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.

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Comments on “Questionable 'Consumer' Group Releases Most Misleading Report Imaginable, Falsely Claiming People Support SOPA”

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gorehound (profile) says:

I am really thinking that we will need to do a large March on Washington 2012.Get millions to march on the city all at once and demand or sit-down and shut down the City.What else can we do in these days.The only other thing is to get new Candidates who truly speak for the people and not the corruption.Washington is becoming a Cancerous Tumor and we the Country are the body.

Anonymous Coward says:

“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…”

I love how you throw that censor word around, you’re comments are just as polarizing as theirs. You complain earlier in your post about then using extreme cases, and then you procede to use the same tactic. Pot, meet Kettle.

bob (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oh come on. Pointing to where you can get something for free is not “content”. That’s being an accessory to a crime. “Content” is when Martin Luther King gives a speech or when anyone expresses their own opinion. Assisting people get stuff without paying for it is not an opinion. Sheesh.

This is an insult to anyone who fought for the first amendment.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Your clueless ignorance on free speech concerns in copyright are an insult to civil rights in the digital era. Your advocation for items such as SOPA/PIPA to give control to businesses over peopledirectly contradicts the ideals of free speech advocates who fought and died protesting censorship based on allegations of wrongdoing over actual facts of economic prosperity.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Yes, consistent with the First Amendment people should be absolutely free to advocate and actively assist in the commission of crimes and other acts in violation of our laws

Piracy isn’t a crime unless you count all of the rappers that “stole” samples of music along with all of the DJs that freely expressed themselves by mixing music without permission.

Or how about the fact that the copyright industries continue to make money despite piracy? Maybe since the old content industry has plenty of money in their distribution channels they can use a few extra dollars to provide legal alternatives.

Obviously, if you want to talk about bad laws, perhaps a look at the civil rights movement is pertinent to this conversation. So tell me, where do you stand on Brown v. The Board of Education? Jim Crow? Obviously since it was the law of the land, Jim Crow should stay on the record books even though it’s a violation of the 1st Amendment to use the state to suppress someone’s speech.

Or maybe you believe the governmental pressure on Wikileaks was a good thing, given they took away their power to publish.

I never understood why people think piracy is some crime that can be eliminated by just making more laws. Sad.

SlinkySlim (profile) says:

Re: Re:

censor: 2 : one who supervises conduct and morals: as a: an official who examines publications or films for objectionable matter b: an official who reads communications and deletes material considered harmful to the interests of his organization 3 : a hypothetical psychic agency that represses unacceptable notions before they reach consciousness

censorship: 1 a : the institution, system, or practice of censoring b : the actions or practices of censors … 3 : exclusion from consciousness by the psychic censor

You want to know what’s really polarizing? Fuckers postulating that their business takes precedence over my communication and somehow their stance subjects my communication to their approval, filter, law or other means of oversight.

This twisted, ugly and perverted form of aggression that capitalism is manifesting itself into does not serve us well.. imho.

Your, seeming, position will be subverted.

War on this. Government is failing its intended mission and will continue its downward spiral as it continues to insert itself into (and for) the economic solution. I’m fairly certain that’s not why you exist.

War on that. Choose death.

Some Other AC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

While I completely agree that Corporate America has taken/been given an alarmingly large role in driving US Government Policy, you stance that this Blog is an astroturfing operation for anyone is ridiculous and asinine. Especially when you point to the Entities that advertise as evidence. This Site/Blog has to fund itself. They use online advertisements for such purpose. Large corporations are willing to spend the most on web based adverts. Ergo…this site shows adverts from large corporations.
There is no conspiracy. It is simple economics.

SlinkySlim (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m just feeling a little aggro.

“Big Hardware, Big Search, and Big Piracy”

Big Insurance, Big Military Industrial Complex, Big Pharmaceuticals, Big Media, Big Drug War, Big Prison, Big Government, Big Banks.

Small schools, small health, small security, small pay, small future.

How about some fucking perspective. Fuck all you Big Whores.

Big Piracy. Please. Go make yourself a cocktail.

Andrew (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Bob generally doesn’t respond to logical thinking. This is in no means an insult to Bob but its just a trend.

In the end you can’t have a discussion with these people who are so set in their ways and can’t think independently. As the saying goes you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink.

Andrew (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I never suggested they don’t have people on the other side who don’t think. Its not even about Mike’s side either.

However a lot of people who are in support of SOPA generally are saying the same thing and to use your term seem like “SOPA-BOTS”.

All I want is generally a good discussion. If it turns out that they are convincing enough or in the worse case scenario if I am wrong I will admit it and hopefully would have learned something new from the entire discussion.

Anonymous Coward says:

In my opinion the first two questions that are not replicated here are fair and relevant. However one may wish to parse the language, it does seem to be that they generally reflect a broad sentiment that people have a stong sense of what they believe is appropriate conduct and what is not.

Questions 3 and 4 are, of course, mom and apple pie questions, the answers to which are entirely predictable.

Question 5, however, does raise a valid point, and once again demonstates in a broad sense a consensus that people do not in general like it when others engage in the type of conduct that gives rise to bills like SOPA and Protect-IP. This is not a defense of the bills, but only an observation that what is right and what is wrong to them does not track what many here believe to be the case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Perhaps, but this kind of survey and the conclusions that can be drawn from it are entirely unhelpful. What matters is whether people support the specific solutions that are being proposed to address the “problem” (note the quotes as there is much disagreement as to the extent or impact of the issue).

For example, I’m pretty sure that even without surveys we could assert that the majority people are in favor of safer intersections and safer roadways. That assertion can in no way be used to support a conclusion that the majority would then want red light cameras.

In other words, the survey covers people’s view of the behaviors, but does nothing to illuminate people’s view of the methods employed to change, influence, or address those behaviors.

out_of_the_blue says:

Mike uses "study" or "survey" when he /agrees/ with the results.

Just search for “poll” here as I did, recalling the recent rants on SOPA: few results, none recent. HMM…

Then I recalled as in the title, that Mike LIKES some results of /polling/ — ones that I impeach as he’s done here, term them “push-polls”:

That one may not be best illustration, but the rather Goebbels-ian distinction Mike makes between “polls” and “study” or “survey” stands up in number of results — and intent.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Mike uses "study" or "survey" when he /agrees/ with the results.

Blue…the point is that the polls/surveys/whatever the hell you want to call them…the ones that Mike uses and relies on, are for the most part, objective research. In case you didn’t bother reading this article (and it looks like either you did, or chose to completely ignore what was written), this survey is NOT objective. It is purposefully written to manipulate results and we can say that because we have the evidence right in front of us.

Alpine Academy (user link) says:


It’s interesting to see what is being pushed in the name of Copyright. Is it up to 90 years now? Copyright is referenced in the Constitution as:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries

I don’t think it was meant as a tool for large corporate empires to leverage more control on society. It will be interesting to see what the next 10 years will bring.

Sarah (user link) says:


Companies and organizations know that they’re basically free to skew any results in support of anything they want and over-politicize any issue, because they can count on the fact that so many people believe what they’re told with no thought to the credibility of the surveys or studies cited. Shame on all of us for allowing ourselves to be led around like this. Things never should have gotten this bad.

Griffalo (profile) says:

Makes Sense

This makes sense, remember Consumer Focus, the UK watchdog that was the sole voice of reason during debates on the Digital Economy Act? (

Well they’re now being shut down by the UK government – better not to rock the boat by actually representing the needs of consumers.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

I’m going to propose a law that says that 1 of every 6 Americans must be jailed forever based on a roll of the dice.

To get it approved, I’ll concoct a survey with the following question:

1 of every 6 Americans is a horrible raporist wifebeating broadbrush piratemike that wants you to eat rat poison thinking it’s your morning coffee. Do you think that’s bad?

A) Yes
B) Maybe
C) Probably

Don't Trust Phones says:

i used to work for a telephone survey company. for the most part a lot of surveys were neutral but every now and again “home owners groups” would ask us to conduct surveys that were basically smear campaigns against other candidates. when i brought it to the attention to my supervisors that many respondents were mad because some of the questions were leading and full of false information, their (often repeated) response was “it doesn’t matter we dont write the surveys”

im glad i dont work there anymore, it makes me sick how many people were convinced by a random stranger that candidate x wanted to release felons from prison early without any other proof

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