Why SOPA-Supporting News Networks Don't Mention SOPA At All

A study by MediaMatters confirmed the gut feeling we all had: there is indeed a mainstream media blackout going on over the SOPA law that would censor the Internet in the United States. It’s not just a gut feeling, it’s happening.

The good folks at MediaMatters just list the facts without going into causes: if a news station is owned by a SOPA-supporting company, it does not mention SOPA as a matter of fact. Techdirt points to how badly the SOPA discourse fits media logic. I think it’s easier than that. It’s about the age-old power of information advantage, and it is in their strategic business interest to keep this off the newsradar.

To put this in context, we need to look at the concept of functional literacy and then compare to a recent situation in Italy.

What’s “Functional Literacy”?

There is this concept of functional literacy that goes a little bit above literacy, which is “the ability to read” in all simplicity. Functional literacy, however, is a meter of whether you are able to read well enough to take in the information you need in your daily life and take part in society.

The people who are literate but not functionally literate can read and parse this:

I am hungry.

The other football team won.

However, they cannot read and parse this (regardless of eventual solving capability):

Assuming that wood pieces weigh 2.0 kg, and that all rodents can sustain an average throwing force of 2.0 kN for 1.0 seconds per piece until their energy reserves of 0.50 MJ are depleted, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood?

Also, perhaps a better meter, functionally illiterate people would be incapable of reading and understanding this very article, and in particular, of correlating it to their daily life. They can’t read job ads, banking statements, past-due notices, or any political discourse.

Why is this relevant?

It is relevant because the rates of functional illiteracy are higher than you would expect in the industrialized parts of the world. Much higher, in fact. Approaching 50%.

In Italy, I was told that the functional illiteracy rate there was 43%. While this was a word-of-mouth number, I quickly located a CBS report saying that the rate in Detroit is 47%, picking a random major city when searching for the United States. Granted, Detroit is a past-due-date industrial city, but if I had told you that half of Detroiters can’t read this article, would you have believed me?

This means that roughly half the US population don’t just get all their news from TV, but that they are also incapable of seeking other news sources such as newspapers or the net. This puts television news broadcasts in a particularly privileged position, becoming the well of truth.

Let’s view this in the light of what just happened in Italy.

Berlusconi’s Last Stand

There was a referendum in Italy recently about revoking a certain legal immunity for Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister, an immunity that he had uptothere enjoyed. To understand Italy’s context, in order for a referendum to pass, it requires a majority of “yes” votes — but it also requires over 50% of voter turnout.

That means there are two ways to defeat a referendum in Italy: keep the “no” votes up, or keep voter turnout down. So assuming you’re running a country with 43% functional illiteracy and don’t want a referendum to pass, and you also just happen to own six out of the seven television networks as Berlusconi does, what is the result?

On these six television networks, the referendum was simply not mentioned. Not once. Deemed not newsworthy.

At the end of the day, this enraged the Italian people enough to bump voter turnout over 50% anyway, and the referendum passed. Very shortly thereafter, having had his immunity revoked, Berlusconi stepped down.

Are we starting to see parallels to the SOPA blackout yet?


If you control what other people know, if you control the village newswell, then you control the entire village. The Catholic Church was in this privileged position before the printing press (which is also why they demanded harsher and harsher penalties — up to and including the death penalty — for unauthorized copying of knowledge in their time).

The one thing that can threaten TV news networks is the Internet and the ability for people to communicate directly, bypassing the judgment of the now-famous 1% to determine what knowledge befits the masses. We learn from history that all such power is always used to maintain and strengthen itself first. So, SOPA basically kills that ability of the everyday person to bypass the 1%.

Therefore, it is in the economic and political interest of today’s newswells to kill a strategic threat to their privileged position, and to act just like Berlusconi did in Italy: to actively not bring the topic up onto people’s radar.

In other words, Corporate United States is just as corrupt as Berlusconi’s Italy was, and is acting just like the Catholic Church did when they tried to kill the printing press.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. A

    >birds can[…]


    1. Rick Falkvinge

      Oops. Thanks, I always thought it was a woodpecker-type bird. Fixing.

  2. steelneck

    Remember the swineflu and the panic around that?

    Among the board members of GlaxoSmithKline, one of the biggest producers of vacine, we could find names like James Murdoch (son to Rupert) and Deryk Maughan who also sat at the board of Reuters, but also Robert Wilson connected to the Economist group. The media created panic over a quite mild flu compared to those we are used to, show the power of these media moguls. Compared to Murdoch even Berlusconi is a small player globally.

    Rupert Murdoch, controlling a big chunk of global news media, said back in 2009 “The current days of the internet will soon be over.” And not surprsing, Rupert and his NewsCorp supports SOPA today.

  3. steelneck

    I do not know if you remember this but back in the early eighties there was discussions, or maybe alarmbells ringing about media concentration. People engaged in those discussions can toady say -We told you so- We can se this pattern repeating itself more and more lately, how those warning about consequences get ignored and afterwards get proven right, with the euro as an ongoing example. Much of it goes back to that media concentration where big corporations get more power through control of information and news.

    But i do not buy into the thing about “functional literacy” at that level, the mental mechanisms behind that is very much about social psychology and how we function as human beings. It is not that people do not understand, they do if want to. It is more like a “Niemuller effect” and people who just go around trying to live their life comfortable brushing away mentally threating things leading to system justification and even double speak to solve dissonance, and of course also a moment of the Plato cave in combination with social things connected to career and the conformity loosely required by that.

    Add to this a bit of surveillance and you create hords of apparatniks who just obey order without thinking for them self and take responsibility, that in turn creates an extreme top control but also inability to react on the unexpected since everyone just obey order and do not act on their own (taking resonsibility). In a very controlled environment, people tend to abdicate responsibility. Among those labelled apparatnik i guess the functional illiteracy is close to 100% unless the text in question can be regarded as instructions coming from above in the hierachy.

    This is is to a large extent what happened behind the iron wall in the east block. They had all the resources, manpower and knowledge. They was leading the space-race initially and could have placed a man on the moon, they built the first space-station, they produced world class weapons, they built nuclear power plants very early and they developed top class health care tech, even did eye surgery with laser in the seventies. But all this development where ordered from top down. This is why they could do all that but still not able to fix decent standards in everyday life, they where just obeying orders not taking any kind of personal responsibility. Remember, the classic excuse to weasel out of responsibility is the phrase: But i was only obeying order..

    In the eastern block media was also _very_ concentrated.

    1. PiratGurra

      There’s a song about that media effect… Media Overkill by the Scorpions from -88. 🙂

      Power concentration is just as equally bad in Communist as Corporate monopolies. It all boils down to human nature – you don’t wanna lose the power you’ve obtained – no matter if you’re a Corporate monopolist or a Communist one.

      The cure is decentralization technologies made possible with the Internet.

      1. Rick Falkvinge

        Which is exactly why those in the current control want to kill that “cure”, as it is medicine against themselves.

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