How to Fight Bad Policy, Make Enemies and Have Fun Doing It
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because domain disruption is sneaky, subversive and fun.
Will there soon be a “registry for Muslims” in the United States? The president-elect has walked back some of the support he gave the idea during his campaign, but some in his circle have suggested otherwise. One thing is certain: MuslimRegistry.com is off the market.
“I’m looking for it to be a premier destination for those who are looking to register Muslims,” says Gus Mayopoulos, a 24-year-old who bought the domain last week in an act of political protest. Visitors won’t be able to register anyone, but “perhaps they’ll have shared a little about themselves” — including an address where Mayopoulos could deluge them with information on distinguished Muslim-American veterans and the Southern Poverty Law Center. All of which points to a new tool in the dissenter’s kit: buying up domain names for policies you oppose.
Yes, it’s far pricier than picketing or tossing up a #notmypresident — Mayopoulos paid nearly $900 for his domain — but it has certain virtues. As forms of protest go, domain-name disruption has a wider appeal than most, and is right-sized for today’s single-issue voter. Believe that cities should prosecute illegal immigrants? Snatch up SanctuaryCities.com for about $2,600, and fill it with all the misinformation you want. Want to troll the plan for that big, beautiful wall on America’s southern border? MexicoWall.com could be yours for about $7,000. While officials can make a dot-gov version, dot-coms will still distract and gain their own (un)fair share of visitors.
Domain-name disruption is a prime example of “culture jamming,” the tactic of disrupting communications. In 2011, the Yes Men snatched up GEnewscenter.com — made to look like the actual General Electric site — to falsely announce the company would donate billions of their tax refunds. Nick Fuller, a spokesperson at domain manager GoDaddy, says that purchases of politically themed domain names grow during election cycles, but buyers often do it in jest: WhiteHouse.com for a time famously redirected to a porn site. Sometimes it’s more legit business than a side hustle: Domain sales hit $3.3 billion in 2013 and are growing at 6 percent a year, double the rate from before 2013, according to market research firm IBISWorld. One person buys up “Proposition” domain names and leases them out when the time’s right. “He made a business out of it,” Fuller says.
There are restrictions on purchases, at least on GoDaddy — domain names that promote or encourage illegal activity or promote, encourage or engage in terrorism, violence against people, animals or property are a no-go, Fuller says. But ideologically charged internet warfare? Apparently that’s OK at the highest levels. When President-elect Trump scuffled with former Gov. Jeb Bush in the Republican primaries, Trump took his domain name so JebBush.com redirected to Trump’s own campaign. A critic of Carly Fiorina bought CarlyFiorina.org — and added 30,000 frowny faces to represent every employee who was laid off when she served as Hewlett-Packard CEO.
As for MuslimRegistry.com, it’s just “a chance to intercept,” says Mayopoulos. So whatever your politics, this holiday season, it’s time to give yourself the gift of a flashy URL, tied to a policy you can’t stand.