Public affairs managers would drool if they could sign up 4.5 million people on a petition and convince a score of U.S. senators to support their cause in a single day. That's what Google did as part of a web-wide blackout this week to protest federal legislation intended to protect the intellectual property rights of motion picture producers, but which critics see as an assault on Internet freedom.
There were also 2.4 million tweets protesting the Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA) legislation. More than 162 million people visited the totally blacked out Wikipedia English-language pages, with 8 million of those using its search tool to find out how to contact their congressional representatives.
As a result, the preliminary vote on PIPA has been postponed as Senate sponsors say they needed to go back to the drawing board. House Speaker John Boehner slowed down committee consideration of SOPA, citing a "lack of consensus."
Not a bad day's work for a form of media many public affairs professionals and lobbyists ignore or disdain.
The New York Times called this effusion of online activism "a political coming-of-age" for digital media.
Chris Dodd — a former U.S. senator, now head of the Motion Pictures Association of America and a chief proponent of both SOPA and PIPA — called it an "abuse of power" by Google, Reddit, Wikipedia, Craigslist, Mozilla, BoingBoing and others. In his statement, Dodd said, "It's a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways of information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users…to further their corporate interests." So how is this different than movie theaters airing commercials about the pitfalls of piracy?
Rupert Murdoch, who owns a vast traditional media empire, accused the "blogosphere" of "terrorizing many senators and congressmen who previously committed to support SOPA and PIPA." The pressure was real, all right. But how is it really any different from tried-and-true efforts to line up editorial support for an issue or encourage supporters to write letters to the editor or call into a radio talk show? Or, for that matter, having a TV network dedicated to one political viewpoint?