One of the things that has interested me watching the SOPA debate evolve is the role of consumers, whether they’re like-minded tech enthusiasts or fans of certain products, in lobbying against the bill. They haven’t always been successful — some SOPA advocates have, for example, dismissed Reddit advocates as a loud but insignificant minority. But it’s not necessarily the reaction of the lobbied that matters in this one. It’s whether, having gotten a taste of activism, fans decide to become forces on other issues.
I’ve been interested for quite some time in communities that do public service and volunteer work based on the principals of their fandom. There’s the Harry Potter Alliance, of course, which grounds its campaigns in Potter-driven values. The Browncoats volunteer groups are inspired by Firefly. AnimeAid got together fans of the genre to raise money and coordinate efforts around Japanese earthquake and tsunami recovery activities. And I suspect that as fandom becomes an increasingly important basis for identity or community, we’ll see more work and organizations along these lines where the values that motivate service are drawn less explicitly from political parties or religious faith and more from powerful fictional texts.
Of course, it’ll be fascinating to see if, and how, these groups scale, and if they develop into ongoing organizations or function more like loose networks that can be activated when issues are on the front-burner, but don’t require as much maintenance in fallow periods. If nothing else, the SOPA debate seems to suggest a generation gap on Internet policy between legislators and consumers that could be usefully filled with education campaigns and citizen lobby visits. On both sides, this is a battle, not the war. And fans have a lot to offer.