If You Want To Know How Supporting Techdirt Can Help Shift The Debate In Washington DC, Read This

from the important-stuff dept

Wondering if coverage like ours can really make a difference? In 2014, former Senate staffer Jennifer Hoelzer sent us this unsolicited piece about Techdirt's influence on lawmakers in the SOPA fight. With today's encryption debate now shifting back to Congress, she's given us her support in republishing the story (with a few minor edits) to drive that point home. If you want quantitative data to go with her anecdotal experience, you can see this Harvard study that highlighted Techdirt's influence in that debate. Please help us do the same for the fight over encryption as well.

Help Techdirt Make Sure Congress Doesn't Sell Out Our Privacy & Security

Hi. My name is Jen... and I was once a Congressional staffer who knew so little about Internet policy that I had no idea how little I knew about Internet policy. (I think this is where you're supposed to supportively say, "Hi, Jen," and reassure me that this is a safe space for me to continue my embarrassing confession. Because it gets worse.)

In late 2010, when my former boss -- U.S. Senator Ron Wyden -- announced that he was putting a hold on the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) – the predecessor to PIPA and later, SOPA -- I not only didn't know how the DNS system worked, I'm not sure I knew what infringement meant. (I'm not proud of these things, but they're true.)

If my boss hadn't involved himself in this issue, odds are I would never have heard of it and, heck, if by some chance I had learned that the Judiciary Committee had unanimously passed legislation giving law enforcement (what their press release called) "important tools" to go after illegal activity, I probably wouldn't have given the issue any thought beyond thinking it was nice that Democrats and Republicans remembered how to work together.

Worse yet, when my chief of staff stopped by my office to let me know that the Senator would be placing a hold on the legislation, I didn't drop what I was doing to alert reporters or ask one of my deputies to pound out a press release. I'm not sure I even looked up from my computer.

Honestly, it didn't occur to me that anyone would consider what my boss did that afternoon news, until I got a Google News Alert that a blog called, Techdirt, had written about it.

Now, in my defense, the above does not mean that I was lazy or willfully ignorant. From the outside, I realize Congress doesn't appear to do anything, but there are so many bills and issues swirling around Capitol Hill at any one time that it's a challenge just to stay on top of the sliver of them that pertains to your job. On an average day, Senator Wyden could go from a breakfast forum on health reform, to a committee hearing on tax reform, to introducing legislation on renewable energy, to questioning the forest service on resources for firefighting, before giving a floor speech on NSA surveillance, and that would just be before noon. So, the odds of my being on top of something that happened in a Committee my boss wasn't assigned to -- like the Judiciary Committee -- were slim.

Furthermore, my deputies and I -- as Wyden's communications director -- could barely keep up with all of the questions and requests we got from reporters. We didn't have the time or resources to tweet about everything he did, let alone proactively promote all of his work. I mean, just writing and distributing a press release can take a few hours, coming up with a messaging strategy, educating reporters, planning events and writing the various one-pagers, FAQs, op-eds and speeches needed to support a successful advocacy campaign can take days, weeks, even months and that's if nothing else is going on (which is rarely the case).

The day Senator Wyden put a hold on COICA, was the same day he introduced legislation to amend the Affordable Care Act with Senator Scott Brown. I was getting inundated with questions from reporters and bloggers wanting to understand "why in the hell he'd do such a thing," plus the Democratic caucus wanted us to put out and promote a statement pushing for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, which had my deputy tied up, in addition to the various other things that tended to make the end of session a sprint.

I didn't jump at the opportunity to publicize my boss's hold announcement, because I didn't know enough about the issue to judge its news value, let alone explain it to reporters or write a quick press release, and I didn't have the time to learn enough about it to do any of those things before the end of the day. So, I told my chief of staff "great" and went back to talking to reporters about health policy.

Again, I'm not proud of the above story, but I was moved to share it, when I read that Techdirt's coverage of the COICA/PIPA/SOPA debate ultimately cost them more than 50% of their advertising revenue and has since forced them to operate at a loss.

I don't want to imagine a tech debate without Techdirt in it.

I can't even begin to imagine how the COICA/PIPA/SOPA debate would have gone without Mike Masnick and Techdirt's coverage.

But I can imagine where I -- personally -- would have been without Techdirt's coverage. All I have to do is close my eyes and remember November 18, 2010. Now, as much as I'd like to tell you that Mike's November post on Ron Wyden's COICA hold changed everything for me, it didn't. One post couldn't make me an expert on Internet issues any more than a single story could have won the debate. But I can say the more I learned about the issues surrounding COICA and later PIPA and SOPA – and the more confident I grew in my knowledge and ability to explain those issues -- the more involved I got, the more press releases, speeches, FAQ's and blogs I wrote in support of Ron's work, the more reporters I talked to, coverage I influenced, and interviews I secured for the senator.

I can also say, I wouldn't have been able to do any of those things (at least not well) without Mike Masnick and the rest of the guys at Techdirt, because they're the guys who taught me tech policy.

That's not to say, I didn't work with really smart people who taught me a lot, I did and they did; but with Techdirt, I never had to ask a stupid question or admit what I didn't know. (I just kept reading.) Techdirt's posts were consistently straightforward, easy to understand and timely. Sure, another site might put together one or two good posts or a definitive explainer, but reading Techdirt every day was like taking a college course on the issues with every new post helping me understand a new aspect of what I'd learned previously. I often found some of the site's shorter posts and illustrative examples the most helpful, because they were the examples I ultimately used to explain the issues to others. For example, I've yet to find a better way to get someone to see the potential harm bills like SOPA and PIPA can do to free speech than pointing out that Universal once tried to blacklist 50 Cent's personal website, a fact I learned from a 6/21/11 Techdirt post, entitled "Did Universal Music Declare 50 Cent's Own Website A Pirate Site?" (Seriously, that story alone helped me convince at least a dozen – non-tech – reporters to write about the issue, not to mention all of the Hill staffers I shared it with.)

If you care about your privacy and security, you want Techdirt to be at full strength in the encryption debate. You want them to be educating more lawmakers and their staffers (like my former self) to understand these issues and be confident enough in their knowledge to take a stand against invasive government.

I'm donating to Techdirt's campaign because I know where I would have been without their work and I don't want a tech debate to take place without them. I hope you will do the same. It's also a great way to say thanks.

Help Techdirt Make Sure Congress Doesn't Sell Out Our Privacy & Security


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 10:47am

    Thanks!

    Thank you, for both the original article and for your update today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Moonkey, 23 Mar 2016 @ 10:50am

    248% (As of writing) backed and still 3 days left? A true achievement, indeed. Keep on moving forward, Techdirt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 11:02am

    Created Problems...

    On an average day, Senator Wyden could go from a breakfast forum on health reform, to a committee hearing on tax reform, to introducing legislation on renewable energy, to questioning the forest service on resources for firefighting, before giving a floor speech on NSA surveillance, and that would just be before noon. So, the odds of my being on top of something that happened in a Committee my boss wasn't assigned to -- like the Judiciary Committee -- were slim.

    You have to ask yourself... why is congress so busy that they do not have the time to "PROPERLY" attend to their duties?

    Do they like it this way?
    Are they willfully ignorant of the economy and by proxy the lives they fuck over with this?
    Do they even care that their schedules are so busy that they are fundamentally unable to even function as a human fucking being representing multitudes of other human beings?

    There is an insidious problem from the bottom up in Government and it starts with "The People" completely refusing to learn what their proper place is inside a liberty focused republic, and continuing to vote in politicians based on zero facts and buckets of lies and misdirection.

    You can indeed fool most of the people most of the time... and with very little effort it does seem!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 11:22am

      Re: Created Problems...

      ...their schedules are so busy that they are fundamentally unable to even function as a human fucking being representing multitudes of other human beings?...

      I could say that about many private sector CEOs/owners/employers, so is that reflective on our society as a whole? I do agree about the need for a tasking study if all the Senators and Representitives are that busy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 11:33am

        Re: Re: Created Problems...

        Definitely a reflection of society as a whole. The people up top are too busy and they expect everyone else to be as busy as them.

        The reason for this is because they have nothing complex to think about so to stay busy in their own minds they do this to fill in the gaps.

        This is also a side effect of self important people. They have some need to show that they are highly productive and therefore more valuable, regardless of weather or not their production quality is even decent.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Synergy Waffle (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 11:50am

      Re: Created Problems...

      Show me someone who claims they'll vote for the good of The People over their own self-interests...and 99% of the time, I will show you a liar.
      This problem is systemic - the accumulation of decades of corruption, complacency, and ever-increasing greed by those in power. When the only candidates up for election are people who will extend the status quo instead of effecting any real change, you get our current situation:
      - Corporations are buying laws which increase their profits at the expense of The People
      - CEOs are suing the government when it tries to regulate monopolies
      - Officials who try to actually change things end up hung from nooses made of red tape

      When those in power take their positions for the sake of said power, the only people who progress and get promoted are those who support that very same system. It's hard to climb high enough to fix the current power culture when everybody above and around you has a vested interest in keeping it broken - after all, a broken system is how they got their job. The system supports itself by making sure that people who support it, those who want the power, get more of it than those who don't.
      This is a historic trend and has happened all over the world; this is how villages gained chiefs, chiefs became warlords, warlords became kings, and kings turned into absolute dictators.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 11:33am

    Note to the powers that be: I will do as I please, whenever I please, however I please, regardless of your laws and your patent idiocy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 11:38am

    There Goes the Neighborhood

    Sure, another site might put together one or two good posts or a definitive explainer, but reading Techdirt every day was like taking a college course on the issues with every new post helping me understand a new aspect of what I'd learned previously.
    Wait, I thought this was supposed to be fun. Now you tell us its educational. There goes the neighborhood.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    factsplease1 (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 11:51am

    Nice but - millionaires asking for money is not in my game plan

    All true, but the founders of SV have enough dough to pay for stuff themselves.

    So Imma gonna let 'em.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 1:18pm

      Re: Nice but - millionaires asking for money is not in my game plan

      Nice but - millionaires asking for money is not in my game plan


      Not sure who you're talking about, but I can assure you that we are *not* millionaires asking for money.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 1:19pm

    I'd help but...

    Why is that pledge has to go through some Beacon? I am again asked to register with them, create an account, blah-blah... I'm ready to donate if the process is simplified and I do not need to create one more fake account that I won't be using anymore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 1:35pm

      Re: I'd help but...

      Why is that pledge has to go through some Beacon? I am again asked to register with them, create an account, blah-blah... I'm ready to donate if the process is simplified and I do not need to create one more fake account that I won't be using anymore.

      Beacon has been a really useful platform for us in terms of managing the crowdfunding process, but if you'd prefer to just give directly there are ways to do so at our own "insider shop":

      https://rtb.techdirt.com/

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Steve R. (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 3:15pm

    Senator Burr NOT Responding

    I've been sending, on a periodic basis, email to Senator Richard Burr (R,NC) links to TechDirt. His Office has still failed to respond, despite my request for a response.


    He is on the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
    http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 3:21pm

      Re: Senator Burr NOT Responding

      He is on the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.


      He's not just on it, he chairs it. I would guess that he and his staff are not fans of Techdirt.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Steve R. (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 4:50pm

        Re: Re: Senator Burr NOT Responding

        Oliver North, surprisingly said tonight, that attempting to break into the iPhone was a pointless activity. He said that "signal" intelligence (iPhone) is not substitute for "human" intelligence (spies). North recommended placing more effort into "human" intelligence.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 3:29pm

    Re: reading Techdirt every day was like taking a college course

    Please pass that sentiment on to the rest of the folks up on the hill, but please do so quietly.

    I enjoy Tech Dirt. But popularity eventually devolves into some propagandist conglomerate buying out a site. So congrats to those with stock options, but please, can we talk about actual issues a while longer before TD goes the way of Wired and the Amazon Post?

    Thanks!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 3:45pm

      Re: Re: reading Techdirt every day was like taking a college course

      I enjoy Tech Dirt. But popularity eventually devolves into some propagandist conglomerate buying out a site. So congrats to those with stock options, but please, can we talk about actual issues a while longer before TD goes the way of Wired and the Amazon Post?

      Best way to avoid that kind of thing? Have enough readers support the site directly! :)

      Either way, we've been at this for almost 19 years now. Going to take a lot to shut us up...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        G Thompson (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 10:53pm

        Re: Re: Re: reading Techdirt every day was like taking a college course

        >> Either way, we've been at this for almost 19 years now. Going to take a lot to shut us up...

        I've always wondered how the trolls and shrills haven't put together their own crowdfunder for this :)

        Oh and what's with the extra $1 from what it used to be? Inflation? or did Dark Helmet up his price! bwahahahahaha

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 5:54pm

    That sound you hear is antidirt and Whatever angrily grinding their teeth that the site of a man who they claim no one takes seriously or poses any significant threat now magically poses enough of a threat.

    Cheers, Mike! Troll tears are good for the soul.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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