A new group of superheroes is taking to the streets.
OK, not to the streets so much as their keyboards. The Internet Defense League is a network of websites banding together in common cause to protect the freedom of the Internet from meddling corporations and draconian laws. Members include the folks behind blogging software Wordpress; the link aggregation and community site Reddit; the Electronic Frontier Foundation, longtime advocates of freedom and privacy online; Mozilla, the foundation that makes the Firefox browser; and dozens of others.
The IDL describes itself as a “loose coalition,” with each member deciding on a case-by-case basis whether to participate in any particular campaign the group cooks up. Campaigns usually start with each site posting a prominent alert when some new issue comes down the pike — say, the music industry starts suing anyone who posts song quotes on Twitter, or Congress tries to tax YouTube videos somehow. Visitors see the alert before they can interact with the site and are thus educated.
Naturally, they need a symbol. Just as naturally, since it’s the Internet, that symbol is a cat. A rather manic-looking cat face with crazy eyeballs, in fact. The group announced its presence by projecting their symbol on a number of real-life buildings last week, and the symbol will presumably be prominent in the website alerts.
If they sound like crazy vigilante types, well, yes, but don’t be too worried. The group has its roots in the Internet Blackout earlier this year, when Wikipedia and other sites replaced their content to protest two bills moving through Congress. The Stop Piracy Online Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) would have given movie studios, publishers, and the like the ability to unilaterally block sites suspected of infringing on their intellectual property. Folks were understandably upset about this, and the organizers of the new group want to harness the same energy to stop future encroachments on online rights.
The whole thing is orchestrated by Fight for the Future, which not only organized the anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA actions, but also runs a group called Privacy is Awesome. That group is currently fighting the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which it says gives the government too much power to monitor Internet users’ actions.
The various sites are a bit heavy on graphic design and light on specific information for my taste, but one can always look up particular bills elsewhere and scrutinize the language on one’s own to decide whether or not to support or oppose them. The groups specialize in making it easy to contact one’s representatives and senators about troubling legislation. The alerts will come into play when there’s a certain day they want to coordinate action or when something important is happening in Washington.
You don’t have to be a huge online player to join the Internet Defense League. You can join as long as you have a website — and since things like YouTube channels and Twitter feeds count, you probably do. They’ll send you sample code so you can practice setting up alerts on your site. But most importantly, you’ll be part of an organization with a crazy cat as its symbol. That’s worth fighting for.
You’ll be my superhero if you follow @CitizenjaQ on Twitter.