Advocacy Professionals Still Learning from SOPA/PIPA Campaign

Recently, the Congressional Management Foundation hosted a webinar as part of their Partnership for a More Perfect Union. CMF recently completed a 5 month study on the campaign to defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The purpose of the study and subsequent webinar was to identify the differences in strategy between the battle against SOPA/PIPA and other high profile issues. What  Three points made in the webinar stood out in particular:


Arguments that touch upon an individual’s belief system are essential in getting citizens involved in public policy. Words such as “restriction” and “censorship” paint a disconcerting picture of oppression – a picture that is in direct conflict with the beliefs of many Americans. By keying in on terms that were guaranteed to drum up emotional responses by citizens, organizations opposing SOPA/PIPA created a support base ready to work for their cause.


Certain opponents of SOPA/PIPA, including Wikipedia and Google, closed down their websites for an entire day to demonstrate to citizens the harsh realities that could come as a result of the legislation. Supporters of SOPA/PIPA neglected this approach. If Walt Disney had presented Mickey Mouse to movie goers with the message that tickets could double in price due to internet piracy unless they support SOPA/PIPA, things may have been different. The results of this tactic were impressive: 11 Senate and 9 House members flipped their stance on SOPA/PIPA within three days of the blackouts.


The timing of the stunt described above was impeccable. It received publicity by most major news outlets, drawing a great deal of attention to the legislation only a week before it would be voted on by the Senate. Citizens rushed to their phones, sent mail and signed petitions to voice their concerns. In turn, the voice of the opposition to SOPA/PIPA was fresh in the minds of lawmakers just prior to voting.

The combination of connecting to a belief system, self-induced censorship and great timing produced an effective strategy for calling a large support base to action. The result was confirmation that established advocacy tactics, when partnered with the technology at our disposal, remain our primary tools in influencing public policy.

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