Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

WordPress, Reddit, Cheezburger and Others Join New Internet Defense League

In the hope that the online enthusiasm and organizing that helped fend off anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA in the U.S. Congress this year can be captured and redeployed, online activists are now founding an “Internet Defense League.”

Members sign up to receive code they can choose to include on their sites to alert visitors about a perceived threat to Internet freedom from legislation or elsewhere.

The Internet Defense League already has onboard sites that can motivate the online masses: WordPress, Imgur, Reddit, Cheezburger Network, Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark have signed up.

A more formal launch is planned in two weeks when Congress returns to session, according to Tiffiniy Cheng of Fight for the Future, which put the League together along with Reddit co-founder and de facto spokesperson for the Internet Alexis Ohanian.

The League alerts are meant to be like an emergency broadcast system — or a “bat signal” for the Internet — cuing activist sites to swoop in and save someone in distress like Batman would.

Cheng and Ohanian joked that their version could be called a “cat signal,” referencing Ethan Zuckerman’s “Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism,” which posits that user-generated content platforms excel at getting activist messages out to larger audiences who are there to share pictures and videos and stories about cats. That’s in part because when governments shut down these sites to block activist activity, the cute-cat-sharing masses get pissed.

Cheng’s Fight for the Future is the activist non-profit that organized an online day-long protest in response to SOPA and PIPA by distributing a tool that large and small publishers could use to black out their own sites by choice, and then to overlay information about how would-be visitors could contact their representatives in Congress.

Another collaboration between Fight for the Future and Ohanian had two crowd-funded “Don’t Mess with the Internet” billboards placed near the offices of SOPA author and Texas representative Lamar Smith last week.

Many of the sites that joined the Internet Defense League so far also participated in the SOPA/PIPA blackout, along with heavyweights like Wikipedia and Tumblr (which are not yet members).

The proposed “cat signal” actions could be something less drastic than a blackout, like a prominently displayed alert message. As the League site describes it, “The next time there’s an emergency, we’ll tell you and send new code. Then it’s your decision to pull the trigger.”

Blackout activism over SOPA and PIPA was effective but also somewhat controversial. At the time, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo called it “silly.”

“Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish,” he tweeted.

Costolo later followed up to say that there were 3.9 million tweets about SOPA and PIPA on the day of the blackout, and he justified his criticism by saying, “When you’ve got an amplifier like that, you don’t pull the batteries out of the microphone.”


Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus