GoDaddy, Mashable and Kernel – mistaking protests for mobs

This week, while enjoying a little down time, I’ve been peeking online from time to time to see what has been going on with the Go Daddy boycott. For those who haven’t been following the story, Go Daddy, a internet domain registration company, came out in support of SOPA – a proposed US law that, in my and the minds of many internet users puts intellectual property rights ahead of civil liberties and creates an “all-you-can-sue-buffet” that essential eliminates due process for many creators who choose to publish on the internet.

As a result of the boycott thousands of internet users – including a number of famous sites such as Wikipedia – have been transfering the domain registration from Go Daddy to alternative companies.

It has been great to see so many internet citizens choose to stand up for their rights and vote with their pocket books. What has been less inspiring is seeing some social media experts completely miss the boat.

For example, I was stunned to see of Mashable write a piece entitled It’s Time to Cut Go Daddy a Break and Milo Yiannopoulos of Kernel write GoDaddy, a hapless victim of the mob both of which profoundly misunderstand what is going on because they look at the issue solely through the lens of social media and not through that of political action.

In the Mashable piece Wasserman seems to believe that once Go Daddy reversed its position – the protests should end:

Now that Go Daddy has unequivocally opposed SOPA, haters are still up in arms because the company seems to have only done it because its business was at risk. Wasn’t this the point?

As it stands now, people seem to be angry at Go Daddy for not succumbing to groupthink. It’s as if just thinking differently than the majority is some sort of crime.

This, unfortunately, is a common phenomenon of the social media age.

Errr… I’m not sure that this is an issue of group think. I agree this can be a problem, but I’m not sure thousands of people engaging in a product boycott out of concerns for their civil liberties is the example I would jump to. This thoughtful piece on the Penny Arcade cyberbulling and counter cyberbullying of Ocean Media would make for a MUCH better example.

I’m actually deeply comfortable with thousands of people crying foul about a company that sought to bring technology sector legitimacy to a deeply, deeply problematic piece of legislation and demanding that it demonstrate some deep introspection, rather the changing its position a couple of times and then grudgingly arriving at an answer that is somewhat okay. Groupthink suggests an unthinking hoard. The boycott is composed of very rational, relatively informed (compared to the general public on this issue) group of people with a political agenda.

This is why Wasserman’s question is naive, it seeks to answer a social media question, not engage the politics of the problem that motivates people – getting Go Daddy to change its position was only part of the point. The real goal here isn’t just to change Go Daddy, it’s to change a whole range of actors position. This is a political action as much as a conusmer action. More importantly, it appears to be working since EA, Sony and Nintendo have quietly dropped their support for SOPA.

But more to the point, the manner by which Go Daddy changed its position has done little to give protestors (yes that is what they are, not a mob) confidence that they should stop. Again this is something that could only be understood by looking at this issue through a political and not purely social media lens. Consider Go Daddy’s statement on their blog:

Go Daddy opposes SOPA because the legislation has not fulfilled its basic requirement to build a consensus among stake-holders in the technology and Internet communities. Our company regrets the loss of any of our customers, who remain our highest priority, and we hope to repair those relationships and win back their business over time.

There is no recognition about the concerns of their protestors/fleeing customers and no discussion about how Go Daddy would contemplate decisions like this in the future. This is maybe the most grudging change of heart ever made. When Johnson & Johnson pulled Tylenol, everyone had confidence that decision making at the company was aligned with their values and their concerns. Go Daddy has gone out of its way to do the opposite.

Does Go Daddy have the right to do this? Absolutely. But do we have the right to boycott them. Definitely. But to label those seeking to defend their civil liberties who – for pretty good reasons – think the target of their boycott is less than sincere as a mob merely engaged in groupthink is a gross oversimplification. Or maybe its just link-bait, I’m sure it drove a lot of traffic. But I suspect it isn’t going to earn any speaking engagements with Greenpeace, Amnesty or pretty much anyone trying to change the world.

Of course Yiannopoulos piece in Kernel is even worse. Here Go Daddy is a “hapless victim.” Indeed, the most priceless line in the piece is this one:

Holding authority to account is an art best practised by professionals in the media.

Yes, I’m sure a San Francisco Chronicle editorial would have had a much bigger impact.

Apparently, to Yiannopoulos, consumer boycotts are a bad thing, or at least, too important to be left to actually citizens and consumers. This is even more the case when they are organized online and can actually achieve scale and impact. Oh, and better still, those participating in the protest “had no choice but to comply” as they were “swept up in the flood.” The pure contempt for people is truly staggering. None of you have free will or critical thinking skills! Leave all this important stuff to important people who can think!

And this from a internet culture expert. Yeow.

There are real risks of mob mentality online but this is about the poorest example you could use at the moment. Here you have thousands of people engaged in effective political and consumer protest, one that is causing larger actors to rethink their positions and potentially achieve political goals. And somehow this is all a mon engaged in groupthink? My sense is a lot of people protesting Go Daddy actually have thought about the issue – they are at least informed enough to care. More importantly thank god they have a sufficiently developed sense of civic duty to act.

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