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.