The debate over the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) bill, introduced in the US House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by Representative Lamar Smith, has, so far, drawn some interesting reactions. Although the House Judiciary Committee, which held hearings on SOPA on November 16 and December 15, 2011, will only meet on 24th January 2012 after the winter recess, the war of words over SOPA is far from over. Research by the Brand Monitor™ Team at Position² shows how the issue over the controversial act has played out so far:
- One of the earliest reactions came from hacktivist group ‘Anonymous’. The group has warned to hack into and replace the front page of every website they can with a protest page.
- A group of security experts, including Dan Kaminsky and Paul Vixie, wrote a letter to Congress opposing SOPA and PIPA.
- In the initial supporters list was GoDaddy.com; the company openly expressed its decision to back SOPA, drawing considerable flak online. Following the concerted boycott against GoDaddy by anti-SOPA activists and the loss of over 70,000 domains, the company recently announced withdrawal of their support.
- However, this did not guarantee respite for GoDaddy; competitor NameCheap accused the company of intentionally blocking the transfer of domain names.
- 29th December 2011 was declared as ‘Dump GoDaddy’ day.
- GoDaddy wasn’t the only company to face the music over SOPA; Sony, which also supports the act, recently faced threats from Anonymous.
- From internet giants like Google and Yahoo! to industry-experts like Facebook, eBay and Mozilla, the anti-SOPA crowd is of the opinion that SOPA and the PIPA will stifle free speech and destroy the open internet.
- While former U.S. Vice President Al Gore is among the prominent personalities to have recently expressed his apprehension concerning the bill, US Congressman Paul Ryan is in the news for his stand on SOPA. Reddit has, apparently forced the member of the US House of Representatives to publicly announce his decision to no longer support the bill.
- The pro-SOPA crowd includes the likes of Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), ABC television, the Country Music Association and the US Chamber of Commerce among others.
- Although Microsoft pulled some of its direct-but-proxy support for SOPA, the company remains publicly in favor of the PROTECT IP Act.
- Recent developments include the announcement of an “internet blackout” initiated by some big names in the digital space. This is most likely to happen on 23rd January, one day before the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet.
Popular website Reddit.com has announced that it will will blackout its site on Wednesday, January 18 for 12 hours to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has said that he hopes to coordinate with Reddit so that Wikipedia does the same. During that 12 hour period, Reddit’s content will be replaced with “a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit, link to resources to learn more, and suggest ways to take action.”
SOPA and the Social Media Buzz
Analysis by Position2 (for the time period between 11th December 2011 and 10th January 2012) shows that conversation volumes initially peaked on 16th December (2,007).
- The gradual peak in buzz after 15th December could be attributed to the SOPA hearing by the House Judiciary Committee on the same day; this subsequently resulted in an increase in the number of people discussing the possibility of the bill being passed and the ramifications of the act.
- Despite the slight dip in conversations after 21st December, volumes rose once again following GoDaddy’s announcement that it no longer supports the anti-piracy bill.
- That said, the highest volumes were registered on 9th January (2,025), followed by 1,981 volumes on the 6th of the same month. Research shows that this spike could be after Al Gore publicly opposed the act, followed by Paul Ryan’s withdrawal of support.
GoDaddy Garners Unwarranted Attention
- While analyzing conversations specifically pertaining to GoDaddy, we were surprised to see how the attention was diverted from the original SOPA issue to a full-fledged boycott against GoDaddy.
- 23rd December 2011 witnessed an exponential increase in volumes (14,303 mentions to be precise!), following GoDaddy’s declaration that they weren’t “for” SOPA.
- Although we expected significant online chatter on 29th December 2011 (Dump GoDaddy Day), the buzz gradually subsided after the company announced that it was now officially among the list of companies that opposed SOPA.
Top Media Volume and Sentiment Breakdown: SOPA
- At 31%, the Twitterians were highly vocal about how they felt about the proposed legislation. Commonly used hashtags included #SOPA,#PIPA, #boycottGoDaddy and #StopSOPA. While the earlier tweets were centered on GoDaddy, recent conversations included tweets on the Reddit blackout scheduled for 18th January 2012.
- Discussion forums also registered considerable volumes, at 29%, followed by blogs at 25%.
- Clearly, Facebook audiences didn’t appear as active in their discussions related to the bill. Of the negligible 6%, most of the posts included links to news feeds related to SOPA and PIPA.
- At 72%, the conversations were mostly neutral in tonality. Further analysis shows that people mostly shared links explaining what exactly the SOPA was all about.
- The negative conversations, at 27%, included posts by the anti-SOPA crowd. Once again, it was GoDaddy that came under severe criticism for their support, followed by Rep. Lamar Smith. There were also several posts describing Microsoft’s support of the Protect IP Act as “disgraceful”.
Top Media Volume and Sentiment Breakdown: GoDaddy
- It was only a matter of time before SOPA became synonymous with GoDaddy. Although the pro-SOPA list included prominent names like Viacom, Time Warner and L’Oreal, it was GoDaddy that experienced maximum backlash, especially on Twitter; the microblogging site accounted for 71% conversations.
- Registering the second highest volumes (19%), discussion forums were abuzz with talks of why GoDaddy users were not ready to forgive the company yet. Reddit.com was among the preferred sites for discussions concerning SOPA and GoDaddy.
- Although 52% of the conversations were neutral in tonality, 47% were negative. While the neutral posts were mostly centered on GoDaddy’s role reversal, the negative ones ranged from blatant criticisms to sarcastic comments on why people should move domains.
- Despite accounting for a negligible 1%, we were curious about the positive comments that people had for GoDaddy. Sifting through the positive posts showed that some people were happy with GoDaddy’s new anti-SOPA stance.
Top Country Breakdown
- Unsurprisingly, the maximum buzz, at 90%, was registered in the USA.
- Further breakdown shows that, New York, when compared to other US states, recorded the highest conversations (8,344 posts).
Gender and Age Distribution
- At 85%, the male population appeared more concerned about the possibility of the SOPA bill being passed when compared to women (15%).
- At 34%, the 20-35 demographic discussed the possibility of ‘internet dictatorship’ the most. They called this the government’s conspiracy to control free speech.
- The <20, age group registered the least buzz, at 9%.
While the likes of Microsoft and the Motion Picture Association of America have publicly expressed support of the contentious Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the digital space has been abuzz with anti-SOPA conversations. From the above analysis, it is clear that the online space is divided into the pro-SOPA and the anti-SOPA crowd. Previously in the pro-SOPA list, one company that received the most criticism is GoDaddy. In addition to threats of boycott, GoDaddy lost thousands of domains, cornering the company into withdrawing support and officially changing sides. We are curious to see how Microsoft (a SOPA supporter) will respond to criticisms from people and if Sony will give in to the threats from the Anonymous group. Also worth watching out for are reactions from the networking community as well as the political circle after Al Gore said that he opposed SOPA and Congressman Paul Ryan was forced into saying that he didn’t support the bill. Despite the slight dip in conversations for a short while, volumes have increased once again as the time when the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet draws near.
Unsurprisingly, it is the US that has been most active in discussions pertaining to the bill. However, with internet being a medium that surpasses geographical boundaries, it is only a matter of time before the rest of the world joins in. That said, Twitter has been the preferred channel of information exchange and communication during a crisis or uprising (remember Women2Drive and Occupy Wall Street?); as far as the anti-piracy act is concerned, it continues to remain the number one platform for communication.
Unlike before, when people had little opportunity to voice themselves when bills were passed and laws announced, the exponential growth of social media in the last few years has provided people with a platform to make themselves heard. The internet, with the exception of countries like Iran and China, has always been the ‘people’s platform’ with little interference from the government. However, with the possibility of the SOPA bill being passed into a law in the US, things could soon change for millions of internet users across the country.