No matter what side you fall on regarding SOPA and PIPA, today has been a very interesting one for American democracy. What we witnessed were two powerful industries — big technology and big media — with substantial lobbying power on both sides come to blows in the court of public opinion.
At the start of the day, the US Congress, a body elected by the people but heavily influenced by industry, was reacting as it always had — the one with the biggest lobby wins. Big media had waged this war several times before and against this particular foe back in the late 1990s — media had won (the result: DMCA). This time around, the battlefield had changed and the big technology interests were more organized, which created greater resistance. The battle looked to be a classic old vs. new regional skirmish, except everyone failed to take note of one thing…
There was a new weapon on the battlefield — the “tank” had arrived.
For the first time in American generational memory, the public stepped forth and by using the very technology big media wanted to limit, lobbied on behalf of itself. The citizen content creator, media consumer, and most importantly, voter had a collective voice loud enough to sway elected officials. Backed by symbolic support from big technology and a critical risk taken most notably by Wikipedia, Americans, through social media, gained access to their elected officials. Congress changed sides.
For one brief moment, Americans participated in 21st-century democracy — and changed the rules of war.