Power to the Tweeple

Last week’s “blackout” protest was a lesson in how readily Internet technology can be used to disintermediate traditional sources of information and motivate a community to action. It also showed how quickly informed debate can be subsumed by a vocal minority making clever use of the very same technology.

Recently I suggested that Twitter might one day seed a political revolution. Now Twitter users in New Zealand have put that theory to test by calling for others to black out all their online profiles (and blogs) in order to raise awareness of a protest against amendments to the Copyright Act. The section 92A amendment was originally proposed to counter illegal downloads of copyrighted material and supposedly places the onus on ISPs to disconnect offenders upon accusation.

I say “supposedly” because I have yet to locate a complete rendition of the new legislation. In fact an examination of numerous “prominent” blog sites that are supporting the protest fails to reveal any links to the complete text of the amended Act. So we are taking it completely on trust regarding their interpretation of the wording of the amendment. But there was an even more disturbing aspect to the manner in which this protest was conducted.

Spreading the word about the protest through viral means such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook has turned out to be hugely successful, with global media and some prominent individuals picking up on the event. But my heart sank when I read a tweet from an over enthusiastic supporter who suggested that Twitter users should “unfollow” anyone who didn’t conform to the blackout mandate. I wonder if anyone noticed the irony?

S92A is certainly an unjust and poorly drafted piece of legislation that both impacts on personal freedoms and has facist bully-boy overtones. Yet calls for the black-listing of non-protestors shows the same level of crass indifference as demonstrated by the politicians who drafted the amendment in the first place. Join our cause or suffer the consequences? So it was with some sense of relief that I discovered that at least one popular blog site has set up a forum to allow both sides in this argument to express some viewpoints. Some informed debate, including a discussion about the experience of other countries in such matters, would be refreshing at this point. Isn’t that how intellectual communities find consensus and move forward together in an open society?

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