What SOPA And PIPA Mean For Women

Here's what women need to know about the proposed bills and blackout -- and why we stand to be disproportionately affected.
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How many of us check Facebook every day? Get tweets sent to our phone or use Google to locate a restaurant or Paypal to purchase something we bought on eBay? Check Wikipedia for quick background on a company before an interview we scored on LinkedIn? What if, for an entire day, none of these sites we use so much was available?

This scenario came very close to being tested and tomorrow, a part of this altered Internet vision will become reality as Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing say they are going black to raise awareness about two controversial pieces of legislation, The Protect IP Act, or PIPA, in the Senate, and the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, in the House, that would expand the power of the US government online, in part by preventing sites suspected of intellectual property theft from appearing in your search engine results. The blackout, which Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced on Twitter, could have been even more widespread: Before the house's decision yesterday to kill the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, a group of websites that many of us visit on a daily basis -- including Facebook, Google, Paypal, eBay and LinkedIn -- were also contemplating a day-long blackout.

As we anticipate Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing going dark tomorrow and the Senate's January 24the vote on PIPA, it's worth noting that both stand to impact women in specific ways, for specific reasons:

1. Women use social media more than men
A 2011 PEW Report found that 69 percent of women use social media compared to only 60 percent of men, and that women use it more frequently, too -- almost half of female Internet users log onto social networking sites daily (48 percent) compared with 38 percent of male Internet users. A day-long blackout of Twitter and Facebook alone would have affected women more than men.

2. We use social media to connect with friends and family more than men
A May 2011 study by Digitel found that women now use social media more than the phone to communicate with friends and family, especially when compared to men: 68 percent of women use social media to stay in touch with friends, compared with 54 percent of men, and 60 percent of women use it to stay in touch with family compared to only 42 percent of men. A blackout would have taken away a major connecting force for women and their support networks.

3. For lots of women, a blog is a lifeline (and a source of income)
There are 3.9 million mom bloggers out there, according to emarketer.com, and for many, their blogs are both a way of connecting to other women outside their homes, jobs, and (sometimes remote) geographic locales and a source of income from advertisers and sponsors.

According to Mediabistro, if SOPA had passed, "Even if your piece does not include anything that could be considered copyright infringing, if it links to a source that does -- a source as innocuous as a YouTube video or a Tumblr post -- your entire article could be blocked from the Internet in the US." The risk of having their sites blocked could conceivably cause some of these bloggers to call it quits, losing cash and the constant community the mom blogosphere provides.

4. PIPA could prevent future great memes like "Hey, Girl" from seeing the light of day -- or being created at all
Some of our favorites memes this year were created by Internet users building on media images to make something new that made us think or at least laugh, but in her New York Times Op-Ed "Stop The Great Firewall of America," Rebecca MacKinnon made some disturbing comparisons between SOPA and Chinese censorship -- a form of social control the US has publicly criticized.

MacKinnon wrote that SOPA "would also emulate China's system of corporate "self-discipline," making companies liable for users' actions. The burden would be on the Web site operator to prove that the site was not being used for copyright infringement. The effect on user-generated sites like YouTube would be chilling."

What do you think? Is PIPA an effective way of ensuring against online piracy? If not, is a self-imposed blackout of social media and other sites the best way to protest it?


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