SOPA Strikedown Aftermath: Old Media Cannot Tell The Narrative Of One Million People

from the extra-extra-read-all-about-it dept

As the political victory from the SOPA strikedown sinks in, reflections over old media’s role take its place. We know that old media — unidirectional media such as TV, newspapers, radio — barely covered SOPA at all. We also know that this has political reasons, as their owners didn’t want to draw attention to the issue. But even at the apex of the fightback, on January 18, old media barely mentioned what was happening. This is very noteworthy in itself.

I can’t see this in any other light than old media being conceptually unable to tell the narrative of millions of people fighting against a powerful few dozen. It’s not just that they chose not to — it’s that their very construction makes it as impossible for them to communicate those events as it would be for a color-blind person to communicate the impressions of a blue-period Picasso.

Old media, after all, is built on the premise of large organizations competing for resources; its narrative is dependent on pitting two powerful representatives against each other to portray their respective interests and let them battle it out in public. Old media consists of large corporations that can only portray conflicts between other large organizations.

This established old media style, which focuses on the pretense of impartiality, has sometimes been called “he-said, she-said journalism,” pronounced with a small but well-deserved hint of disrespect.

The copyright monopoly industries had no problems producing a trained, charismatic debater who would probably win in any televised debate against a random person of one of the millions of activists. But in the end, it didn’t matter: it was the millions that made the difference and won.

To put this in context, how did we see the SOPA debate play out, we who get our news on the net? We don’t get our news from one source, but from hundreds, maybe thousands. You could easily model this as the cherry-picking of a typical newspaper — I read a couple of political blogs, some comics, a couple of current affairs, eight real-time Twitter streams, and so on. The sum of it all could be made to resemble a newspaper on an ordinary day.

But there is a crucial difference in the net’s cross-communication between information sources. When all of our hundreds of different news sources start to converge around and resonate with each other on one single topic, as happened with SOPA, then all of us sense that immediately. Immediately.

Old media is not capable of communicating that sense of powerful resonance. You would not see a message of political urgency instead of your usual comics on the comic page, for instance. But on the net, that happened for us with The Oatmeal and XKCD. Old media, in contrast, have their predetermined length of news clips and page lengths, divided by topics, portraying conflicts as experts talking it out. Half a page for talking about foreign affairs, half a page for tax policy, another page for sports, then the weather. Old media can’t resonate with the people when something is important.

As it turns out, one expert talking on a small allocated space cannot represent one million concerned people — a million who are leaderless to begin with, yet very organized and efficient anyway. Therefore, any attempt to frame this event in he-said, she-said journalism just falls flat on its face.

For us, there is no such thing as a maximum length of an article. (We use recycled electrons anyway.) When we want to talk more on a subject, there are no frames and boundaries stopping us from doing so. This article, to give one example, could be the typical length of an average blog post. But it’s quite a bit longer than the hard limit of an op-ed piece.

There are two important things to learn from this: We don’t need old media to tell our story to succeed, and we’re able to tell the story ourselves. This, if anything, is what should have old media really worried.

For not only did old media fail in narrating the story, for political reasons and for capability reasons; they also failed in keeping their audience captive and preventing the story from being narrated anyway.

Narrated by us. All of us.

When a million people talk to their friends, family, and colleagues about a subject, that wins outright over any narrative that old media is trying to portray. That collective of a million people is able to coordinate discoveries and stories between them with an efficiency that makes them run in circles against any attempt to control the available information.

(This is how most Pirate Parties operate, by the way, and this is also the basis for swarm organization theory.)

As a project manager, one thing I’ve learned is that you can never be reliant on an element that is completely outside of your control for your project to succeed; if so, your plan is broken. Old media, up until now, was such an element. No longer. While they can certainly assist, they are no longer necessary for saving the net and our values.

In summary, we learned that this was the first sign of old media becoming… irrelevant, is probably the right word. Irrelevant for things that really matter.

Rick Falkvinge is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party. Follow him as @Falkvinge on Twitter, read his private blog, or get him for a keynote.

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Comments on “SOPA Strikedown Aftermath: Old Media Cannot Tell The Narrative Of One Million People”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Of course they cannot tell the story, because just like the OWS dweebs, it’s mostly a collection of the self-serving and the self-justifying members of society yelling for more pie.

If you try to interview them (and they did with OWS) you get a spew of stupidity and misunderstanding.

Opposing SOPA was the “cause of the week” for some, without any real unified message. It’s hard to report “a bunch of people want or don’t want something for a bunch of reasons they don’t agree on”.

Anonymous Coward says:


Then the first demand is *citation needed*.

Or, as Anonymous would put it, “dox please”. But that is part of what makes this form of communication so strong: every statement which sounds fishy will be dissected by someone, with the result reincorporated into the collective. Some people will explore new angles, other people will peer review these angles, and the strongest arguments are selected by the evolutionary pressure of several thousand minds powerfully focused on a single subject. Weak arguments will be selected out.

Rich (profile) says:

If you are going to ask or assume

Get your documents correct first. SOPA and PIPA had that much support 75,000 websites contributing to the mass protest/blackout because they had the facts. They were locked out of discussions. Stop assuming the government has your best interest at heart. Read the bills, they do not. They admitted they’d rather pass it and fix it later. Patriot Act was never fully fixed.

Anonymous Coward says:


This is the think that you don’t understand probably because you failed math in school.

The more you probe something the more data you gather and patterns appear, what you call “stupidity and misunderstanding” are people, normal people trying to put in their own words what is happening and by listening to all of them you can get a pretty good sense of what the main problems are.

But you are just too dumb to understand that concept aren’t you?

That is why you don’t understand democratic processes either and want to control everyone, because you don’t want to have the trouble to do the work to understand the the problems that we face today, which are not one but a lot of them all at the same time, we are changing the “one issue” per protest to “range of issues per protest” and that scares you doesn’t it?

Anonymous Coward says:


If you try to interview them (and they did with OWS) you get a spew of stupidity and misunderstanding.

Political parties are the same way… try asking most partisan voters why they affiliate with a specific party and you’ll be shaking your head in disgust within seconds.

And yet, these political parties seem to have no problem harnessing the power of the sheeple who follow them. Sometimes all it takes is organized mass communication and an intriguing message to rally people around a single cause.

Some large corporations have figured this out already – Apple for example… god help us all.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you are going to ask or assume

Get your documents correct first. SOPA and PIPA had that much support 75,000 websites contributing to the mass protest/blackout because they had the facts.

They didn’t have the facts- they had the Kool-Aid. A distorted and intentionally deceptive parade of horribles became reality for the masses. Even the mainstream companies like Google didn’t (publicly) repeat the many absurd pronouncements that the hysterical anarchists took as Gospel.

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:


in a capitalist economy there can be no such thing as the end of monopolies entirely.

it is not now, nor will it ever be near so far as capitalism is running.

now if you take that away, then perhaps you may be right but only if you also alter the definition of monopoly but really, if the government controls all commerce is that not also a monopoly? we dont call it that, but once you strip out all the nuances to its basic foundations… its pretty much still a monopoly.

Anonymous Coward says:


“And yet, these political parties seem to have no problem harnessing the power of the sheeple who follow them.”

Yes they do have a problem. The largest political party in the US is “independent” – by an exploding growing margin. That’s why they need to rile up their hard core base to get to the polls. As far as established political parties are concerned the independent voter may be the bulk of the public, but they don’t vote in the same percentages as their base does.

That is important. When the independent voter gets out and votes … that’s when heads roll and there’s chaos in the established parties

There is no viable 3rd or 4th party because the present two have made it very difficult for one to get established. Most direct deomocracies have 4 or 5 or 6 or more political parties to choose from. The fact that the US doesn’t directly vote for president makes it very difficult to elect change.

The national debate between the 2 established parties are over minor issues that have been cherry-picked. The BiG stuff, like foriegn affairs, trade policies, real economics never happens in public.

Obama continued Bush, Bush continued Clinton, Clinton continued Bush Sr, There’s never been a change in leadership. The kooks on stage now are leaving voters with a choice of the lessor evil again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wouldn't it be great

The US would need to be a democracy first and we are not. The US is a “representational” government. We do not directly vote for president. Public votes are counted as a “courtesy” which is why there is little concern over fraud – paper ballots, altering electronic totals, programming, manufacturer ties within parties, partisianship counting votes … etc. is because it doesn’t really matter.

The US does not comply with the international standards for a “democracy” that applies internationally. That is why international monitors refuse to monitor out elections. By international standards the US is not a democracy.

The way this was explained away was “an exception was made for US style of democracy”. The only exception made. The rest of the world knows this that’s why it was such a joke to listen to top brass extoll phrases like “spreading democracy around the world”.

Whenever the US talks about democracy in foriegn politics, they are referring to an economic version which allows corporations to operate without / outside of local sovergn laws – pollution, overtime, unions, child labor, safety, etc. That’s why nations set up “free trade zones” for corporations to operate in.

These kind of things are never discussed in public.

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

Resonance in days gone by

Most of us have seen old movies with the kid on the corner hawking papers – “Extra! Extra! Read All About It! MPAA Caught in a Lie! SOPA Defeated! Extra! Extra!”. Ah, that old extra edition of the dirt-digging papers of the 20’s and 30’s. When was the last time that any of us remember seeing an extra edition of our local paper? Me, at 60+ years … NEVER! In any case, papers with their hot-off-the-presses extra editions were the resonator 70 or 80 years ago. When the newspapers stopped printing extra editions on a moment’s notice, they lost the race to remain relevant to the modern era of rapid change and global information flow.

Anonymous Coward says:

SOPA-PIPA were defeated because the internet broke out of apathy and educated the public out of apathy for a DAY. Don’t kid yourself that many are still paying attention; 90% probably have never heard ACTA and TPP sounds more like a new beverage.

The problem is the debate and war with companies wishing to be cultural gatekeepers has been going on for >20 years without much affect on daily lives. The public moved on and this is old news.

There is a common belief that ‘pirates will fix whatever they do’ and so far that has been true. There’s two generations that have no problem doing what they have always done even though now they would be called criminals for behavior that was perfectly legal 20+ years ago. They have been desensitized to threats.

So why would they pay attention to some headline, bill name when they never have mattered before?

Few trust the government anymore and most realize corporations are in control. When Wiki, Google, Wired, Boing, Reddit, etc. took a stand that made a difference because the average person TRUSTS those sites a lot more than they trust government or news media.

Unless these sites can collectively keep the public apprised of REAL threats – the public has got other things to think about and do. Crying wolf all the time (even if real) is going to create apathy.

But this article is right on one key thing. The top down leadership organization is gone. People organize laterally now. This is great because the old systems can’t get a handle on it – meaning it’s harder for them to quash.

The ability to quash these types of independent actions, I think is one of the primary reasons DOJ is interested. They would call any organization like that “terrorist”.

Anonymous Coward says:


OWS had a very concrete message that was hard to miss from day one. The real problem was that no one WANTED to hear the message.

In that way, OWS is very similar to the anti-SOPA protest in that no one who needs to hear the message, WANTS to hear the message.

This includes the corporations that are in charge of delivering the message (news).

Cable companies are seeing a real decline in subscriptions for TV. Do they improve their product to be competitive? No. Their “solution” is to charge MORE because of data-intensive services like smart phones, blue ray players, IPTV’s accessing Netflix, HULU, Amazon, etc.

Over 20% of US homes do not have a choice of providers for high speed internet. They are a monopoly.

But instead of increasing services or bringing prices down, the government is helping to broker deals like 3-6 strikes and your out.

What is capitalistic or free trade about that?

Anonymous Coward says:


Ron Paul has chosen to run on a Republican ticket when most of his supporters are independents and quite a few Democrats. Very few of his base are partisan GOP.

I’m kinda surprised. After running for office so many times, he should understand who his supporters are. In that way, I don’t think he is serious but wants to shift the debate (a common tactic).

TtfnJohn (profile) says:


It’s not even a mob conversation at first, it’s a small group conversing about an issue or problem that them spreads out as more people join in.

Despite the trolls, and some of their best efforts, the conversation, for the most part, stays respectful, and people do get listened to and their arguments taken into account as positions are come to.

While there may be controversy there is little of what old media loves which is summed up thusly “If it bleeds it leads”. The lack of blood on the floor makes it even harder for old media to get a handle on things. It makes “he said; she said” journalism next to impossible when there are no or few entrenched positions. (Outside of the trolls who aren’t interesting anyway.)

It isn’t even the case that the SOPA/PIPA debate was leaderless. The old media had Mike, the editors of Reddit, any number of security experts and internet architects to explain why the bills were such an awful idea. That’s not even bringing out the biggest gun who just happens to be Tim Brenners-Lee who is so shy he’d rather not do things like tweet!

Now if the discussion had turned into name calling, raucous splits between factions and good old “left-right” cracks old media might have had something to hang it’s collective hat on. But, mostly, that didn’t happen either. They were badly thought out, badly written bills crafted for a single special interest group that’s already as low on the opinion scale as the profession of politics itself.

As well, old media is so conditioned to movements that have clear leadership that when one appears where there is no clear leadership they don’t know what to do with it and sentence it to failure.

It’s when the citizenry, you know, the people discussing this stuff civilly and with purpose, WIN, the media has no way of explaining that either.

Neither to some trolls who start using words like insurrection to describe what happened. In part they’re right. The citizenry had had enough of Congress bowing and scraping to a small industry (in GDP terms) while there were more important things to consider and threatening the Internet in a way everyone could understand and most did.

The Internet is now part of our culture, our society and our economy. Threatening it for the protection of one small (in GDP terms) industry makes no sense. Even more when that industry is already highly unpopular and is already known to be addicted to entitlement for what is, all in all, a not very good record of creation. It was a peaceful insurrection against influence peddling, long suspected graft and the refusal of Congress to listen to anyone except the RIAA/MPAA amd other SOPA/PIPA supporters.

If that’s an insurrection I’m proud to have been a part of it.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:


A nice rewrite of OWS but ultimately a failure there. Actually I didn’t hear that much of a cry for more pie that I did a deep concern that something had gone seriously wrong in America. And the idea that there might be more pie if what was wrong got fixed. Though both movements would hate me for saying it there’s a lot they had in common with The Tea Party that way.

Both have identified the growing gap between the richest and poorest in the United States, not a good thing if you want to look back historically on it, though the solutions such as they were are different.

SOPA/PIPA opposition wasn’t a cause of the week though some might hope it was. The message wasn’t unified to those who didn’t want to listen though it was hard to have a unified response to bills with so much wrong with them on any number of points.

By the time sites blacked themselves out the message was unified, though, that these bills were an affront to freedom and liberty, that they threatened the very underpinning of the Internet and that they adopted “solutions” to a “problem” being felt by a small (by GDP) industry with money to spend which they did and freely.

There’s not even verifiable figures to say that piracy is a problem that has cost so much as a single job much less millions.

There is, however, the easily spotted flaw in that the solution to this phantom problem was to adopt a firewall mentality currently only in use by the most oppressive regimes in the world.

You only hope this is a “cause of the week” thing but it isn’t. The Internet and the Web have become an integral part of our culture, society and body politic in ways no one could imagine even 5 years ago. It’s become the backbone of much of the global economy and most of us are smart enough to know all of that. There was widespread opposition to the bills that the supporters couldn’t counter because thee was nothing to counter the points the opposition was making. At least nothing that made cultural, societal, political and economic sense.

Something that the “evening news” has now way of explaining in handy 40 second voice or video clips. Or a couple or three paragraphs in a newspaper already committed to the legislation in question. And no blood in sight!

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

If you are going to ask or assume

I’m gonna take it that O’Reilly publications isn’t mainstream then. Even if they did repeat all the same objections and more that sites like this and others did. Including Reddit, Wikimedia and Slashdot had.

Because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them (or me) anarchists. But if that’s as little as I have to to wear that label in your mind please apply it.

I do demand the fancy button with the big A on top of a smiley face though!

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Wouldn't it be great

From a larger perspective, we are headed in that direction. A consensus and fact driven form of government and law making will occur, as opposed to a “Nancy Pelosi” style for of governance. Where phrases like “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it” occur on a daily basis. It will take time, long term politicians need to retire or be voted out, and a younger generation needs to take hold. We need to open up all policy and law making to everyone. It will happen, the board is set and more people are learning to play.

David Fuchs

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Wouldn't it be great

Boulder already has our tech-friendly representative. Jared Polis is our US Representative. He was a very early Internet multi-millioniare (or perhaps billionaire if he actually got what it was reported he got when he sold the company, Jared made enough money that he could essentially fund his own campaign. And once he won the Democratic primary, he was pretty much guaranteed to win the election because the district he represents is pretty liberal.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Wouldn't it be great

For protecting your favorite politician you get a cookie. Yes that was meant to be condescending. (read on) Other than this one subject what research have you done on him? You see a politician is more than just a single subject line. He needs to follow the constitution in the most stringent way possible. He needs to uphold the founding documents of the government he serves. He needs to never compromise. He needs to always push for what is right.

Can your politician say that?

Two quotes for you

Ayn Rand

Thomas Jefferson

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Wouldn't it be great

I’m not sure what you mean. I know Jared. I used to cover him as media and then I worked for an start-up he funded. The Democratic primary was hard fought and among Democratic voters he was not everyone’s favorite. But once he won the primary, he was going to win over the Republican candidate. He was also one of the founders of TechStars. He’s fairly well known in Boulder. He grew up here.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Wouldn't it be great

I do not want his history, i do not care. No one cares about the puppies he has saved or the lesser of two evils he voted for.

We as a society have to look at politicians as a whole, not just, “I helped prevented SOPA re-elect me”. We have to begin holding politicians to higher ideals and standards. We need to never allow them to compromise. And when they do even one thing wrong, we need to remove them from office.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Wouldn't it be great

We need to never allow them to compromise. And when they do even one thing wrong, we need to remove them from office.

That’s great, but there are differences in opinion in what the voters want. We’ve got Tea Party people demanding that their candidates not compromise. But what those candidates stand for, I won’t support.

My ideal candidate will champion sustainability, but that’s not the priority for every voter. A politician who won’t compromise his belief that we should wage war on the rest of the world wouldn’t be one I’d vote for. I don’t care how much integrity he has. A crazy guy with integrity is still a crazy guy.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Old Media

Well put. I will add; old media (the “old guard” generally) will feel increasingly uncomfortable with all this; the anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA movements, the “occupy” movements; any move by the rest of us against entrenched interests. That is why it is so important to change government. A politician in California pointed out that he opposed term limits, because the “new” people didn’t know how to . I wrote in “that’s WHY we have term limits – DUH!”.

Michael Long (profile) says:


Of course, the flip side is that Anonymous Cowards hide behind their anonymity, and the collective beliefs may be little more than just that. Beliefs. Not facts.

Anyone who tries to tell the collective that the earth is indeed round is immediately deemed a troll, shill, or astroturfer. Cite a source, and the collective will immediately dismiss facts contrary to their belief system as “biased,” if not an outright lie.

Article to the contrary, there’s evidence that the Internet can lead to people becoming even more insular. Open-source fanboys hang out around open-source sites. Right-wingers hand out on right-wing sites.

The left forms it’s own cliques, and each group passes around stories and news and opinions and biases, all serving to reinforce their personal viewpoints until they’re practically set in concrete, the “rightness” of their conclusions unassailable.

There is not “a” collective. There are many.

Shane says:

Response to: Anonymous Coward on Feb 10th, 2012 @ 10:55am

You lack a key perspective. There is more than one form of consensus. OWS ( and many of the rest of us ) all agree that the current structure is wrong and will destroy us all in the end. The arguments for that view are consistent, coherent and compelling. Where the become fragmented is on precisely how to fix it.

SOPA/PIPA/ACTA are the same way. Millions of people here and world wide can see that such a draconian regime would be terrible for everyone except a small cadre if very powerful content owners ( notice I said owners, not producers ). The best alternative is not so clear.

It’s important to remember that those clauses in the law that you claim we “misunderstood” were not misunderstandings at all. They were clauses that were altered or removed *only* after the battle against the laws was joined in earnest by the internet community.

As for who wants “more of the pie”, it’s the same people who claimed that they had the power to remove Content from you tube that they didn’t own… Like a video in support of mega upload, or performance of an original work by an unsigned band that was later covered by a group they signed. In case you are slow – those are the people that wrote and supported SOPA/PIPA/ACTA.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Wouldn't it be great

Ahh, “real life” can get so busy. I just read the interview I must admit he does understand the Internet better than most I’ve heard from and he does understand the international reach far better than others.

Most of my concern with politicians is that they sometimes lose track of the values and outlooks they were elected on. I do know that people grow in the job but all to often, no matter the system, the values they espouse and outlooks they once had seem to get lost in the shuffle. That’s my hope for this man. That he doesn’t allow that to happen to him.

Politics, of course, is the art of the possible. That is getting bills passed that are possible to pass rather than go down with a position or outlook. All that said some of the politicians I admire most would often do just that because they couldn’t and wouldn’t compromise on an issue. I may disagree with them, but I admire them for their loyalty to their values. It’s too early in his career in poltics yet to tell about Rep Polis. But on this issue he’s holding to his ground, his values and his worldview. So I congratulate him on that.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Wouldn't it be great

Boulder is a college town, with a community that is very committed to start-ups and tech, to the environment, and to healthy living. I can’t see much that would lead him in a direction that would not represent the voters’ wishes.

Recently the community voted to run its own utility company so it could be more environmentally friendly. The power company that currently serves Boulder spent about 10 times as much as the grassroots campaign to persuade local voters this was a bad idea, but the voters supported the localization of energy control anyway.

Jared is independently wealthy, gay, and has a baby with his partner. I don’t think he can easily be bought off. These are the committees and caucuses he serves on. If he is going to be approached by special interests, I’m guessing they would be special interests which already have approval among Boulder voters.

caucus – U.S. Representative Jared Polis

Anonymous Coward says:

Concerning Disney

Something that is left out of nearly all these conversations about SOPA/PIPA/ACTA is the stark reality that Disney, the world’s most powerful monopoly media company, grew into the monster it is today on the back of the public domain. A huge number of their feature films are, for all intents and purposes, derivative works.

Their very first animated picture, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm, so old its copyright was never recognized in the US. Their second animated picture, Pinnochio, is based on a book published in the early 1880s, copyright expired. Their fourth picture, The Reluctant Dragon, is based on a book published in the late 1890s, copyright expired.

The list goes on, and includes many of their most famous animated movies, such as Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, and Sleeping Beauty (another Grimm fairy tale).

It continues right up through the living memory of some of Techdirt’s youngest readers. Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan, all either published works with expired copyrights or so old they never had recognized copyrights.

You’d think Disney would no longer need to mug history for ideas, but their pattern of “thieving” from the public domain continues right up to the present day. Children too young to read Techdirt are watching Disney’s rehash of Alice in Wonderland and Tangled (yet another Grimm fairy tale), both released in 2010.

And I’m not through yet. In 2013, Disney will release Frozen, based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. Copyright? Expired!

This company that spends literally millions in bribes (lobbying) to try to get laws passed to benefit solely itself and its copyrights acquired those millions by plundering the public domain and paying not one thin dime in royalties to any one of the authors I’ve named.

If you look up the word “hypocrisy” in the dictionary, you find a picture of a cartoon mouse.

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