Link-sharing website Reddit forced Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to defend his position on the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act on Thursday after the Internet hive-mind pledged its support for his congressional opponent, Democrat Rob Zerban, a harsh critic of the antipiracy legislation.
"Contrary to false reports, Congressman Paul Ryan is not a cosponsor of H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act," said Ryan press secretary Kevin Seifert in a statement. The wrath of Reddit, which was tested recently in a successful boycott of domain registrar Go Daddy for supporting the same legislation, is proving to be more fearsome than one might expect from a website that also trades in kitten photos. This week, Reddit's increasingly ambitious users aimed to unseat a member of Congress who supports SOPA, pointing its attention toward Ryan. “Let’s pick ONE Senator [who] voted for NDAA/SOPA and destroy him like we’re doing for Go Daddy," said one user. As a result, Reddit users began coordinating opposition-research campaigns against Ryan and support for his opponent via a money bomb and widely popular Q&A session.
Today, in an effort to clarify his boss's position, Ryan's flack did not say that the congressman opposes SOPA, a law that gives the federal government expanded powers to order U.S. Internet companies to sever ties with foreign domains that offer copyrighted content such as music and films. "He remains committed to advancing policies that protect free speech and foster innovation online and will continue to follow the House Judiciary Committee's deliberations on this issue carefully," Ryan's spokesman said.
So why are Redditors after him? It's possible they were misled by a letter to a constituent mislabeled by someone unaffiliated with Ryan's campaign "Paul Ryan Supports SOPA," which merely notifies a constituent that Ryan is looking into the issue—not that he supports the bill. As the New York Observer's Adrianne Jeffries points out, the SOPA Track website says that Ryan has not taken any money from "big media" donors who support SOPA. Still, the SOPA Track file appears to be an incomplete log of the financing by SOPA-supporting organizations.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Ryan has received $288,600 from groups that support SOPA and $39,950 from groups that oppose it. Obviously, it's fair to question Ryan on his position on this high-profile issue. Ryan does, however, seem to be an odd target for Reddit, given that other members of Congress have openly supported the bill and that the bill has been shelved until January. Perhaps Reddit activists should wait until Ryan has made up his mind about the bill to go all knives out on the guy?