By Mike Masnick, Techdirt.com
We usually strive to come up with our own headlines for posts on Techdirt, but Joshua Kopstein's post on Motherboard.tv has such a perfect title that we're reusing it here: Dear Congress, It's No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works. The point, which was driving so many of us mad watching the SOPA (Stop Internet Piracy Act) hearings, is how head-bangingly frustrating it is to see elected officials gleefully admit they don't understand the technology they're about to regulate:
I remember fondly the days when we were all tickled pink by our elected officials’ struggle to understand how the internet works. Whether it was George W. Bush referring to “the internets” or Senator Ted Stevens describing said internets as “a series of tubes,” we would sit back and chortle at our well-meaning but horribly uninformed representatives, confident that the right people would eventually steer them back on course. Well I have news for members of Congress: Those days are over.
We get it. You think you can be cute and old-fashioned by openly admitting that you don’t know what a DNS server is. You relish in the opportunity to put on a half-cocked smile and ask to skip over the techno-jargon, conveniently masking your ignorance by making yourselves seem better aligned with the average American joe or jane — the “non-nerds” among us.
But this isn't about looking cute and folksy. The internet matters. A lot.
But to anyone of moderate intelligence that tuned in to yesterday’s Congressional mark-up of SOPA, the legislation that seeks to fundamentally change how the internet works, you kind of just looked like a bunch of jack-asses.
Kopstein goes into a lot more (worthwhile, go read it) detail about the bill, about the gleeful ignorance of some Judiciary Committee members, and then concludes:
This used to be funny, but now it’s really just terrifying. We’re dealing with legislation that will completely change the face of the internet and free speech for years to come. Yet here we are, still at the mercy of underachieving Congressional know-nothings that have more in common with the slacker students sitting in the back of math class than elected representatives. The fact that some of the people charged with representing us must be dragged kicking and screaming out of their complacency on such matters is no longer endearing — it’s just pathetic and sad.
This is a key point. Unfortunately, I've see way too many people supporting SOPA (especially among the lobbyist crew) act as if this is just some sort of game, where the goal is to "win." That's how DC politics works, but it doesn't take into account the very real impact of the damage that they're doing. If you're regulating the internet, it should at least be a pre-requisite that you are willing to understand the technology, or that you abstain from taking part in voting on (or writing) bills if you don't understand it. It's not funny. It's not cute. It's terrifying and it impacts us all.
So the real question is what is the way forward on this kind of thing? One would be to elect more technically savvy folks to Congress, but that's always difficult (and lots of tech savvy folks would rather be working in tech). Another would be to better educate those who are in Congress. Some of us are already working on that front with things like Engine Advocacy, but having more help and more voices would be a good thing.
Other than that, I think we should just make it clear to elected officials that people won't tolerate them gleefully displaying ignorance on issues that they're about to vote on. When Rep. Mel Watt declares proudly that he doesn't understand the technology, and then says he just doesn't believe the huge group of internet engineers who warn about the negative impacts of SOPA, he shouldn't get a free pass on that. The public needs to let him know that that's unacceptable from an elected official.
Things like this won't change overnight, but by making it clear that such things won't be tolerated by the voting public, we can at least start to influence the debate in a meaningful way. So speak up. When you see an elected official being purposely ignorant or cracking jokes about their ignorance tell them that they need to be educated and help them get that education.