One of the first interviews was with Alexis Ohanian. Ohanian was one of the co-founders of Reddit, a popular social website comprised, in large part, of Internet and technology enthusiasts. Although he sold the company to Conde Nast in 2006, Ohanian has remained heavily involved with the Reddit community, and has frequently referenced this during speaking and news engagements. Both Reddit and Ohanian himself were very active in the debates around SOPA and PIPA; the latter frequently appeared on the news and media circuit and traveled to D.C. to testify before Congress in November 2011. Because of these actions, he was informally declared “Mayor of the Internet” in the summer of 2012 (Greenberg).
Despite this honor, Ohanian has never felt that he formally represents anyone, as nobody has elected him for anything. He did, however, feel he could speak from the perspective of a successful tech entrepreneur. He is adamant that, had the bills been passed years ago, they would have prevented him and his partner from founding Reddit, and that passing them now would similarly stifle future entrepreneurs. As he explained it, company founders would no longer simply need a laptop and Internet connection, but a team of lawyers. As many Web 2.0 startups aggregate data from other websites, they could potentially be classified as “search engines” and fall under the jurisdiction of the bills.
From his perspective, the bills were not formulated with sufficient technical expertise. As he rallied with individuals and organizations, he noted that they crossed political, social, and economic boundaries. “Everyone from MoveOn to Cato” (two politically polar interest groups) was united in opposition to the bills. Ohanian was particularly incensed by a comment from Representative Mel Watt about “not understanding the technology part of this” (covered later).
Ohanian did not mastermind Black Wednesday, or even have much of a role in promoting it. It, and much of the other activity around SOPA, was assisted by the momentum of Reddit and other concerned communities. Ohanian referred to the movement as “leader-full,” in contrast to some who called it leaderless. Individuals became leaders in ways that best helped the cause, and in nontraditional manners. He also made it clear that this was far from the first time that the Reddit community had mobilized around an issue they cared about, referring to a time when they coordinated a campaign to name a whale “Mr. Splashy Pants.” However, he did note that this was the first time Reddit had significantly participated in politics, and seemed to hope that the same type of momentum and decision-making that had characterized Reddit’s actions on SOPA could be used for future bills.
There were several codes that could be found in Ohanian’s interview. One was the notion of “bottom up” – no one was coordinating efforts or telling Redditors how they should protest the bills. A number of small projects, initiatives and plans were devised by a diverse number of participants. Alexis was clear that he never represented anyone, which eschews the notion of a traditional, top-down representation. Another code that emerged was “capability.” The Internet has afforded many capabilities which were previously unavailable – the capability for Alexis to start a company, the capability to make new friends and share interesting content at the click of a button, and the capability for “leader-full” movements to emerge in a concentrated community.
We've already come a long way from January 18th.