Questionable 'Consumer' Group Releases Most Misleading Report Imaginable, Falsely Claiming People Support SOPA
from the how-to-lie-with-stats dept
The supporters of SOPA/PIPA practically shoved each other aside this week to hype up a “study” released by the “American Consumer Institute,*” which claims that Americans support things like SOPA and PIPA by a wide margin (basically 80%). Of course, the actual survey used suggests no such thing. If it were true, there wouldn’t be so much grass roots opposition to the bills (and hardly any grassroots support).
The details of ACI’s study suggest why it got the responses it wanted — it’s basically because they asked ridiculous, leading questions where the answers are obvious, rather than asking anything about what people are really concerned about. You can see the full results here, and the questions have nothing to do with what SOPA/PIPA actually do. These are the three key ones:
3. Would you support or oppose legislation that would increase criminal penalties for anyone who knowingly sells counterfeit goods, equipment and parts to the U.S. military?
A. Support (80%)
B. Oppose (14%)
C. DK/Refuse (6%)
4. Would you support or oppose legislation that would increase criminal penalties for anyone who knowingly sells counterfeit drugs and medicines to Americans online?
A. Support (81%)
B. Oppose (13%)
C. DK/Refuse (6%)
5. Would you support or oppose legislation that would help block foreign-based Internet websites from trafficking counterfeit goods, content or services to Americans?
A. Support (79%)
B. Oppose (14%)
C. DK/Refuse (7%)
Note, first of all, that nowhere does ACI ever actually say what the current criminal penalties are for such offenses. That right there makes the whole thing pointless. How can you ask someone if penalties should be worse or better when most respondents have no idea what the current penalties are. It’s like me asking you “do you think I should walk my dog more or less each day.” Since you have no clue how much I currently walk my dog, it’s a totally meaningless question. You don’t ask an “increase/decrease” question when people have no idea what the starting position is… unless your intent is to mislead.
And, of course, these questions are designed to get people to say “support.” In fact, the only really surprising thing is that anyone said “oppose.” Nobody wants counterfeits going to the military or for counterfeit drugs to be sold to people. But those are the very narrow and extreme cases that supporters of SOPA and PIPA rely on in trying to push this bill forward. If SOPA and PIPA focused solely on stopping people from knowingly selling actual counterfeit military products and drugs, I would support the bill. I don’t think many people would oppose it. The problem is that the bill goes way, way, way beyond that, and targets a ton of stuff that have absolutely nothing to do with the military or drugs.
Finally, when you have a five question survey, and you kick it off with the first four questions all being about “horrors” associated with the absolute worst of the worst in counterfeiting — the parts that everyone agrees should be dealt with — and then you finish up with a broad question about supporting legislation that would “block foreign-based Internet websites from trafficking counterfeit goods, content or services to Americans?” of course people are going to say yes. You’ve led them down that path.
At no point did ACI actually explain what SOPA and PIPA really do or the much wider impact they would have. Nowhere does it explain that the mechanism behind the bill is to censor websites, using the same functional system as the Great Firewall of China. Nowhere does it mention that even the leading legal experts who support SOPA and PIPA admit that the bills will censor protected speech. In other words, nowhere does the study actually ask about SOPA and PIPA. Instead, it asks about some mythical version that the US Chamber of Commerce and the MPAA want you to believe SOPA and PIPA are about.
And, of course, we’ve actually seen what happens when a real academic does a study that asks people about the things really found in the bill: they don’t support it.
* You should be quite wary of the “names” of various groups. There are multiple reports out there that suggest that the American Consumer Institute is purely an astroturfing group, with no actual consumer mandate or interest. It came on the scene a few years ago, started by a former big telco exec, and was almost exclusively focused on putting out research that (conveniently) claimed that everything the big telcos wanted was actually wonderful for consumers. Even Consumers Union — the well-respected publisher of Consumer Reports — and who really does have a reputation for looking out for consumers — has called out the American Consumer Institute and questioned why its positions seem to contradict that of “nearly every other major consumer group.” Make of that what you will.