If it were a movie, it would definitely be one worth waiting to see on Netflix. Monday afternoon saw a case of the Internet hype machine gone wildly out of control in which a Twitter account associated with the hacktivist movement Anonymous launched an online boycott of Netflix over the video subscription company’s newly-formed political action committee.
“Dear freedom lovers, @netflix is forming a PAC to push for a new version of SOPA, cancel your sub and go back to pirating!” tweeted @YourAnonNews at about 5 pm ET, referring to Netflix’s political action committee, FLIXPAC, formed over the weekend.
The tweet also referenced the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a piece of anti-online piracy legislation that galvanized the Web against it in January, but which Netflix neither supported nor moved against.
FLIXPAC, it should be noted, hasn’t collected, much less spent, a single cent yet on any cause or candidate.
Still, the outraged tweets of Anonymous-affiliated and supporting users came fast and furious following YourAnonNews’s tweet, with many tweeting screenshots of cancelled Netflix subscriptions.
Many users said they were canceling their accounts due to Netflix’s reported support of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a separate piece of cybersecurity legislation that has been incorrectly conflated SOPA the and PROTECT IP (PIPA), the two major anti-online piracy bills that Web users protested en masse in January, causing them to become indefinitely stalled in Congress.
Netflix attempted to tamp the furor, responded to TPM’s inquiries with the following statement:
“PACs are commonplace for companies that lead a big, growing market and Netflix is no exception. Our PAC is a way for our employees to support candidates that understand our business and technology. It was not set up for the purpose of supporting SOPA or PIPA. Instead, Netflix has engaged on other issues including network neutrality, bandwidth caps, usage based billing and reforming the Video Privacy Protection Act.”
Further, a Netflix spokesperson told TPM: “We’ve seen some coverage somehow linking our PAC to SOPA/PIPA which is baseless (SOPA/PIPA are dead anyway.)”
Netflix refused to confirm or deny if it was a supporter of CISPA, but it should be noted that a host of other major tech companies, including Microsoft, Google and Facebook, have backed the bill, which, again, much differently than SOPA, would give companies the ability to share user information with the government over cybersecurity concerns (not takedown certain websites, as SOPA and PIPA were allowed to do).
In fact, Netflix has repeatedly stated its major, and so far only coherent political goal is to amend the Video Privacy Protection Act, a 1988 law that prohibits video rental companies, like Netflix, from sharing customer information with any third-party, even with written consent from the customer.
Netflix and other lawmakers want this restriction overturned because it currently prohibits Netflix from launching its Facebook app which is ready to go on the technical side, but unable to launch due to the VPPA.
TPM earlier speculated that the Netflix PAC had been formed for this very purpose.
Ironically, Anonymous is attacking Netflix for launching a PAC to do something that would further one of the few common goals shared by the innumerable masses that make up the online hacker group: i.e., increase online access to information, in this case, films. Netflix is one of the few companies that has demonstrated the principle that people will still pay for media online rather than pirate it, as long as the business model is convenient, easy-to-use and relatively cheap.
In fact, Netflix, which only recently expanded to Europe, accounts for the same percentage of Internet traffic in the U.S. as does piracy in Europe, creating a compelling case that if you build “it” — and it happens to be a viable alternative to piracy — they (web users) will come.
Still, at the time of this posting, #OpBoycottNeflix, as it was so referred to on Twitter, showed no signs of slowing down. Stay tuned.