Congress members stumped over SOPA

  Some prominent  members of Congress recently professed technological ignorance when discussing the Stop Online Piracy Act. 

Dec 30, 2011, 3:53 pm


Lauren Rae Orsini 

Lauren Rae Orsini

Many of your representatives in Congress are stumped over SOPA.

Critics say the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is intended to offer tools for fighting online piracy, may violate free speech. However, Congress is still undecided—and that may be because they simply don’t understand it.

In fact, a primary reason the vote was delayed was so the House could call in some technical experts to investigate and explain how the bill would really impact the Internet. Or, as Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) put it, it’s time to “bring in the nerds.”

The average Congressperson doesn’t know the difference between a “server” and a “service,” wrote opinino writer Alexandra Petri in the Washington Post.

And by some accounts, they’re proud of this, she said. Others argued the same thing.

“One after the other, members of the U.S. House of Representatives professed— nay, bragged about— approaching this weighty legislation from the vantage point of someone who is not ‘a nerd’ or a ‘tech expert,’” wrote Miller-McCune opinion writer Emily Badger.

“Maybe we ought to ask some nerds what this [bill] really does,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) during the December 15 hearing.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) also said that the hearing that she was not, in fact, technologically savvy, but that  “I aspire to be a nerd.”

And Rep. Mel Watts (D-NC) actually acknowledged that he “didn’t understand a lot of the technological stuff (and) I’m not the person to argue about the technology part of this.”

Culture website Motherboard also took Congress to task. And the message resonated: The article discussing the disconnect between Congress’s technology knowledge and that of the average American went viral.

“I remember fondly the days when we were all tickled pink by our elected officials’ struggle to understand how the internet works. Whether it was George W. Bush referring to “the internets” or Senator Ted Stevens describing said internets as “a series of tubes,” we would sit back and chortle at our well-meaning but horribly uninformed representatives, confident that the right people would eventually steer them back on course. Well I have news for members of Congress: Those days are over.

But if politicians are ignorant, it isn’t always their fault, according to Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet. While other lobbying groups keep Congress well up to date on issues affecting the pharmaceutical and biotechnology fields, the tech field has yet to follow suit, he said.

“This is the point where it’s time for the tech community to understand that they have to participate,” Johnson told Miller-McCune. “And by participate, I mean meeting with a member of Congress, calling a member of Congress on the phone… And it means running for office, too.”

Already one Congressional hopeful, Washington state candidate Darcy Burner, is running on the “Geek and Proud” platform:

“Do you know what Congress doesn’t have lots of? Geeks! So when they consider legislation affecting the Internet they often get it wrong – and defend themselves by saying, ‘I’m not a nerd.’ Well, we need some nerds in Congress,” she wrote on her fundraising solicitation.

It’s the sort of campaign we’d like to see more of.

Photo by TarynMarie

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Last updated Mar 3, 2020, 9:39 am