The Washington Post

With SOPA gone, setting Internet advocacy’s next stop

In January, several tech companies aided by a groundswell of support from communities across the Web fought to derail a pair of online piracy bills — and won.

Since the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP (Intellectual Property) Act ended, there’s been a lot of discussion about where, exactly to direct all that energy.

Reddit and the site’s co-founder Alexis Ohanian have an idea: they’re launching a bus tour that will introduce the Internet itself as a player in the 2012 election.

“The bus will be half-red and half-blue, with ‘Internet 2012’ on the side of it, where the candidate’s name would be,” Ohanian said in an interview with The Washington Post.

The tour kicks off in Denver, Colo. — the site of the first presidential debate — and will conclude in the city that hosts the first vice-presidential debate, Danville, Ky.

It may be an old-school tactic, but Ohanian and the other members of his tour are doing more than taking a road trip. They’ll be on a mission to get protections for Internet openness into the platforms for both parties, meaning that they want to see politicians commit to preserving free expression, access and privacy online.

In 10 days, the bus will make stops across the center of the country, highlighting tech start-ups and success stories that get overlooked because they lack the coastal cool factor.

“We want to find the top Etsy seller in Kansas or the farmers who are using their smartphones to check the crop reports,” said Ohanian. “The tech sector has done a great job telling this story from the coasts, but these will show the true impact the Internet will have on American politics.”

The bus itself won’t be sponsored by any single company but Reddit is footing the bill for, as Reddit general manager Erik Martin puts it, the “boring stuff like gas.” Martin, who will also be on the bus, said that other Web sites such as BuzzFeed will also have a big hand in the tour.

The group will be hosting events at several cities along the way — Greeley, Colo., Lincoln, Neb., Des Moines, Iowa, Lawrence and Kansas City, Kan., St. Louis, Mo., and Lexington, Ky. — to discuss how the open Internet can shape the future of education, small business and, of course, politics.

But the key issue is getting Internet openness on the minds and into the talking points of politicians in this election, Ohanian said.

“I want it to be something that they try to outdo each other on, like transparency,” Ohanian said. “The open Internet needs to be that obvious.”

Related stories:

Internet Defense League starts initiative today

Mars Curiosity team members to do reddit AMA

Wonkblog: Now that SOPA’s dead, five easy ways to reform copyright law

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.



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