When the Internet went dark, a light shone on the power of a unified public

When dawn broke on January 18, 2012, conventional wisdom held that two legislative threats to regulate the Internet - SOPA and PIPA - would easily win Congressional approval.

When dawn broke on January 18, 2012, conventional wisdom held that two legislative threats to regulate the Internet - the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) - would easily win Congressional approval. By the next day, however, both bills were all but dead after massive swaths of the Internet went dark in one of the largest online protests in history.

We worked with tech companies on the fight for Internet freedom, including the Wikimedia Foundation. On January 17, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced on his Twitter account that the English language version of the online encyclopedia would "go dark." This decision came after weeks of intense discussion within the Wikipedia community, which ultimately chose to block access for a 24- hour period to demonstrate what could happen under SOPA.

During the blackout window, 162 million users encountered a message explaining the ramifications of the act and were blocked from reading or editing the site.

FitzGibbon Media provided the Wikimedia Foundation with media relations and public affairs assistance. We connected it to groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Demand Progress, which consistently drove and managed grassroots attention on this debate. We also issued a series of releases and statements as the debate unfolded, provided rapid-response updates on legislative developments through intensive news, social media, and source monitoring, and conducted comprehensive pitching of print, TV, and online sources.

With all this, the Wikimedia Foundation gave a voice to the millions of Web users and concerned citizens who use Wikipedia daily. Wikimedia was able to inject its message into the news cycle in many outlets, including The Register and TechCrunch.

Every US Internet user was a stakeholder in this fight, so we targeted as many media outlets as we could to emphasize how Wikimedia was standing up for freedom of expression. Its involvement was featured in reports by various news outlets, including NBC Nightly News, the AP, and The New York Times, as well as around the world in places where Wikipedia could still be accessed, such as the BBC and Wired UK.

Congress' reaction was stunning, going from 80 public supporters and only 31 opponents to 65 supporters and 101 opponents.

On January 20, Congress shelved the bills indefinitely. The fight isn't over, of course, but this was the strongest example of people power we can remember. 

Blair FitzGibbon is VP of media relations at FitzGibbon Media.

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