To some, January 18th -- the day the Internet came together in protest of SOPA and PIPA -- was seen as a day of important democratic action. To others, like the RIAA's CEO Cary Sherman, it was seen as a great failure of the democratic system. An act of "demagoguery" rather than "democracy."
That was the gist, and the wording, of a controversial op-ed Sherman wrote for The New York Times in early February, entitled What Wikipedia Won't Tell You. In it, he claimed that Wikipedia and Google tricked the greater Internet public into believing that SOPA and PIPA were bad. Here's a quote:
When Wikipedia and Google purport to be neutral sources of information, but then exploit their stature to present information that is not only not neutral but affirmatively incomplete and misleading, they are duping their users into accepting as truth what are merely self-serving political declarations... The conventional wisdom is that the defeat of these bills shows the power of the digital commons. Sure, anybody could click on a link or tweet in outrage - but how many knew what they were supporting or opposing? Would they have cast their clicks if they knew they were supporting foreign criminals selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals to Americans?
Talk about a "self-serving political declaration." To me, that sounds a lot like Mr. Sherman isn't a big fan of informing the public. Better to let everyone believe that opposing SOPA is the equivalent of supporting foreign criminals.
That's why when Andrew Keen, author (and friend of Internet Evolution), posted a tweet the other day requesting questions to ask Sherman on his radio show, I suggested: "Do you really consider an informed democratic public to be a bad thing (as you seemed to in your NYT op-ed)?"
You can take a look at Sherman answering my question and others on Keen's show below (note the grimace that crosses face as he's being asked). But here are a couple of notable points:
- "Readers online" accepted misinformation being spread by Google and Wikipedia about SOPA and PIPA based on the assumption "if it comes from these sources, it must be true."
- Members of Congress were "very frustrated that they couldn't get out their side of the story." (Aww.)
- Those on the Internet have to hold themselves to the "same high standards" as newspapers and broadcast journalists do in the offline world, "with clarity and integrity."
To that last point, it's completely true that anyone charged with spreading information should do so with "clarity and integrity." But it's nothing short of propaganda to propose that online sources were the ones serving up misinformation about bills that were very clearly bad for the Internet. (Hence Mr. Sherman's inability to cite anything specific or specifically positive about the bills in his op-ed piece.)
Further, essentially chalking this up to a stubborn wrinkle in his plans, he says, "Hopefully that was a one-time experience that came from a lot of different things coming together where a lot of different people came to the conclusion that this was a terrible piece of legislation."
In other words, hopefully next time people will only be privy to the message of legislators and lobbyists -- you know, the ones who never misinform the public for political gain.
— Nicole Ferraro , Editor in Chief, Internet Evolution