Harvard Researchers Explain That SOPA Supporters Are Misusing Their Research To Support SOPA
from the not-so-fast,-daniel-castro dept
We recently discussed how ITIF’s Daniel Castro (who’s been credited with pushing a SOPA-style censorship program to government officials in the first place) bizarrely used the web censorship done by 13 of the most oppressive governments to support his case that censorship under SOPA would work. The argument was based on a Harvard/OpenNet Initiative to study how the internet is censored and used in various repressive nations. The authors of that study have now come out pretty strongly against Castro for his misuse of their report, and have explained in detail how Castro’s assumptions are wrong and his quoting their study is done entirely out of context.
we disagree with the way that Mr. Castro applies our findings to the SOPA debate. His presumption that people will work as hard or harder to access political content than they do to access entertainment content deeply misunderstands how and why most people use the internet. Far more users in open societies use the Internet for entertainment than for political purposes; it is unreasonable to assume different behaviors in closed societies. Our research offers the depressing conclusion that comparatively few users are seeking blocked political information and suggests that the governments most successful in blocking political content ensure that entertainment and social media content is widely available online precisely because users get much more upset about blocking the ability watch movies than they do about blocking specific pieces of political content.
Rather than comparing usage of circumvention tools in closed societies to predict the activities of a given userbase, Mr. Castro would do better to consider the massive userbase of tools like bit torrent clients, which would make for a far cleaner analogy to the problem at hand. Likewise, the long line of very popular peer-to-peer sharing tools that have been incrementally designed to circumvent the technical and political measures used to prevent sharing copyrighted materials are a stronger analogy than our study of users in authoritarian regimes seeking to access political content.
Furthermore, they argue that the bill that Castro is so desperately in favor of would have disastrous consequences, in that it would deny important circumvention tools to those in repressive countries:
Second, our research has consistently shown that those who really wish to evade Internet filters can do so with relatively little effort. The problem is that these activities can be very dangerous in certain regimes. Even though our research shows that relatively few people in autocratic countries use circumvention tools, this does not mean that circumvention tools are not crucial to the dissident communities in those countries. 19 million people is not large in relation to the population of the Internet, but it is still a lot of people absolutely who have freer access to the Internet through the tools. We personally know many people in autocratic countries for whom these tools provide a crucial (though not perfect) layer of security for their activist work. Those people would be at much greater risk than they already are without access to the tools, but in addition to mandating DNS filtering, SOPA would make many circumvention tools illegal. The single biggest funder of circumvention tools has been and remains the U.S. government, precisely because of the role the tools play in online activism. It would be highly counter-productive for the U.S. government to both fund and outlaw the same set of tools.
We noted that Castro’s paper read like a joke from the beginning, and the more people dig into it, the more ridiculous it seems.