TLDR: Using deception to promote a noble cause undermines you and the cause.
Yesterday the organization “Fight for the Future” attempted to organize a “massive online protest” against the NSA’s constitutional transgressions. It seems like many people are upset at the deception surrounding the NSA and the companies who bend over backwards to service their various voyeuristic desires.
So then, does it not seem perhaps a tad hypocritical that Fight for the Future used various deceptive tactics of its own to fool and mislead the public about the size and nature of its “massive online protest”?
Here is a quote from a hype piece written by Tiffiniy Cheng, one of the organizers working with Fight to the Future, that ran on the Huffington Post the morning the protests were supposed to happen (some emphasis added):
To amplify the street protests, the Internet Defense League, which is the formidable network of websites that emerged victorious from the now-infamous SOPA blackout, has raised the “Cat Signal” — its warning beacon for the Internet. Thousands of websites, celebrities, and organizations will be posting the 4th Amendment on the web, including some of the biggest names on the web: WordPress (which serves up 18% of all websites), 4chan, Imgur, Reddit, Mozilla, Internet Association, Fark, TOR Project, Cheezburger, Namecheap, O’Reilly Media, MoveOn, Avaaz, Upworthy, ACLU, and EFF.
We liken today to the first protests that got us to the SOPA blackout and ultimately, the shelving of SOPA and PIPA; American Censorship Day took place 2 months before the blackout and was responsible for making SOPA a household term. It took a lot to defeat SOPA, but it was just one law.
Exciting! I remember participating in the SOPA blackout! Thousands of organizations, including heavy hitters like Wikipedia, succeeded in blocking the legislation by blacking out large portions of their site in protest. That was a spectacular moment of global unity that I, and many others, remember to this day.
Would this be something like that?
Cheng’s pieces seemed to suggest it would be, but with the twist that visitors would see the text of the 4th Amendment instead of a blacked out page. This CNET piece, prominently linked to from Fight for the Future’s campaign website, gave more details:
Reddit, Mozilla, EFF and more join July 4th anti-NSA protests
Rather than going black, like many sites did during the 2012 protests of Congress’ Stop Online Privacy Act, or SOPA, these sites will prominently display a Fourth Amendment banner. The banner will quote the text of the amendment, which says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
Additionally, site visitors will be asked to sign an online petition, e-mail Congress, or join street protests. A group called Restore the Fourth is organizing the street demonstrations in nearly 100 U.S. cities, including New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.
Indeed, some websites listed on Fight for the Future’s campaign site displayed some sort of prominent banner to visitors in a show of solidarity with the campaign (e.g. 4chan).
Although the campaign positioned itself as “the largest online protest since SOPA,” fully HALF of the “heavy hitters” did not modify their websites for the campaign. Among the non-participants, Reddit and Imgur apparently had an ad cycling through their adbox referencing the campaign, but that’s certainly not an indication of participation in the campaign as it was presented by Fight for the Future.
These were the heavy hitters listed as participating and endorsing the campaign on Fight for the Future’s website:
And this is who actually participated:
Fight for the Future may be forgiven for their pie-in-the-sky article on the HuffPo that promised the participation of organizations who ended up sitting on the sidelines. There may in fact have been agreements or implied (mis)understandings to that effect before the campaign started. However, as the day wore on, it should have become clear to them that half of their star participants weren’t participating, and therefore continuing to list them on the campaign site was the wrong thing to do.
I shot them an email requesting that they remove the non-participating sites, but they refused.
OK, but so what?
If you run an organization that purports to stand for a noble and “good” cause, then acting in a deceptive and manipulative way (read: “non-noble”) reeks of hypocrisy. It’s always in your best interest to behave with integrity. Any failure to do so will result in disillusionment, finger-pointing from the other side (or your own), and will undermine your ability to lead, because leadership demands respect. Few people respect you when you use deception to try to get them to join your group, or to take some action.
This disrespect and disillusionment weakens the organization and its cause. People stop taking it seriously, whether they support the cause or not.
It would’ve been better, I think, for FFTF to present their campaign honestly and with integrity.
In the end, it seems FFTF might have tried to redeem themselves a bit. In an email sent out to their mailing list at the end of the day, they refrained from mentioning Reddit, Mozilla, WordPress, or any of the other star non-participants:
The campaign site, however, remains unchanged.
What impression will people who see this campaign walk away with? Some might be fooled, however others will focus on the missing “star participants,” and then turn away from the stench of a campaign full of manipulation and dishonesty that tries to hijack the reputation of other organizations to bolster its cause, instead of allowing the cause to stand on its own merit.
As much as I support this cause, I don’t want to associate Tao Effect with an organization that would mislead and lie to its own base. That’s why I took down their banner code from our websites, and why you won’t see any of the “Internet Defense League” badges on our site.