How to Fight Bad Policy, Make Enemies and Have Fun Doing It
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because domain disruption is sneaky, subversive and fun.
By Libby Coleman
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.