Concerned over potential threats to First Amendment, the Online News Association joins opposition to SOPA

The Online News Association (ONA) announced that it is joining mounting opposition to the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), arguing that the bill "would inappropriately shut down websites, disrupt the free flow of legitimate information and limit Americans from fully exercising their First Amendment rights," not to mention put at risk the future of social media and user-generated content, ONA said in a letter from its president dated Thursday, Jan. 5.

Already the American Society of News Editors has come out against SOPA, which critics contend will censor the Internet and threaten free speech. The unpopular bill would require search engines and Internet providers to prohibit access to websites containing pirated content, which the online community says amounts to online censorship.

Poynter offers a good analysis of "what journalists need to know about SOPA," with some experts arguing that "journalists should be in favor of helping to protect the content that they create," while others worry that "allowing a court to decide whether content or a website should be blocked opens the door wider so that judges could decide who is and is not a journalist."

As James Losey, a policy analyst with the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative, told Poynter, SOPA "represents too much control over what information flows online...This is not a copyright debate anymore. This legislation goes directly to tampering with how people use the Internet each and every day. It goes to how we mediate with our government and how we relate to our news. … If you start tampering with the basic interaction with the Internet and undermining free speech, you are effectively tampering with all aspects of online life, including access to information.”

Meanwhile, Facebook, Twitter and Google have endorsed an alternate bill, known as the OPEN Act, which "would direct online patent infringement claims against foreign websites to the International Trade Commission (ITC), which would be authorized to order online ad networks and payment processors to sever ties with the rogue foreign sites," according to The Hill.

Already Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has proposed temporarily shutting down Wikipedia to protest SOPA, according to the Telegraph, and rumors abound that Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other Internet-based companies will choose a "nuclear option" and "go simultaneously dark to protest the legislation to highlight the fundamental danger the legislation poses to the function of the internet," reported ExtremeTech.

Congress is expected to resume debate on SOPA Jan. 24.