Why It Would Be Wrong for Facebook & Twitter to Go Dark for SOPA (or Any Other Occassion)

Tahrir Square in Egypt during the height of the revolution
Wikipedia, Reddit and thousands of other websites have gone dark in protest of SOPA and PIPA. The controversial laws, as I explained to The Consumerist, open the door to “your favorite websites [getting] penalized, blacklisted or even shut down due to a copyright infringement lawsuit.” The protests have done their job — the mainstream public now aware of these laws, but some are arguing that it’s not enough. Chris Taylor of Mashable recently argued that Facebook should go dark for the day to protest these laws as well. He’s not the only one, though. Jay Rosen of NYU and Alex Howard of O’Reilly both suggested that Twitter should go dark as well. Suggesting that two of the world’s major communication platforms should shut down in protest of a law that governs only a minority of its users is not just lunacy, but downright irresponsible. Right now, thousands of people are using Facebook and Twitter to organize protests against SOPA. But more importantly, Twitter and Facebook are still being used as communication platforms to coordinate revolutions and inspire freedom. Shutting down Facebook and Twitter closes down communication platforms that have become just as important as email and cell phones. How would you feel if AT&T, Verizon or Google shut down your cell phones and emails for a protest? It would also be an irresponsible move. This isn’t about economics (though billions would be lost if Facebook and Twitter shut down for the day) — it’s about freedom of communication. Shutting down two of the most vital communication platforms in the world, no matter the reason, is just wrong. Just imagine if they had been shut down during the Tunisian revolution. Hell, Egypt actually did it during the revolution in its country. You’d be doing them a favor. In his piece, Chris Taylor also argues that shutting down Facebook would make him into an instant Washington power player. But it probably would have unintended consequences as well. People in power tend to push back, and you can bet that Congress wouldn’t sit back and take a middle finger from Zuckerberg. So stop criticizing Facebook and Twitter for not shutting down. The unintended consequences would be dire. Those two companies are better off using their communication platforms to spread word of the SOPA protests instead. Image courtesy of Flickr, Drumzo
  • Anonymous

    When I read the headline I was fully prepared to disagree with you, but after reading I only 1/2 disagree. As massive communication platforms that are at risk they should do something. A day might be  harsh, but why not an hour or 2 and tell users why and ask they to do something like write their congressperson. After the hour or two of in the black they could then resume business as usual.

    The public at large is becoming aware of it, but I fear that few still understand the possible ramifications of these poorly written draconian  laws. I think it would serve as a massive wake up call if Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +, etc. all went dark for some period of time and greeted users with a message about why and what they can do about it.

  • Anonymous

    When I read the headline I was fully prepared to disagree with you, but after reading I only 1/2 disagree. As massive communication platforms that are at risk they should do something. A day might be  harsh, but why not an hour or 2 and tell users why and ask they to do something like write their congressperson. After the hour or two of in the black they could then resume business as usual.

    The public at large is becoming aware of it, but I fear that few still understand the possible ramifications of these poorly written draconian  laws. I think it would serve as a massive wake up call if Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +, etc. all went dark for some period of time and greeted users with a message about why and what they can do about it.

  • http://about.me/trapolino Christina Trapolino

    Fair points.  Do you suppose, however, that Facebook and Twitter would be considered exempt from the unintended consequences of SOPA/PIPA if either were to pass?  

    If shutting down for one day is irresponsible, being shut down for infringement for much longer is certainly a step beyond irresponsible. Food for thought.  Of course, shutting down for a day in protest is about spreading awareness — it might make sense for Twitter and Facebook to participate by adding a note, banner style, across every page.  That is, if Twitter and Facebook are just as rabidly opposed to these bills as others.

    Take a page from Google’s book — they didn’t shut down.  They blacked out their doodle.  Still makes a statement, but doesn’t put anyone out of touch with the world.

  • http://about.me/trapolino Christina Trapolino

    Fair points.  Do you suppose, however, that Facebook and Twitter would be considered exempt from the unintended consequences of SOPA/PIPA if either were to pass?  

    If shutting down for one day is irresponsible, being shut down for infringement for much longer is certainly a step beyond irresponsible. Food for thought.  Of course, shutting down for a day in protest is about spreading awareness — it might make sense for Twitter and Facebook to participate by adding a note, banner style, across every page.  That is, if Twitter and Facebook are just as rabidly opposed to these bills as others.

    Take a page from Google’s book — they didn’t shut down.  They blacked out their doodle.  Still makes a statement, but doesn’t put anyone out of touch with the world.

  • http://www.erikbigelow.com/ Erik B

    I respectfully disagree.  You’re basically arguing that Facebook is too big to fail, and we see where that gets us.  It’s a free site for people to communicate.  It’s great that it helps coordinate revolutions, but revolutionaries would find other ways to organize.  Email is a free service too and even uses an open standard unlike facebook which would actually be better for revolutionaries.  Or maybe just blackout facebook in the US?  

    Either way, facebook and twitter are great, but saying we rely too much on them now for them to ever be down means the internet is already doing something wrong in the first place(but I digress).  However, these two companies, who are so affected by this legislation going black is the best way to get the message about SOPA out in a way that Reddit, Craigslist and Wikipedia would never be able too.  The message would finally hit home to the many hundreds of millions of American parents and grand-parents that don’t think SOPA affects them to take some notice.  In that way, facebook and twitter are being more irresponsible by not going black for a short period.

  • jon cassidy

    Yes It would be totally irresponsible I agree from a political and personal reason as We need to know about what SOPA and PIPA actually are and allow people that need to communicate (protesters) to get freedom and personally it would be a bummer if Facebook did shut down today on my Birthday!

  • http://twitter.com/JTebeau Johnathan Tebeau

    Great point my friend – great point.

  • http://twitter.com/99guspuppet Gus S. Calabrese

    I think the points you make a valid and somewhat weak…… for example  if you fear the push-back from Washington D.C. , you have lost.  Facebook , Google and others are not a right …. they are businesses that please customers for profit…. they must weigh the cost of the USG getting too much power.  They have every right to lobby their users and take the consequences.   99guspuppet

  • MatthewS

    If these laws existed before Facebook and Twitter were created then they most likely would not have even existed. By shutting them down you would show people  how dangerous stifling innovation is. The small “minority” of the population make up all the software people use.
    That’s like saying “oh only this small minority of people like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Mark Pincus will be affected but they’re just insignificant anyways.” You’re essentially killing the future Mark Zs and Steve Jobs with this law so I have to say I completely disagree with you.

  • http://www.socialnerdia.com Esteban Contreras

    Agree. It makes no sense for Fb and Tw to go dark. It would make sense for them to do something visual (like Google did) though.

  • http://twitter.com/TLWH Dave from TLWH

    One essential point that many with in the media are missing about “Going Dark” It’s does’t mean you have to turn off a website, or redirect it to SOPA/PIPA page. 

    Many, many people put up pages that contained messages, SOPA/PIPA information AND links to continue viewing a website below such messages. 

    Other sites stayed live and put up pop up messages, banners, labels, or changed background images to black or with a message. 

    I put a drop down link on very top of my site with a link to a PIPA page, whilst my blog pages temporarily changed to a SOPA/PIPA message, and the rest of the site went dark by having a corner “censored tag” and parts of the text blacked out for first time visitors than when clicks gave them information and access to the rest of the site and the resources there. 

    I agree that turning off FaceBook or Twitter would have been counter productive as they were indeed used for communication during the black out. But there really was nothing stopping them doing what Google did and put up a link on their homepages. Or, blacking out their logos etc. Whilst still giving access to the sites. 

    I am very curious as to why they did not do this at the very least, whilst Google did. 

  • http://twitter.com/digiturner Matthew Turner

    Agree that they shouldn’t have shut down.  But your point about the legislation only affecting a “minority of users” (assuming you’re referring to Americans here) is a bit naive.  SOPA and PIPA would have had consequences to internet users globally which is why the public outcry was, quite rightly, on a global scale.  Try to see beyond those big fences Ben… ;-)