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Social media, online protests and SOPA

In what organisers will surely describe as a testament to the democratic power of the internet, plans to approve anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA have been overruled.

Senator Harry Reid and representative Lamar Smith used their positions as leaders in the different houses of government to postpone a vote on PIPA and block SOPA – after 7 million people put their signature to Google's online petition, 2.4 million used Twitter to protest and thousands took to the streets to voice their concern.

Yet despite the importance of the decision of policymakers to change their position on the bills, in the aftermath of the web black-out debate is moving away from discussions over censorship and toward the important role social media can play in politics.

Earlier this week (January 26) news provider The Washington Post ran an article by columnist Vivek Wadhwa on the role popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter have on people's opinions, as well as the distribution of information.

"You're read how Facebook and Twitter fuelled the Arab Spring uprising. You are watching the videos coming out of Syria on Facebook. But most likely you have not witnessed the power of social media impacting politics in near real time here at home in America," he wrote.

In what experts are calling a tipping point in US politics, it seems that the days of politicians' using social media to advance certain agendas is shifting in favour of citizen led causes changing the tone of debates in countries across the globe.

According to Wadhwa the stop PIPA and SOPA protest which led to Wikipedia blacking out the English version of its popular site, the now infamous Google doodle and multiple calls to action from various sites is the "first time a flash mob has ever stopped a bill in its tracks".

And while these bills have been all but taken out of contention, it is still too early to predict whether law makers are really what Facebook calls "pro internet".

Posted by Aimee McBride