Nobody $#@!s With the Internet. Or Do They? : Page 2

Governments, corporations and other organizations need to be aware that there’s a new sheriff in town.
Posted February 8, 2012

Mike Elgan

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The answer is no, not exactly. However, when the right conditions are met, the Internet is becoming a serious force to be reckoned with.

Where the Internet is Powerful -- and Where It's Not

I believe the SOPA/PIPA issue and the Carrier IQ scandal are good examples of issues where the Internet decisively focuses attention and pressure and wins the argument. And I believe the Susan G. Komen for the Cure controversy is not an example of this phenomenon.

First and foremost, the Internet is made out of people. So on any issue that's left or right, liberal or conservative, the Internet won't prove decisive because both sides are using it. They cancel each other out. And this is true of any issue with two sides well represented online.

The most likely issue areas where the Internet can force the outcome in its favor are those involving the Internet itself, or user privacy -- that sort of thing.

Internet users would have been affected directly in their Internet use by SOPA/PIPA, and so there was both intensity and consensus against the bills.

Likewise with Carrier IQ. People broadly oppose being "tracked" or "monitored," and so the overwhelming opinion was strongly in opposition to Carrier IQ.

Both these issues are the kind that normally exist in the shadows of public awareness – obscure legislation and unmentioned, hidden software designed to monitor system performance. Only online influencers are going to hammer away on such issues until everybody gets worked up about it. The mainstream media would, if anything, cover it once and move on to more sensational, salacious or visceral topics.

Another key factor was the fact that politically, neither SOPA/PIPA nor Carrier IQ issues were left-right political issues, with liberals on one side and conservatives on the other. Both supporters and opponents of SOPA and PIPA, for example, were to be found on both sides of the isle.

That the Internet forced the outcomes to the SOPA/PIPA and Carrier IQ issues is clear, given that the mainstream media barely covered these issues in comparison with how ubiquitous coverage was on blogs and social networks.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure scandal was different. This was theoretically, at least, a left-right issue. But the particulars of this case would have led to the same outcome with or without the power of the Internet. The TV news channels covered it heavily, as did the newspapers. The Internet merely mirrored what was happening on other media.

So it's clear to me that, within the United States at least, the Internet is narrowly and potentially powerful or even unstoppable, but only in the following conditions:

1. The issue is related to Internet usage or privacy

2. There is a broad consensus on the issue online

3. It's not a left-right political issue

What we don't know is if the same mechanism works internationally. The big test for this is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which is essentially a treaty that has been signed by the US, the European Union, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea. ACTA has been compared with SOPA and PIPA, and is broadly opposed online.

If online opposition to this treaty continues to grow as it has, it's possible that the power of the Internet could help opponents overturn the treaty. We’ll see.

Either way, governments, corporations and other organizations need to be aware that there’s a new sheriff in town. They need to be especially careful when advocating something that hits Internet users directly – or suffer humiliating and sure defeat.

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Tags: Web, Internet

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