Why the SOPA Blackout Worked

Photo courtesy of acf_windy on Flickr

When we first posted about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) blackout protest scheduled for January 23, we had no idea that Wikipedia and Reddit (which had planned a January 18 blackout protest) would persuade other sites to join their effort yesterday. According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 10,000 sites participated in the SOPA protest by either making their sites inaccessible, or “blacked out”, on Wednesday or posting messages to encourage visitors to contact Congress about SOPA.

It appears their bold effort worked.

By the end of Wednesday, at least three lawmakers withdrew their support for the legislation – Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) withdrew as a co-sponsor of the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) withdrew from SOPA, which is the House version of the bill. A few more may be added to that list this morning.

Google reports that at least 4.5 million people signed their online anti-SOPA petition during the protest. Even the White House received nearly 104,000 signatures on a We the People petition calling for President Obama to block passage of bills like SOPA and PIPA.

It is still too early for SOPA protesters to get excited, as support remains for PIPA and SOPA in the Senate and House, respectively. However, the success of the SOPA blackout protest thus far demonstrates how understanding your audience and using what they value to make them take action can spur policy change.

Internet users are constituents, and removing their access to content or interrupting their Web routines with SOPA and PIPA protest notices compelled them to get involved in the protest in their own way. It just goes to show that reaching your audiences where they are is an effective way for communicators to raise awareness and encourage action on an issue. Plus, it doesn’t hurt your cause if you get support from an opinion leader like Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

While time will tell if signatures to online petitions and increased calls and emails to Capitol Hill on Wednesday changed the outcome of the January 24 vote in favor of SOPA and PIPA protesters, it is already evident that the reach and response to yesterday’s Internet blackout will definitely impact it.

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