Yesterday, we witnessed the power of the Internet to influence policy, as countless websites went dark to protest SOPA and PIPA. It did the job: Congress faced an onslaught of complaints about the controversial online piracy measures—which were born of traditional lobbying and heavy corporate spending, writes James Temple in the San Francisco Chronicle. When even some of the bill's GOP backers backed away in the online maelstrom, we saw "a fundamental shift in the legislative landscape, a flexing of a newfound and untraditional source of political power in the Internet sector."
Says a Democratic social media adviser: "I think the Web is politically coming of age. We’re seeing a line being crossed and I don’t think it will be the same from now on." But that raises a new set of issues: What if Internet bigwigs use this new power to their own advantage—say, Facebook launching a campaign against privacy regulations? Experts counter that this round of protests caught on because the concerns broadly resonated. “An open, free, vital, and vibrant Web is really what energizes people,” says one. “The idea of worrying about the profits of some media company isn’t going to turn people on.” (Read more SOPA stories.)