Wikipedia: Should it Go Dark to Protest the Stop Online Privacy Act?

Categories: Tech
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Should Wikipedia shut itself down to protest the bizarrely clueless anti-piracy measures Congress is considering?

As with many things about Wikipedia (such as whether an encyclopedia that anybody can edit is a good idea), it's not an easy question to answer. Would it even be effective? It's hard to know without trying it, but it's also hard to picture Lamar Smith, one of the sponsors of the House version, freaking out over the loss of Wikipedia.

The idea could spur Wikipedia users to speak out against the proposed laws. But Republican Alexander and his like-minded bipartisan colleagues already know that everybody hates the measures except for themselves and the big media companies to which they are shamelessly pandering.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, operating on that site's (and increasingly, the world's) assumption that crowds are smarter than people, put the question to the Wikipedia community. Not, mind you, that he put it up for a vote -- it's just a "straw poll" to gauge interest, a "quick reading of the community feeling." Of course, that led to endless yammering and endless alternative proposals. In the end, Wales, an individual human with actual responsibility and a reputation attached to his name, will make the ultimate decision.

Aside from whether a shutdown would do any good or not, there's the question of whether it's the right thing to do by Wikipedia's own standards: "Wikipedia exists to bring knowledge to everyone who seeks it." There is no addendum that says "... unless we want to shut it down to protest a law we don't like."

In a shutdown, for example, people wouldn't be able to use Wikipedia to learn about the Stop Online Privacy Act or the Senate's version, PROTECT IP, to learn how horrible those measures are.

They also wouldn't be able to look up Lamar Smith.

Why, people would have to Google those things! If they did, though, they might find out some things that Wikipedia doesn't include, such as the fact that companies involved in "TV/Movies/Music" are Lamar Smith's top campaign contributors, and that four of his top 10 givers have a direct interest in SOPA, including his No. 1 giver, Clear Channel, and his No. 2, the cable lobby. All Wikipedia has to say about his contributors is that the booze lobby comes in at No. 3.

Still, it seems like pulling the plug on Wikipedia might not do much more than piss off people who just want to find out who played bass on the Rolling Stones' last album or which Simpsons episode featured Krusty's racist standup routine.

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.

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7 comments
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PotatoKid
PotatoKid

I don't know if it will have any actual impact on the bill, the only thing it might do is get the word out on the issue when people find themselves inconvenienced by Wikipedia's disappearance.

GregBuls
GregBuls

Now the feds claim that a justification exists to shut down the web for national security purposes. But they don't paint a scenario under which that would actually protect anyone. What they really want is to control the ability of the population to communicate freely and _as they see fit_. There's too much power in such a system, they want all the power, so they can't help themselves from wanting to utterly control it.

Kaniabn
Kaniabn

Personally I agree with SatireKnight. I did not even know this was up for a vote until a week ago. Not many people out there even know that this is being voted for so will not have an opinion or care about it. 

If something disrupts someones world in a negative way they always have something to say about it. Imagine the number of students alone that would instantly become aware of these horrible acts if Wikipedia went down. I'm sure a lot of them would then let their voice be heard on the matter.

Greg M.D.
Greg M.D.

Please don't take away my precious Wikipedia, I already sold my old outdated encyclopedias at a garage sale for $1!

David Gerard
David Gerard

I bet a Wikipedia editor bought them ;-)

SatireKnight
SatireKnight

Then again, since Wikipedia will probably die if SOPA isn't killed (since it only takes one troll to ruin a site), it actually does make sense.

And it might make the drooling masses who don't bother to read the news pay attention.

David Gerard
David Gerard

The Italian shutdown was in response to a similar level of legal threat to the feasibility of Wikipedia itself.

It definitely won't happen on English Wikipedia unless there's overwhelming support from the site community, not just a simple majority.

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