This year's internet blackout and the fights against SOPA and PIPA show that the community of the internet, as diverse and weird as it can be, does have a common intrest in keeping the web open for everyone.
Reddit, the popular social news and entertainment website, led the charge for the internet blackout protest and has now embarked on a tour across the middle of the U.S. The Internet 2012 Bus Tour has traveled from the first presidential debate in Denver, Colorado and made its way to Danville, KY, where the vice presidential debate will take place tonight.
Along the way, the tour has held panel discussions highlighting local internet businesses in places such as Lincoln, Nebraska and Des Moines, Iowa. Last night, the tour held its final panel discussion about the "Future of Local Communities" at West Sixth Brewery in Lexington, KY and WebProNews was there to take in the event. The discussion emphasized that the internet is creating jobs all across the country - not just in coastal cities.
Do you or does someone you know have a job that was created by the internet? Tell us about it in the comments.
FARK founder Drew Curtis led the panel, which consisted of Reddit General Manager Erik Martin, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and Michael Beckerman, CEO of The Internet Association, a new policy advocacy group founded by some of the biggest internet companies around.
The panel preached the virtues of the internet, lamenting that politicians too often don't understand the technology or its culture.
"There's no instruction manual, there's no puppet master at the top," said Martin.
"All of the best stuff that has come out of Reddit has come from people that don't work at Reddit," added Ohanian. He pointed out that President Obama's Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) interview took place on a section of the site that was user-created.
It's easy to see how a system with no appointed leaders might seem foreign to politicians. However, those same politicians will soon be making decisions and implementing legislation that could affect the structure and freedom of the internet for decades.
"Politicians saying they don't understand the internet is like someone in 1980 saying they don't understand TV," said Curtis. "That's how long this technology has been around."
Beckerman made a point of stating that internet freedom isn't just about the great content it produces. Those jobs that politicians are always speaking about creating could, given an open internet, be found online.
"It's about jobs and growth, and we're gonna tell policymakers about it," said Beckerman.
The panel also encouraged attendees to build their own local communities and experiment with their own internet startups.
"The communities we have online are not that different from the ones we have offline," said Ohanian.
Zach Cohn, a representative from Startup Weekend, told the crowd that starting their own internet business could be easier than they imagine.
"If you do something, something happens," said Cohn.
Startup Weekend is a global organization that helps individuals and teams create startups in only 54 hours.
After the panel, the tour settled in for beers and more personal chats with the people at the event. Betsy Barrett, the communications director for The Internet Association told WebProNews that the goals of The Internet Association are very similar to those of the Internet 2012 tour.
"We want voters, the public, and congressional members to understand that there is a unified voice, there is a public policy advocacy group on behalf of the internet for internet freedom, for economic development, and for empowering users on the internet," said Barrett.
The Internet Association's policy stances are driven by its members, which include companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
Martin and Ohanian, when chatting with WebProNews, reemphasized that the internet revolution and startups don't have to just benefit New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
"With the internet, you now have the ability to start a company anywhere," said Martin. He went on to explain that successful startups need talented people, money, and a supportive community surrounding them, which are things that could be cultivated in places such as Lexington.
"What we've seen from Denver to Danville is Americans all over care about this issue - they care about internet freedom, and the are going to make their voting decisions based on it," said Ohanian. "So I hope that every politician, no matter what district they represent, no matter what state they represent, knows that their voters are going to care about how they decide the fate of the internet."
How will the issues surrounding internet freedom affect your vote? Let us know in the comments.