The Day The Internet Went Dark

By Sheldon Levine - Thursday, January 19th, 2012 at 7:30 am  

You may have noticed yesterday that some of your favourite sites on the internet weren’t as they should be or were shut down all together. This was a large initiative by many internet based companies to protest the Stop Internet Piracy Act (more commonly known as SOPA) that was scheduled to be voted on in the US yesterday. Some of the sites that went black included Wikipedia, Reddit and even smaller sites like popular blogger Chris Brogan’s site.

For those unfamiliar with SOPA (and a similar bill known as PIPA), here’s a great video that explains just how it would affect everyday internet users like you and me:

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Because these bills are heavily supported by the US entertainment industry, there has been very little talk about them in the mainstream media. Most people know about it because everyday people had taken to the internet and social networks to help spread the word. And spread it they did. I took to MAP, our social media monitoring and analytics software, to see just how much talk had been going on through social media.

To be inclusive of the numerous sayings and hashtags people have been using I searched for the terms “SOPA,” “PIPA,”StopSOPA,” “SOPAblackout” and “blackout.” Over the past 3 months I was able to find 247,213 blog posts, 82,713 online news articles, 311,327 forum posts and 2.9 million tweets containing my search terms.

Trended out over time that activity looks like this:

Because yesterday was a known day of protest the activity greatly overshadows all the previous activity. The following popularity chart shows the activity for three months up to January 17th, the day before the blackout. The first large spike in November was when the SOPA bill first started getting attention by the public. Then there were two large spikes in talk in December. The first, on December 15th, was the day that the US government passed NDAA, a non-internet related but also unpopular bill and people made connections between the two bills. The second spike in December was the day that the public became aware that the popular internet domain seller Go Daddy was supporting the SOPA bill. Go Daddy later retracted their support, but the public had already spoken.

While SOPA and PIPA are both bills that could be passed the United States government, they would have a great effect on the way the entire world uses the internet. That’s why the entire world has been talking about the bills. The greatest majority of talk through social media was coming from the United States (53.5%), but other countries were making their thoughts on the bills heard. Brazil, a large Twitter using country, accounted for 5.5% of the talk, followed by Spain (4.9%) and the UK (3.9%).

And just what have people been talking about? Our buzzgraph shows that “piracy” is right in the center of the conversation. But there’s strong connections to words like “protester,” infringement” and “censorship” showing that a lot of the talk was against SOPA and PIPA. We can also see a lot of talk about the websites that went black yesterday in opposition to the bills like “Wikipedia,” “Reddit” and “Google.” There’s also a strong connection to “Go Daddy” from that large spike in November that talked about their support of SOPA.

I already noted that talk on January 18th greatly overshadowed the previous three months, so I dug into the conversation that just happened yesterday. On blackout day alone I was bale to find 32,548 blog posts, 13,107 news articles, 18,504 forum posts and 1.4 million tweets containing my search terms.

All of the talk and support from everyday citizens led to the bill being temporarily shot down and not voted on yesterday as was originally planned. However, PIPA is still set to go in front of US congress on January 24th, so the internet blackout happened just as it was planned. The fate of the internet is still up in the air, but if enough people raise their voices, the people with power may just get the message that there has to be a better way to solve the piracy problem.

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