Last Thursday, a cat-signal beamed over the New York City skyline, a lone beacon in the night ushering in a new era of Internet activism.
The symbol was created by the Internet Defense League, a coalition of prominent networks and voices on the Web that first emerged to combat controversial legislation that critics claimed threatened free speech online.
It started on Jan. 19, with a seemingly Web-wide protest in January, in which a number of influential websites (Reddit, Wikipedia, and the Cheezburger Network), along with millions of individuals, went “on strike” against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). Those bills, both of which were heavily backed by lobbyists representing the film and recorded music industries, would grant the government enormous power to punish websites thought to be linked to copyrighted material.
On that day, the coalition put up splash pages on their site, or in some cases shut down entirely for a day, and urged everyone who visited to call their representatives in Congress to stop those bills. And it worked. Congress shelved both of them indefinitely.
But moving forward, it’s going to take more than a cat-signal to make a difference online.
If you’re not familiar with how these various pieces of legislation work or if you aren’t used to fighting them, it might be a daunting task to get involved, but you’re in luck. The Daily Dot has compiled a six-step primer on how to become an Internet rights activist. For help, we even enlisted Rainey Reitman, the activism director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
1) Get informed
Do you know how ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) are different from SOPA and PIPA, and how those are different from CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Security Protection Act) and the Cybersecurity Act of 2012? Moreover, do you know exactly why they’re considered threats to the Internet? You need to, if you plan to fight them.
Here’s a brief rundown for each one, linked to the Daily Dot’s full explainer on the subject.
“If folks are looking for ways to get involved right now, I’d urge them to work with us to raise the alarm about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the cybersecurity proposals pending in the Senate.”
2) Call your representatives in Congress
Your representatives work for you, so don’t be afraid to contact them. “Emailing your elected officials is great (especially if you customize the email), but phone calls or written letters are even more effective,” Reitman said.
“Nothing is more powerful than meeting with your Representatives and Senators in person. Any constituent can request a meeting.”
For proof, look no further than Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Rubio had pledged to vote for PIPA, but in January, only a few hours after the Internet protest started, his office was so flooded with calls that he was inspired to reverse his position. If you’ve got the time and are near D.C., Reitman recommends you try to personally meet your representative:
Need help tracking down your senators and representative? So easy. Just head to CongressMerge.com, type in your ZIP code, and up pops all three.
3) Join r/evolutionreddit
There are a number of great sections on social news site Reddit that cover Internet rights issues—most notably r/SOPA, r/internetdeclaration, and r/testpac—but none are as dedicated as r/evolutionreddit.
The subreddit’s not purely devoted to Internet rights. “We are are an activist hivemind based on the principles of equality, freedom and democracy,” reads its official description. But in effect, it’s your one-stop shop for every iteration for the fight for the Web.
Want to sign every petition for someone who’s jailed for a website they owned? Want to keep tabs on SOPA author Lamar Smith? Want to keep up with oppressive Internet laws around the world? It’s all here.
4) Stand with the Internet Defense League
The power of the Internet Defense League is that when it activates, all participating sites—like Reddit, Grooveshark, and the Cheezburger Network—will share a unified message. But that’s not limited to the big sites.
“Every voice calling for civil liberties online can make a difference,” Reitman said.
And anyone with a website or blog or even a Twitter account can participate in the IDL. As Reddit cofounder and IDL leader Alexis Ohanian said when the cat signal launched, “We all have to be Batman and Batwoman for our respective Gothams.”
5) Sign the Declaration of Internet Freedom
Put your name on the digital line, and sign that you agree with the Declaration of Internet Freedom. Its five points are almost impossible to disagree with. After all, who denies that the Internet should be free from censorship or that innovators need encouragement? But that’s kind of the point. The declaration’s authors intended for the document to be something practically everyone could agree on.
When you add your name to the list, you’re not just joining some ragtag band. You’re joining “Father of the Internet” Vint Cerf, activist Ai Weiwei, author Neil Gaiman, and a host of other academics, authors, and entrepreneurs.
6) Vote with your wallet
It’s a hard truth: Money talks. So if you really want to help, consider giving to one of the groups fighting to keep the Internet free. No one has a track record like the EFF (established 1990). But there are plenty of helpful organizations, if you want to further tailor your donation.
More of a Europhile? Consider European Digital Rights (EDRI). Are you a redditor? Consider Reddit’s own Super PAC, which gives to pro-Internet candidates on a case-by-case basis.
Or, of course, give directly to candidates who are explicitly pro-Internet, a topic that goes beyond party lines.
The two most noteworthy members of Congress—the only two who have signed the Declaration of Internet Freedom—are Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Karlo Dizon, a candidate from Guam gunning for a non-voting spot in the House of Representatives, recently captured Reddit’s attention by going to the site and proclaiming an expressly pro-Internet stance.
Photo by gfhdickinson