaws being sharpened contain music that hasn't been cleared. The best case scenario would be that websites without the constant stream of soon-forgotten videos being flung at them each day would be forced to put more effort into original programming. The worst-case scenario would be that websites would be shut down.

The internet is built on ripping, burning and copying itself. If SOPA, PIPA or one of its dirty little offspring went through then we wouldn't be able to get lost in the time vacuum that is YouTube, and we wouldn't be cursed with pithy edits that are more viral than a cold at an elementary school.

130,000 hits? Really? Is this where we are with the internet? That craftsmen and artists can slave away trying to imagine something truly original and then something like this gets more hits than Chris Brown gave Rihanna.

Anyway, to counteract this, 18,000 websites got wasted and blacked out on January 18th in protest. Wikipedia went blank that day, and with it, so did every internet intellectual. Wikipedia is an invaluable source of information, but having grey-matter at the fingertips has perhaps lessened many people’s ability to retain knowledge. In the days before everyone had a smart phone, and actually were smart, I used to run a weekly pub quiz, but I have no idea how pub quizzes work these days when every answer is just a search-engine query away.

Anyway, with Wikipedia closed for business I was almost faced with the deafening sound of my own lack of knowledge until Dan Barham pointed out that there was a cheat code that allowed people to still use Wikipedia anyway.

Back to SOPA and PIPA – under the proposed laws Wikipedia could be forced to check each link it has ever published and ascertain whether the linked sites contain anything that is a copyright infringement. If it was, then Wikipedia could be held accountable for the crime. This would be nearly impossible and we could potentially see Wikipedia closed down and its replacement the workhorse for a totalitarian or dystopian information control system. A 2+2=5 sort of thing.

A similar thing would happen with our beloved performance mountain cycling websites.

Of course, it is all much bigger and far less simple than I've made it sound. Our freedom of expression is at stake. The capacity for censorship and abuse is what we should be afraid of with bills such as these.

There really is more to all of this. To educate yourself, check out The Oatmeal for the juicy truthiness of it all.

Twitter is at stake. Without Twitter and Facebook functioning as a free flowing stream of consciousness how would I be able to bring you #NOTT. More so, how would we have public justice?

This isn't exactly bike related (I did find it via MBUK's @doddstar79 so that counts in my book), but it does highlight the new face of public justice.

The above video was filmed by an anonymous chap's cell phone of a less-than-thoughtful driver. We used to worry about CCTV watching our every move but now there is something even more frightening and that is that we are all watching each other, judging each other, and we have the technology to record and spread our crimes around the world instantly. Which is what happened in this video.

[Original video has been made private by user. We’re guessing because of legal purposes]

Sure the woman was a total tool parking where she did, but she was even more stupid thinking that she could get away with her mild misdemeanor by acting like an abusive turd to the chap holding the cell phone as he clearly told her that he was filming everything she said.

What happened, was the chap quietly uploaded it to YouTube and then the social media beast got a hold of it and then the shit really hit the fan for this lady.

First, it started buzzing around Twitter and then a whole Facebook thread starts up about this incident. Before she knows it, the clueless traffic violator is getting people not just boycott her shop (oh, did I not say she was a business owner and that's why she thought it was fine to ruin everyone else's commute to work), but start a public campaign to spread the message that she is a total git and her shop sells clubbed-seal-skin iPhone cases (I made that last bit up).

It goes a bit too far when it gets to this level because then the people doing the harassing become as twatified as the lady. However, it does demonstrate that we are in a world of public justice somewhat like when offending townsfolk were placed in the stocks in the town square and faced with a very public vegetable slinging punishment. These days we can't get away with anything and even if you avoid the long arm of the law you might still face the heavy boot of the social media world. Social media turns this spinning mess of 7 billion sovereign beings back into a village of idiots. Even though we are disconnected and spread thickly like crunchy peanut butter, we are somehow connected in a totally new way. It is like living in close proximity again, where everybody knows your name and your business. You can't hide in the crowds anymore, you cannot be anonymous and we are all highly profiled. With this interconnectivity we the public have gained a new way to become judge, jury and executioner towards one another. Even if it isn't right we can very publicly tar and feather one another so once again we have to watch what we are doing, just like back in the day. Like way back in the day when we all lived communally, not figuratively, but literally.

But the question I'm considering today is: Does social media increase accountability and perhaps introduce a much needed element of public justice or does it impinge on our right to privacy and produce a mob element with no framework of rules other than self-regulation?

Whoa, heavy week. I promise to be more lighthearted next week. In the meantime here is a video about cats acting like dickheads. God bless the internets, everyone of them.