Internet protest has its critics, too Experts: Browns fans wasting time today

January 11, 1996|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,SUN STAFF

Angry fans of the Cleveland Browns have ventured into Cyberspace to try to keep their team from moving to Baltimore, but experts say their methods may not work.

As of 12:01 a.m., the Save Our Browns campaign began "Internet Day" by sending a letter to President Clinton. And until midnight tonight, they will flood the e-mail addresses of Maryland and Ohio politicians, media outlets and NFL officials with similar letters.

"At the end of the day, they'll be glad we're not talking to them anymore," said Ernest Roma, who lives in Cleveland and is one of the Internet Day's organizers.

Several volunteers have designed a computer program that allows a single person to send out more than 750 e-mail messages at one time. Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag, members of the state legislature and local media outlets are among the group's targets.

But Roma and other Browns fans may not get their point across.

"In terms of exacting a political price, sending e-mail to people you've labeled as your opponent is one of the least effective things you can do," according to Todd Lappin, an editor at "Wired" magazine.

Using the Internet as a means of political protest is a relatively new phenomenon, but a recent attempt to try to prevent Congress from passing Cyberspace censorship laws failed in part because flooding congressional offices with e-mail did not work.

"E-mail is real easy to ignore. You can just do a mass delete," Lappin said. "A pile of mail or a phone ringing off the hook is more of a real world price."

Members of the Save Our Browns campaign say their Internet Day will be different. While 90 percent of the messages will be sent over the Internet, fax machines will be jammed, phones will ring and petitions will be sent.

Furthermore, they say the sheer volume of e-mail will cause politicians, NFL officials and members of the media to take notice.

"I think that any NFL person [would notice] if they got 1,000 pieces of e-mail," said Gary Christopher, one of the Internet Day's chief organizers. "Many of their systems can't hold more than a 100."

The Internet's usefulness as an organizing tool is undeniable. It has rallied people behind issues such as nuclear testing by the French government and network changes to the television sci-fi drama "seaQuest DSV."

And it has helped angry Browns fans unite through home pages (there are a number of them on the World Wide Web), news groups, bulletin boards and chat rooms.

Not surprisingly, Browns owner Art Modell is a chief target of angry Web surfers, one of whom started a "Burn Art Modell Page."

Two weeks after Modell announced his intention to move to Baltimore, the address of his West Palm Beach, Fla., home popped up on the Internet. Soon after, protesters showed up at Modell's door.

Several Browns Backers chapters have organized their own protests by using the Internet.

The Baltimore chapter will rally at Camden Yards on Saturday at noon and finish up by protesting in front of the state house in Annapolis. The Atlanta chapter is demonstrating Tuesday, the day before the NFL owners hold the pivotal franchise vote in that city, and the Portland chapter is organizing a boycott of NFL sponsors.

"All the clubs have been communicating with each other through e-mail," said Scott Bednar, the president of the 75-member Salisbury Browns Backers chapter.

Bednar and five Salisbury Browns Backers will be participating in Internet Day. For Bednar, it is not important whether the e-mail campaign is a success.

"I'm doing anything I can to keep my beloved Cleveland Browns in Cleveland," he said.

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