Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Letter to My Congressman about SOPA

Dear Representative Thompson,
I'm a Ph.D. student in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis. My emphasis is in post-secondary writing instruction. I have been teaching young people how to critically engage in discourse for over a decade now, and during that time the role of an open internet has become crucial. This is why I oppose SOPA. There are a lot of talking points on both sides of this debate, but I'd like to present you with another point of view by way of comparing my experience as a student to the experience of students today.

When I was an undergraduate, I had to go to the library to do research for a paper. It was a useful exercise, but one problem I didn't have to worry about very often was the authority of the sources I found in the library. I didn't have to hone my critical sensibility because I knew scholars, editors, and librarians had done the sifting and winnowing for me.

Today's students don't live in that world. Thanks to the internet, students have access to much more information than they once had, but the filters that keep information out of the libraries are less important to the research process. Some view this as a problem because students have access to bad information, but that has not been a problem in my experience. The students I work with understand that they need to become the filters - they need to critically evaluate the information that comes their way.

This is a wonderful skill for citizens in a democracy, and it is an open internet that fosters the development of such a skill. Tomorrow's information and media consumer has to become a more critical consumer, a more discerning consumer. They have to be critical because they know that supporters of SOPA are right about one thing: bad things happen on the internet. There are thieves and liars out there, just like there are on Main and Wall Street. But we don't need a government gatekeeper that would shut down avenues of information. Imagine if Wall Street reform was as harsh as SOPA aims to be. What we need is smarter consumers, and the open internet is producing such a consumer.

SOPA's values have unintentional consequences that are undemocratic. Please work to insure the bill does not pass into law.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Hogan Hayes