“Operation Chokehold” and the Protest Ethics Checklist

Some disgruntled iPhone users are trying to organize a protest by paralyzing the ATT network with a flood of data this Friday. The mastermind is the so-called “fake Steve Jobs,” Dan Lyons, who calls his protest “Operation Chokehold.”

Blogger Lauren Weinstein [special thanks to Gabe Goldberg for the tip] has effectively identified this juvenile plan for what it is, namely “childish, stupid, irresponsible, and potentially extremely dangerous.”  More than just iPhone users depend on the network, but as is usually the case, the protestors  don’t care about collateral damage or inconvenience to the innocent. Indeed, they often like it and strive for it, since this increases publicity, shows “results,” and, they hope, provokes those who are unfairly affected to blame the protesters’ real targets, rather than the protesters themselves.

This isn’t exactly terrorism, but it’s terrorism’s less deadly, annoying cousin. I am still angry about  having my freshman year in college partially wasted because some members of the SDS felt that stopping classes at Harvard was somehow going to end the Vietnam War, an arrogant and self-serving theory if there ever was one. I recall being stuck in a four hour traffic jam because some farmers felt that jamming Washington, D.C. traffic with tractors was a good way to protect their subsidies.

Such “protests” are really like coordinated screams of frustration, and just as effective. For me, and I suspect many others, they are usually counter-productive. Showing a complete lack of respect and concern for my priorities is not likely to make me take a protester’s cause to heart, and may well accomplish the opposite.

Protesters, no matter what they are protesting, have an ethical duty to ask themselves these ten questions before they stop traffic, jam networks, take over buildings or otherwise make life miserable for people who have little or nothing to do with what is being protested:

  1. Is this protest necessary?
  2. Is the means of protest appropriate to the objective?
  3. Is there a significant chance that it will achieve your objective or contribute to doing so?
  4. What will this protest cost, and who will have to pay the bill?
  5. Will the individuals or organizations that are the targets of the protest also be the ones who will most powerfully feel its effects?
  6. Will innocent people will be adversely affected by this action? (If so, how many?)
  7. Is there a significant possibility that anyone will be hurt or harmed? (if so, how seriously? How many people?)
  8. Is the motive for the protest personal, selfish, or narrow?
  9. Are you and your group prepared to take full responsibility for the consequences of the protest?
  10. Would an objective person feel that the protest is fair, reasonable, and proportional to its goal?

Most protests honestly evaluated by these questions will fail to justify themselves logically, practically or ethically.

In other words, most protests—including “Operation Chokehold.”

3 thoughts on ““Operation Chokehold” and the Protest Ethics Checklist

  1. I am torn on this one. Yes, the protest is stupid and dangerous. Also, some type of action is warranted and the protesters don’t see any other option. I have AT&T wireless ‘service’ and I understand where they are coming from. When it was Cingular, everything was fine. Once it was AT&T, everything went downhill. Last year ~50% of my calls wouldn’t go though (press dial and it just beeps, no ring). That was annoying. I would sometimes have to redial 3 or 4 times. Now, about 75% of my local calls get dropped after 2-3 minutes and I have to redial. It isn’t just me, its everyone around here. We are stuck in the contract and can’t afford the $600 up front to break it to move to another carrier (I pay a lot less than iPhone users). The problem is that AT&T got the iPhone and the other smartphones, has forced everyone with them to get data plans, and now they are using them. AT&T never realized (or doesn’t care about) the increase in bandwidth required to do this, so now you have terrible or nonexistent service. The iPhone users are paying $100/month for this.

    What are the options?
    • Complain to AT&T: Done, they either ignore the problem or claim it is temporary. Their main strategy is to try to keep disputing the surveys that show they have the worst service (successfully got our local TV stations to lie about the latest survey)
    • Switch carriers: You are locked in a contract and if you have multiple phones, it means paying several hundred for an unlocked phone to wait for the service contracts to all expire in some years (the phones often don’t last over 2 years). They have raised the rates on breaking the contract. If you like your iPhone, you will have to give it up because AT&T in the exclusive carrier in the US.
    •Complain to Congress or the FCC to force AT&T to improver service. OK sure.
    • Set up a website about how lousy AT&T’s service is. Redundant.
    • Sue AT&T: When I win the lottery so I can afford to blow $100,000 on an attorney for such a use, sure.

    Yes their protest idea is childish, stupid, and unethical. The question is, is there a practical, ethical method that will get the problem fixed without them having to wait out their contracts and give up their iPhones?

    They have my sympathy, but not my support.

    • The right option is to sue, and it wouldn’t cost you any money at all. If the situation is as bad as you describe, then it is a mega-million dollar class action suit ripe for the picking. I’ll bet anything that several trail lawyers are working up one right now. The lawyer(s) in such a suit stand to make millions…this is the kind of situation class suits were made for.

      • You could sue, but on what basis do you sue, how do you prove your point, and would it make any difference even if you won?

        •The cell phone service contract does not specify the level of service that you will receive.
        •It is very difficult to prove bad service nationwide and people even disagree about what bad service is.
        •AT&T has suggested they will fix the problem by eliminating unlimited data plans, making everyone pay by the kB, and jacking the price up until service improves (by people no longer using it). That would likely kill the lawsuit and make the fancy smartphones useless.
        •If you did manage to push it through, after years of litigation, the settlement would likely be a $25 gift certificate good toward your next phone upgrade through AT&T mobility.
        •Judges are notoriously tech-unsavy and seem to have difficulty doing math. Look at all of the patent infringement lawsuits against Microsoft. Microsoft would steal someone’s patented technology, run them out of business, make $10 billion, get sued, and gladly pay the $100 million verdict (less than the patent royalties would have been). It was their business plan.
        •You are right about one thing, the lawyers would make a killing.

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