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Internet Defense League Aims To Be The Web's 'Bat Signal' For Online Protests

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Back in January, thousands of websites, including Wikipedia, went dark to protest legislation in Congress aimed at combating copyright infringement. Opponents of the bills, known as SOPA and PIPA, said the measures amounted to Internet censorship. And as the web protests went viral, many lawmakers retracted their support for the bills.

Now, the organizers behind that protest have formed a new coalition aimed at harnessing the same online organizing muscle to fight other measures believed to threaten online freedoms.

The group is likening itself to the Internet's "bat signal."

The coalition, called the Internet Defense League, was recently formed by the nonprofit Fight for the Future. Tiffany Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future, said the coalition's members thus far include several web companies and activists who reach millions of Internet users, including Alexis Ohanian, founder of the social news site Reddit.

The Internet Defense League set up a website a few weeks ago with a home page that urges visitors to "make sure the Internet never loses. Ever." It adds, "Together, our websites and personal networks can mobilize the planet to defend the Internet from bad laws and monopolies."

"Think of it like the Internet's Emergency Broadcast System, or its bat signal," the home page says.

The group plans to officially launch in two weeks, Cheng said. The Internet Defense League "formalizes the network" of web companies "who want to stand up and protect Internet freedom," she added.

In January, Fight for the Future built code that enabled web companies to demonstrate their opposition to SOPA and PIPA on their home pages. Many websites blocked access to their content for a day to symbolize how, according to them, the anti-piracy bills would have brought about widespread censorship of legitimate content.

Cheng said that Fight for the Future has built a similar tool for members of the Internet Defense League. When the group decides to oppose a piece of legislation, the coalition will alert its network via email and members can plaster action messages on their home pages or social networking profiles at the click of a button, Cheng said.

The league's members can also embed contact forms on their websites so visitors can write to members of Congress to oppose the legislation.

"Now we can deploy that kind of power and reach at a moment's notice," she said.

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