Alexis Ohanian: Internet Freedom Fighter

Alexis Ohanian: Internet Freedom Fighter

There’s a problem at the top of the governmental food chain: a lack of understanding about the internet. It’s happening in government’s all over the world. In Australia, the US and even in Europe, governments are lining up behind bills like SOPA and PIPA and rolling over on internet freedom, but with what little freedom we have left, we can fight to save the open internet. This is part two of Gizmodo Australia’s interview with Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit turned internet activist.

Part One: Alexis Ohanian Talks The Future Of Reddit

“There is a fundamental problem in government here in the United States and it’s with the influence that money has,” Alexis warned me in a Skype chat last week.

The problem, he goes on, is that of lobbying. Millions of dollars are being spent by interest groups who see the internet as nothing more than a tool for piracy or a revenue stream they don’t understand.

Consequentially, the results of lobbying include controversial bills like the infamous Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Both were heavily influenced by the entertainment industry and their introduction into the House saw the internet rise up to defend free and open transmission of information.

Alexis noticed this uprising, and found it incredibly striking that even at a grass roots level, hostile, opposing political parties were uniting against the bills, too.

What’s really striking — and we saw this during SOPA and PIPA that millions of dollars in lobbying money went into writing those bills — is what we saw in the reaction and the victory over it.

We had the Tea Party — a very right-leaning organisation here in the US — and Occupy and…other left-leaning organisations lining up against these bills. Think about that Venn diagram: those two circles don’t really overlap in a lot of places, but where they do is that both sides agree that government is not representing them.

There’s this common ground that government is broken, and the reason that it’s broken is the adverse effect that money has on it, and SOPA and PIPA demonstrated this really, really well.

Thankfully, we won. We demonstrated the power of the open internet as a platform for us to battle against and win against those ill-effects of money in politics, in government.

Ohanian says that to stop the ill-effects of money in government — especially when it comes to legislation surrounding the internet — elected officials need to have an understanding of what it is and why it’s worth protecting, because if they don’t, voters will happily show them the door.

We now have both parties…talking about putting language for the open internet in their campaign platforms. Each side and each party has a different view of it: one side is worried about government screwing up the internet while another is worried that business will screw up the internet, and we’re sitting here in the middle getting worried about either one of them screwing up, so let’s…not screw it up!

We’re making progress, and until we get either more elected officials who understand the technology or we finally show the elected officials that we have will come at the cost of their jobs, we will still have to deal with this and keep fighting. These new [fights] aren’t going to be as blatant as SOPA and PIPA were…and we’re still unsure about the state of CISPA which passed the house pretty quickly.

To further the cause of internet freedom, Alexis and his band of merry freedom fighters plan to tour the US, talking to everyone who will listen about the need for a free and open internet. Along the way, the open internet bus tour will stop at the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates between Denver and Kentucky to talk to people about the internet.

Right now, Ohanian is raising funds via Indiegogo for the venture, which I think is sorely needed.

Alexis knows he’s onto something here, riding on the high that came from defeating SOPA. He knows he has people power on his side and he’s not afraid to wield it.

We’re so happy to hear that elected officials are now worried about being SOPA-ed. That’s a phrase now! ‘Don’t get SOPA-ed…’. That’s good, because as the resounding defeat of these bills demonstrated, [politicians] still work for us and as long as this thing is still a functioning democracy, the one thing we’ll have in our back pocket is our vote. If we can show that we care enough and give a damn enough to say that the internet is something we need to save.

Game on.