This morning, Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said in a statement today that he will postpone next week’s vote on the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). Update: Rep. Lamar Smith followed with a statement that he would also halt consideration of SOPA. This is a historic victory for the Internet community. Collectively, millions of people rose up and told Washington that these bills shall not pass.
An unprecedented day of online protests over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and the PIPA in the U.S. Senate and the resulting coverage on cable and broadcast news networks had an effect.
“Senator Reid made the right decision in postponing next week’s vote on PIPA,” said Center for Democracy and Technology president Leslie Harris. “It’s time for a hard reset on this issue. We need a thoughtful and substantive process that includes all Internet stakeholders. We need to take a hard look at the facts and find solutions that honor the Internet’s openness and its unique capacity for innovation and free expression. We are thankful for the efforts of Senator Ron Wyden who from the beginning stood against this bill; his early opposition and leadership gave voice to the important concerns of the Internet community.”
Wikipedia, Google, BoingBoing, Reddit, O’Reilly Media and thousands of other blogs asked their communities to take a stand and contact Washington.
“The amazing thing is that the power of these networks delivered,” wrote David Binetti in TechCrunch. “By the end of the day, 25 Senators — including at least 5 former co-sponsors of the bill — had announced their opposition to SOPA. Think about that for just a second: A well-organized, well-funded, well-connected, well-experienced lobbying effort on Capitol Hill was outflanked by an ad-hoc group of rank amateurs, most of whom were operating independent of one another and on their spare time. Regardless where you stand on the issue — and effective copyright protection is an important issue — this is very good news for the future of civic engagement.”
As shown by ProPublica’s excellent SOPA Tracker, SOPA and PIPA now have 122 opponents in the House and Senate, four times as many as on Monday.
These bills are not “dead,” no matter what headlines you read today, although I can now say with some confidence that they will not pass in their current form. There are ongoing negotiations to redraft them, cutting DNS filtering provisions or search engine blocks in an effort to make them acceptable to technology companies like Google.
While the Internet mattered this week, it’s important to recognize that but for the efforts of Senator Ron Wyden, Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Rep. Jared Polis and Rep. Zoe Logren, I believe SOPA and PIPA would likely have passed. Senator Wyden put a critical hold on the PROTECT IP Act after it sailed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Those representatives proposed dozens of amendments to SOPA in a marathon, days-long markup session that effectively filibustered the bill, delayed it until the House came back into session in January. That delay enabled hundreds of organizations and individuals, including newspaper editors, human rights advocates, academics, engineers and public interest groups, to rally to save the Internet as we know it.
“Supporters of the Internet deserve credit for pressing advocates of SOPA and PIPA to back away from an effort to ram through controversial legislation,” Issa said in an emailed statement. “Over the last two months, the intense popular effort to stop SOPA and PIPA has defeated an effort that once looked unstoppable but lacked a fundamental understanding of how Internet technologies work.
“Postponing the Senate vote on PIPA removes the imminent threat to the Internet, but it’s not over yet. Copyright infringement remains a serious problem and any solution must be targeted, effective, and consistent with how the Internet works. After inviting all stakeholders to help improve American intellectual property protections, I have introduced the bipartisan OPEN Act with Senator Rob Wyden which can be read and commented on at KeepTheWebOPEN.com. It is clear that Congress needs to have more discussion and education about the workings of the Internet before it moves forward on sweeping legislation to address intellectual property theft on the Internet. I look forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders to achieve a needed consensus about the way forward.”
In the meantime, everyone who participated in this week’s unprecedented day of online action should know that what they did this week mattered. If you’d asked me about the prospects for the passage of these bills back in December — and many people did, after I wrote a feature at Radar in November that highlighted the threat these anti-piracy bills presented to the Internet, security and freedom of expression online — I estimated that it was quite likely. So did Chris Dodd, the head of the MPAA, who told the New York Times that these passage of these bills was “considered by many to be a ‘slam dunk.'”
We’re now in unexplored territory. I’ve been writing about how the Internet affects government and government affects the Internet for years now. This week was clearly a tipping point in that space. The voices of the people, expressed in calls, letters, tweets, petitions and protests, were heard in Washington. There are incredibly difficult challenges that face us as a country and as a global community, from jobs to healthcare to the environment to civil liberties to smoldering wars around the world. What happened this week, however, will reinvigorate the notion that participating in the civic process matters. Here’s to working on stuff that matters, together.
Earlier this afternoon, David Seaman claimed that Twitter suspended his account for tweeting too much about “Occupy Wall Street … and talking too much about the controversial detainment without trial provisions contained in the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).”
His account is now back online. Twitter’s official response to him, according to Seaman, was that his account was ‘caught up in one of spam groups by mistake.
Seaman continued to suggest otherwise and implied that Twitter is banning accounts because of their content.
Speaking only for myself, I believe this was completely unrelated to NDAA or OWS and was instead tied to his behavior using a new account. I think what happened today was an auto-suspension of a new account exhibiting behavior associated, not intentional censorship by Twitter. Jillian C. York, the director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agreed:
@digiphile I suspect he’s tweeting the same sentences over and over @ people. That’ll get you booted for spam.
I’m writing without an official statement from Twitter but I’d bet that’s what happened. (If I receive such a statement, I’ll post it here.)
UPDATE: Here are the emails Seaman posted to his post, containing Twitter’s responses. They validates my understanding of Twitter’s anti-spam protocols.
At approximately 7:37pm ET, my Twitter account was restored, and I received the following message from Twitter support: “Hello, Twitter has automated systems that find and remove multiple automated spam accounts in bulk. Unfortunately, it looks like your account got caught up in one of these spam groups by mistake. I’ve restored your account; sorry for the inconvenience. Please note that it may take an hour or so for your follower and following numbers to return to normal.” At 8:29pm ET, a second email from Twitter support was received: “Hello, As a clarification, your account was suspended twice; the initial suspension was due to a number of unsolicited duplicate or near-duplicate messages being sent using the @reply and/or mention feature. These features are intended to make communication between people on Twitter easier. Twitter monitors the use of these features to make sure they are used as intended and not for abuse. Using either feature to post messages to a bunch of users in an unsolicited or egregious manner is considered an abuse of its use, which results in an automated account suspension. However, the second suspension after you navigated the self-unsuspension page was due to a known error we are working to fix; our apologies for the re-suspension. Please let me know if you have any questions.”
As far as I know, Twitter accounts aren’t automatically suspended based upon a journalist writing about a controversial issue. You can read the Twitter FAQ on suspensions for their official position. Suspensions are only supposed to happen when a user breaks the Twitter Rules, not because of what they describe or report on. Again, York:
Suspending accounts on Twitter is precedented behavior. What’s less so is a self-identified journalist making a sweeping claim of censorship like this without confirmation, corroboration or analysis of Twitter’s past practices. My account was suspended 2 years ago when @Twitter swept it up on people tweeting on the #g2s hashtag. It was restored the day after wards, along with other people tweeting from the IP address.
I doubt Seaman’s contention that this suspension was related to content. I think it was a mistaken outcome based upon interactions. New accounts are more likely to be flagged automatically as @spam. What happened wasn’t about any one tweet: it’s came through nine tweets in a row of nearly duplicate content to non-followers from a new account. Specifically, “How #Occupy and the #TeaParty could end their struggle tonight: http://read.bi/vL02ZI #NDAA #SOPA #OWS”
Bottom line: Seaman made a sensational claim that probably shouldn’t have been made without more legwork and a statement from Twitter. He used Business Insider’s platform to bring attention to a mistake. It may have brought Business Insider a lot of traffic today but I think, on balance, that Seaman damaged his credibility today.
That’s unfortunate, given that the episode could have been leveraged to make an important point about how governments might work with private social media platforms to remove content that they do not wish to see published.
I have to take Twitter at its word that I was removed due to autospam filter, BUT: ‘spam’ & ‘copyright infring.’ will be how state silences.
Update: Conor Adams Stevens picked up the Business Insider post and wrote a largely uncritical op-ed at International Business Times that repeated the claim that “NDAA, SOPA, Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous may be off-limits on Twitter.” (If that were true, I wouldn’t have been able to tweet for quite a few months now.)
There’s also a conspiracy theory floating around about why Twitter has not listed NDAA as a trending topic. Mat Honan bursts that bubble in a post from last week for Gizmodo, which is actually focused on a hashtag memorializing the late Christopher Hitchens. Its title is succinct: “Shutup, Twitter Isn’t Censoring Your Dumb Trends.”
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