Business, Finance & Economics

The internet sends its first official lobbyists to Washington

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The American flag stands at half-staff at the U.S. Capitol September 12, 2012 in Washington, DC. The flag was lowered for U.S. ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other embassy employees who were killed when the embassy in Benghazi was attacked by a mob potentially angered by an American-made video mocking Islam's founding prophet.

Credit:

Mark Wilson

Technology corporations and internet innovators have joined together to establish the internet’s first official special interest group – The Internet Association.

Just a few months after circling the digital wagons in defense against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), companies like Google, eBay, Faebook and Amazon will begin lobbying Capitol Hill. While the internet sometimes behaves collectively as a special interest group, using both technical expertise and grassroots protest, The Internet Association is the first attempt to lobby Washington lawmakers in an official capacity.

The 14 companies involved with the association will support a platform of protecting internet freedom, empowering individual internet users and fostering innovation online. Matters of privacy and piracy will also take center stage in the association’s policy platform, looking to maintain the internet’s decentralized and pluralistic nature. 

More from GlobalPost: Has the internet become an interest group?

"It is the internet's decentralized and open model that has unleashed unprecedented entrepreneurialism," the association’s president, Michael Beckerman, told Reuters. Beckerman is a former adviser to US Congressman Fred Upton. "Policymakers must understand that the preservation of that freedom is essential to the vitality of the internet itself and the resulting economic prosperity."

The association was created for the purposes of defending the internet after last year’s successful fight against SOPA, when several advocates of an open internet joined forces with individual users to stage a massive online protest. 

“SOPA and PIPA came almost out of nowhere and would have had a devastating impact,” Beckerman said.

The internet’s less official defenders, denizens of internet relay chats and online forums and not the halls of power, will also continue to influence lawmakers themselves. When the online outcry against SOPA reached a fever pitch, hacker collectives and online activists took it upon themselves to bring down the legislation without the help of Washington insiders. 

The Anonymous hacker collective quickly rose to the internet’s defense, threatening to attack the US government if the bill passed. But while Anonymous geared up for a potential cyber war, mainstream users worked to kill the legislation through more traditional organizing and legal actions.

More from GlobalPost: Did the anti-SOPA internet defeat Paul Ryan?

Politicians, in return, are increasingly turning to online communities for support. The internet, it seems, became its own interest group without a single lobbyist in Washington working on their behalf. Now Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan, then simply a representative of Wisconsin’s first congressional district, came under fire. Forum posters began scouring the annals of the internet looking for skeletons in the congressman’s closet to publicize in an attempt to ensure he would not be reelected, all for accepting donor money from SOPA supporters. 

Under pressure from hackers and activists, Ryan broke with most of his fellow republicans and came out against the legislation.