NY Times Unimpressed With Any Online Protest That Doesn't Rattle The Earth's Very Core

from the you're-not-helping dept

As we recently announced and participated in, a group of websites, companies, consumer advocacy groups and digital rights organizations all joined forces for a day of action last Tuesday against mass surveillance. That protest, dedicated to the memory of Aaron Swartz, involved participants and websites running banners that urged visitors to head over to the protest website and contact their representatives. An underlying goal was to harness some of the outrage against SOPA/PIPA and direct it toward the NSA’s ongoing surveillance abuses, since online protest have been proven to help move the needle, even if they can’t all be on the scale of SOPA.

Not everybody was impressed. Because the NSA and friends didn’t immediately admit fault and declare an end to all surveillance before crying a lot, launching balloons and committing coordinated seppuku on the steps of the Capitol building, Nicole Perlroth at the NY Times took to penning a slightly-snotty article strongly suggesting the effort was a waste of time and “barely registered”:

“…the protest on Tuesday barely registered. Wikipedia did not participate. Reddit — which went offline for 12 hours during the protests two years ago — added an inconspicuous banner to its homepage. Sites like Tumblr, Mozilla and DuckDuckGo, which were listed as organizers, did not include the banner on their homepages. The most vocal protesters were the usual suspects: activist groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and Greenpeace.”

Apparently because the “usual suspects” like the EFF are always saying lot of weird stuff, there wasn’t much point in paying attention to them (or something). Perlroth also implies that if large companies like Google and Wikipedia aren’t going to loudly participate in your online protests, you might as well go home and cry in your pudding, because as we’ve seen all throughout history, it’s impossible to enact meaningful social change without the help of a large corporate donor.

Some of the folks more closely associated with the protest didn’t agree, like Sina Khanifar, who helped coordinate the campaign. Khanifar points out in a blog post that Perlroth’s definition of “barely registering” could use some fine tuning:

“I’m not sure how 80k calls and over 500k emails counts as “barely registering.” That’s not to mention over 400k shares on Facebook, and another 100k on Twitter and Google Plus. And over 200 million page views of the banner. Compare Tuesday with the lead-up to the vote on Rep. Amash’s bill to defund NSA’s call records program. In two days about 15,000 calls were made through DefundTheNSA.com. Staffers reported that their phones rang heavily in support of the bill.”

Khanifar rather amusingly picks apart numerous other problems with Perlroth’s article, like the claim there was no substantive discussion on Reddit (there were roughly 7,000 comments, and Redditors are busy organizing the next wave) and the argument that participants Tumblr, Mozilla and DuckDuckGo did nothing to their websites (they did), while noting that this was one small part of a much broader effort towards NSA reform. He also quite correctly points out that if you’re going to compare every online protest to the single largest and most successful protest in the history of the Internet, you’re probably going to spend a lot of time disappointed. To make Perlroth happy though, perhaps next time we get the urge to protest, we’ll pre-emptively realize the futility of the effort and stay home to watch reality TV instead. That’ll learn ’em.

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Comments on “NY Times Unimpressed With Any Online Protest That Doesn't Rattle The Earth's Very Core”

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Ninja (profile) says:

I like to compare it to the lottery (the addicts will love my reasoning unfortunately). The chance of winning the lottery are very, very slim. Sometimes 1 to several dozen millions. But if you don’t play the chances are zero.

If a single voice rises it’ll be a voice that will be heard by some people. Among these people a few will stop and think about it and realize that lone voice is right turning into more voices that will repeat and spread the word. And so on. Any effort, as small as it may be, will have some sort of impact – for the good or the evil (think extremist groups). And honestly, more than half a million people participating is hardly small at all. Put half a million people on the streets protesting and you will have chaos.

Anonymous Coward says:

So it’s news to the staff at Tech Crunch that the Times ignores things that don’t comport with its worldview??

They *routinely* ignore marches–with actual human beings–that number in the *hundreds of thousands* if they don’t agree with the reason behind the march, and you think it’s news if they ignore a digital one???

Bas Grasmayer (profile) says:

To be honest, I think the NYT has a valid point, but poorly phrased and explained.

When I found out about the action, I was initially excited – “yeah! this is the day we fight back! ok what’s the plan?”

Sign a petition. Put a banner. WTF? Not worthy of the word ‘fight’.

Doing _something_ might be better than doing nothing at all, but what this is is controllable dissent, which democratic governments need to assert legitimacy.

The day we fight back should mean everyone setting up encryption for all the mailboxes of your friends, teaching people about Tor and VPN. Activism. Not signing a lousy petition. We need radical change.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Sign a petition. Put a banner. WTF? Not worthy of the word ‘fight’.”

You missed the part about contacting representatives in the US government:

“80k calls and over 500k emails”

Not exactly doing nothing.

“The day we fight back should mean everyone setting up encryption for all the mailboxes of your friends, teaching people about Tor and VPN.”

But, without support from people in the government, the reaction would be to outlaw the use of such technology and/or force ISPs to throttle traffic so that they become unusable. It’s good to encourage people to use encryption, but it’s an idea that won’t work on its own.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

From the book

The particular is-ism that I begin with here is the claim that cyberspace can?t be regulated. As this, and the following chapters argue, that view is wrong. Whether cyberspace can be regulated depends upon its architecture.
The original architecture of the Internet made regulation extremely difficult. But that original architecture can change. And there is all the evidence in the world that it is changing. Indeed, under the architecture that I believe will emerge, cyberspace will be the most regulable space humans have ever known. The ?nature? of the Net might once have been its unregulability; that ?nature? is about to flip.

(page 32)

If you don’t believe me just look at government established broadcast and cableco monopolies. Look at cable. When broadcasting spectra was first used it was a communication form, kinda like the Internet is now. Then the FCC started slowly eroding the natural right of the public to use it with the alleged promise that they will ensure a minimal amount of competition and regulate it in the public interest. Before you know it they started breaking those promises until you have what we have now, the public natural right to the use of broadcasting spectra stolen from us and exclusive privileges being granted to a hand full of self interested corporate entities that bombard us with commercials and propaganda and keep us ignorant of many issues when it suits their interests.

It is not enough for us to merely be reactive against the government proposing new bad laws. We must be proactive in having existing bad laws repealed. This includes government established broadcasting and cableco monopolies being granted to private interests for commercial use. This won’t be popular among self interested regulators and the cartels that hold these monopoly privileges, cartels with a huge influence over media distribution. But we the public must force the government to know that regulations should be intent on serving the public interest and if they aren’t we will force those laws to go away.

quawonk says:

Sorry, Karl, but I agree with Nicole here. Why didn’t these huge sites take our side this time? Why didn’t they black out? What’s the excuse? None that I can think of. It’s easy to do. Take the server down, replace it with a simple info page, and take a day off!

As far as I’m concerned, and I’ve believed this since SOPA, these big sites only protested because SOPA would have affected their business directly. They were acting in self-interest.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“It’s easy to do. Take the server down, replace it with a simple info page, and take a day off!”

Which part’s “easy”? The day of fielding complaints from users unable to use the services – a large portion of whom cannot take part in the protest since they’re not in the US (far from a day off!)? The lost business to competitors? The huge loss of revenue in many cases, including the costs of taking the site down (it’s not free for a large site, no matter how much you kid yourself otherwise)?

“Why didn’t these huge sites take our side this time?”

Other than the above, the real reason is that this particular issue is complex, without a specific time limit for action and has no direct business implications.

SOPA would have endangered many of these businesses and the protest was timed close to the date that the decision on SOPA was being made for maximum effect. This protest was timed as a memorial against an ongoing issue with many factors involved.

To be honest, the companies that didn’t participate are better off lobbying or fighting against the surveillance requests they are receiving than they are endangering their own existence by shutting down over every issue, even if they agree about the vast importance of the issue itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

To be honest … corporations do not have the best interests of common folk within their list of priorities.

The blather emitting from PR campaigns and marketing strategies can be very convincing, this accompanied with Mission Statements and being “members of the community” have made believers of many. Rarely do any of their philanthropic endeavors materialize, some even do more damage than if they did not exist.

You seriously think these corporations are going to lobby in your best interest? .. Hahahahahaha

Anonymous Coward says:

That all happened on Feb 11th? I wonder what I was doing that day, since I think I’m on the internet (including here) every day, but I didn’t notice anything unusual last week on any site I usually go to. Maybe I just didn’t check techdirt that day, and nobody else did anything I noticed.

Which kinda supports the NYT article’s point, sorry.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I never claimed that my experience reflected the entire country’s experience, but it is a data point, considering that I use the internet every day and never saw anything unusual on that day. And I think you’re mistaking me for someone else with your final comment. I rarely ever comment here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Only the opinions of big corporate donors matter. If you don’t agree with them that they should posses a monopoly on everything and more laws should be passed to enslave the poor and ensure more income inequality then, clearly, you are a quack that should be ignored. Civil liberties, civil rights, really? Only corporations have rights you crazy quack.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Politicians still need to be elected. They get rather nervous when a significant chunk of their constituency gets upset over an issue. It leave’s ’em more vulnerable on the campaign trail. Placating them is easy, just do what the voters tell them to do. So what if they piss off one corporate donor, or industry lobby? There’s more where they came from, and the voters will cheerfully vote for the incumbent that voted the way they wanted that one time. And the lobbyists will come crawling back soon enough to try their luck again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, it is easy for them to say one thing and do something else once elected. That’s why campaigns like this are important. The citizen’s responsibility doesn’t end when they elect a politician, if they want the politician to do what they want that is. They still need to give the politician their marching orders. That’s what petitions, calls, letters and emails do. Then when the politician doesn’t follow through, you inform them of your displeasure, and vote them out next election.

Yes they can ignore you, but that’s why they get nervous when significant chunks of their constituency gets upset with them. If 10-15% of their constituents are angry with them, and they were elected with a 60-40 vote split, they have worry about loosing their nice cushy job. Sure they could still ignore that, but they’d have no one but themselves to blame when the 10-15% turned out to be part of the 60% that voted for them, not the 40% that voted against them, and they get thrown out on their ass next election.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“They still need to give the politician their marching orders. That’s what petitions, calls, letters and emails do. Then when the politician doesn’t follow through, you inform them of your displeasure, and vote them out next election. “

Wouldn’t it be easier to just implement direct democracy and have us vote for every law directly?

“If 10-15% of their constituents are angry with them, and they were elected with a 60-40 vote split, they have worry about loosing their nice cushy job. Sure they could still ignore that, but they’d have no one but themselves to blame when the 10-15% turned out to be part of the 60% that voted for them, not the 40% that voted against them, and they get thrown out on their ass next election.”

and then they will get a nice job with the industry they passed bills for and the next guy who gets elected will be a crook.

and one of the problems is they appoint regulators that pass laws, like the head of the FCC. Those regulators can do whatever they want and the elected politicians don’t get blamed when the regulators pass bad laws. Furthermore those regulators may have been elected by the last elected official who is no longer in office (ie: the last president) or in the case of the president it might be his last term. So the regulator acts poorly and the blame is on the last politician in office.

Also first pass the post yields very bad results and often has people voting against the person they disagree with the most instead of voting for someone they agree with. We end up with less representative politicians.


FM Hilton (profile) says:

The same drivel

Isn’t this the same paper that, for the most part, any and all of the Occupy protests, except when it came to Wall St?

Of course they’re going to be snotty. Ordinary people protesting against something the Times is in favor of is not exactly going to make them quake in their boots. Anything less than the earth opening up and swallowing the NSA buildings is not going to merit any attention from them.

Remember, the Times is the government’s mouthpiece, along with the Washington Post, even if they do run the Snowden information.

It’s in the form of a patronizing attitude, and they’re good at that.

“Well, that was a nice little ‘protest’, kids..now run along home to Mommy and Daddy to tell them how you changed the world today!” snicker, snicker

DogBreath says:

Re: Re: The same drivel

From the article:

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

Come home. Face reduced punishment (1,000 years reduced to 200 years. 80% off, what a great deal).

The Government will not break its promise.

If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you at a significant discount.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The same drivel

Claiming he is a whistleblower that has done the country a great service and deserves clemency of “at least a substantially reduced punishment” if he were allowed to come home with a promise of such, that doesn’t sound at ALL like a “government mouthpiece” even if trusting the government to honor such a promise if they were to make it is completely naive.

Anonymous Coward says:

They are right. This didnt had the attention it deserved.
A few sites have a closeable footer about this is far from serious. Noone cares about it. If wikipedia and google went offline for 12 hours, then people would pay attention, but a small popup will not change anything.
Also this NSA thing deserves at least a small rioting. If your own people dont care about it, then what did you expect?

Anonymous Coward says:

In a perfect world it would be great if every news organization backed the protest, but sadly it’s less than perfect. The realization is we care because we get it, we understand ,because we pay attention and spend a considerable amount of time on the web,Most people don’t. The protest numbers are solid but not everyone is connected .. the nyt is a tiny little market , most people (unconnected) don’t really even think about. It is very disappointing that the major players didn’t participate, but the battle isn’t over til it’s over.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Government Mouthpieces

For those of you who would like to defend the NY Times on this point, what about all those times they not only supported but cheered the government’s lies?

Four of their leading editorial columnists not only repeated the blatantly false WMD arguments but became cheerleaders for the war.


With friends like these, who the hell needs enemies. That war did not have to happen, but if the Times says so, so be it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Government Mouthpieces

My intention was not to defend the NYT. I have no allegiance to them. However, given the article that I linked stands clearly in the face of the claim that they are a “government mouthpiece” in regards to Snowden, I thought the characterization in this instance was unfair. I had no intention of commenting on how the claim relates to other issues.

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