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Can online activists eliminate politicians that don’t understand the Internet?

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On the heels of the failed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bill, Democratic Rep. John Mizuno of Oahu, Hawaii recently introduced a new bill (H.B. 2288) that would require Internet service providers to track all “Internet destination history information” as well as “subscriber’s name and address” for a period of two years. Due to the vague language of the bill, the law would have required all businesses in Hawaii that provide a Wi-Fi network to track user activity. While this change would certainly effect any Hawaii resident that subscribes to Internet service, the six million tourists that visit the state each year would be subject to online tracking through hotels, coffee shops and other public Wi-Fi areas. 

kim-pine-siteAs mentioned within a CNET interview, the bill was partially inspired by Oahu Republican Kymberly Pine’s experience with a political attack site called KymPineIsACrook.com. The site was created by web designer Eric Ryan, a disgruntled contractor that claims Pine owes him money for site-building services. While Pine stated that the bill would give “prosecutors the tools to ensure justice is served for victims,” it’s clear that the bill was partly motivated by Ryan’s actions and Pine’s own feelings of victimization.  

However, the bill didn’t include any stipulations on how this data should be utilized or protected. For instance, there was no measure put forth that would require law enforcement professionals to obtain a warrant to investigate the recorded online activity of a resident or tourist. There was no specific language outlining how the data could be used by ISPs either. An ISP could choose to sell the data to an online advertiser, for example. While the politicians behind the bill claimed that tracking this data would reduce crime, it’s clear from the simplistic wording of the proposal that there’s a fundamental lack of knowledge on how the Internet works.

Enter Reddit

reddit-alienWhile many people chuckled at comments made by former senator Ted Stevens on how the Internet works in 2006, recent hearings regarding SOPA and PIPA have shown that many Congressional representatives still don’t understand the Internet, including the ranking member on the intellectual property sub-committee.

Capturing the problem succinctly, Joshua Kopstein of Vice.com recently statedThis 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.”

Announced in an official press release yesterday, a Political Action Committee (PAC) by the name of “Test PAC” has been created by members of Reddit, a popular social news site that’s gained recent press after successfully pressuring politicians to declare opposition to SOPA and PIPA. While Stephen Colbert has recently brought more attention to the loose legal restrictions around SuperPACs, the PAC allows individuals to contribute up to $5,000 a year. While corporations and unions cannot directly contribute to a PAC, they can pay for the administrative costs of a PAC as well as ask for contributions from employees of the organization. A PAC also has to report all financial contributions to the Federal Election Commission and that information is eventually made public. 

Using the money contributed to Test PAC, Reddit users will be able to direct how the money is going to be spent in support or against various political candidates with direct contributions to campaigns or political advertisements on television. The three main members of Test PAC are treasurer Andrew Posterick (ajpos), chairman Jeromie Whalen (Jeromiewhalen) and lead advisor Scott Bloomberg (masstermind). Posterick outlined the launch and all elements of Test PAC last week in an announcement post and mentioned that Reddit general manger Erik Martin was aware of the group’s efforts. At the time of this article, Test PAC has raised approximately $3,000 and Reddit community members are encouraged to participate within the /r/rpac subreddit.

Interview with Test PAC Treasurer

Andrew-poterickOver an email exchange earlier today, Andrew Posterick was kind enough to respond to a few of our questions regarding the launch of Test PAC.

DT:  How will the voting process on Reddit work? Will the majority opinion on Reddit decide the PAC’s political stance, positions?

Posterick: Test PAC’s voting will be done outside on our website. We have some initial requirements for voters to make sure you are real and not trying to game us, but after going through security, it’s pretty easy. Voters will login and be taken to a voting section of the site with polls about the direction of the PAC. We will use a preferential voting system, Schulze Method, to determine the winner of a poll. Things we might vote about are anything regarding the PAC: how we will spend money, changes to our bylaws, or electing new officers. There’s some math behind it, but it won’t necessary be a majority opinion that wins, but the “most favored.”

DT:  Was the creation of the PAC influenced or inspired by Stephen Colbert’s coverage and involvement with SuperPACs?

Posterick: Stephen Colbert inspired a lot of Redditors to ask “should Reddit have a SuperPAC?” I used that momentum to start the PAC, and I don’t think we would have received the response that we did if he hadn’t made PACs a national issue. That being said, his press has also lead a lot of people to mistakenly think that we are a SuperPAC. We are a “non-connected PAC” and have different limitations on us than a SuperPAC.

DT:  What’s your opinion on the recent trend of political candidates reaching out to Reddit through IAMAs? (Ask Me Anything)

Posterick: I’m pleased with the results, but I think we have a long way to go before we can say that the political arena represents internet users the way that it should. I think Redditors should subscribe to /r/runforit and keep the possibility of running for office in the back of their minds at all time. When nobody in Washington really represents you, you might have to represent yourself. As far as the politicians from “outside” of Reddit who have visited us, I think it shows that we’re getting to be a strength that is hard to ignore (despite the phrase in our PAC’s name).

lamar-smith-congressDT:  Are there any candidates that the PAC will support? Are there any candidates that the PAC will rally against?

Posterick: The only thing I can say for sure is that we will be supporting and opposing candidates on both sides of the aisle. I think you can reasonably expect the PAC to support Reddit’s candidates who post in /r/runforit – Dr. Michael Ham (NM), Sean Closson (NM), Peter Marchetti (VA), and others. I also think those who supported SOPA/PIPA or who have been lobbied extensively by the entertainment industry will be targets:  Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Al Franken (D-MN), and Lamar Smith (R-TX) come to mind. Those are three big targets, though, and since we are a low-budget operation for now, I think we will be picking a few key targets and setting reasonable goals. It’s still too early to see.