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All Posts  /   /  January 17, 2012 

Do Your Homework Early

When doing research on just about anything these days, the first link to pop up in the search engine is generally Wikipedia.

The free online encyclopedia – powered by volunteer collaborators who write, edit, and fact check the articles – consists of 3,848,870 articles in English. And every one of these pages are going black on Wednesday at midnight Eastern Standard Time for 24 hours.

The reason is that Wikipedia is joining a protest against two Congressional bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The reason? According to The New York Times:
Opponents say several of the provisions in the legislation, including those that may force search engines and Internet service providers to block access to Web sites that offer or link to copyrighted material, would stifle innovation, enable censorship and tamper with the livelihood of businesses on the Internet.

Wikipedia won’t be protesting alone. Several other sites, including the user-generated news site Reddit and the technology and cultural blog Boing Boing, will be blacked out. Some sites won’t shut down but will offer more subtle ways to oppose the bills – such as WordPress, a blogging platform, that will supply its users with a widget to support the protest.

Other Internet companies, such as Facebook or Google, have not yet said if they will participate. Dick Costolo, Twitter’s chief executive, has tweeted: “Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish.” When challenged, said the BBC, Mr. Costolo clarified that his tweet was not intended to be a “value judgment.”

According to the Washington Post blog, Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s co-founder, calls the move “a community decision.” The protest, he says, hopes “to draw attention to language in SOPA that…is too broad and could hurt free speech and innovation.” Wales is also quoted in BBC News as saying: “Proponents of SOPA have characterized the opposition as being people who want to enable piracy or defend piracy. But that’s not really the point. The point is the bill is so over broad and so badly written that it’s going to impact all kinds of things that…don’t have anything to do with stopping piracy.”

Even the White House has weighed in on the issue. The White House issued a statement that showed their concerns with the bill, saying:
While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet.

The Wikimedia statement speaks to the inevitable criticism that this may be perceived as abandoning Wiki’s vaunted neutrality: “We want people to trust Wikipedia, not worry that it is trying to propagandize them. But although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence is not.”

It’s fairly clear that, of all the organizations taking part in the protest, Wikipedia probably will reach the most people. In the New York Times interview, Jimmy Wales estimated that the blackout could reach as many as one million people, who will be encouraged to make their own voices heard. He claims that the technology industry, which has been largely inactive in terms of lobbying Washington, is in the midst of changing, citing Arab Spring for showing people how technology can mobilize like-minded individuals and groups.

So, no Wikipedia tomorrow. Gotta do some research? As Jimmy Wales tweeted to students who rely on the site: “Do your homework early.”
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