Russian Wikipedia Shuts Itself Down in Protest of Proposed Censorship Law

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Those visiting Russia's Wikipedia today will see only a statement against the Information Act, which will be debated in the State Duma tomorrow.

russiawikipedia.jpg

Russian-speakers looking up something in Wikipedia today won't find the usual web of articles but the statement of protest pictured above. Translated into English by the BBC, the message reads:

The State Duma is expected to hold a second hearing about amendments to the Information Act, which could lead to the creation of extra-judicial censorship of the entire internet in Russia, including banning access to Wikipedia in the Russian language.

Today the Wikipedia community voices protest against the introduction of censorship, which is dangerous for the freedom of knowledge - something which must be open-access for all mankind.

The law, which the State Duma will consider tomorrow, would ostensibly be used to shut down child-pornography and suicide-promotion sites, but Internet-freedom advocates say that its scope is much, much wider, and that it will create a Russian equivalent of China's Great Firewall. According to the BBC, if approved, the bill "would allow the government to set up an agency which would maintain a list of banned sites."

Russian Wikipedia was not alone in its self-enforced protest. LiveJournal, the tenth most popular website in Russia according to Alexa.com, also posted a note of protest, writing, "LiveJournal considers the introduction of any restrictions on freedom of expression and information in the Internet to be unacceptable."

This is (by my count -- let me know if I've missed any) the third such protest taken by an edition of Wikipedia. In October, Italy's Wikipedia piloted the shutdown tactic in opposition to a censorship bill proposed by Silvio Berlusconi. In January, the English-language version did much the same in protest of the SOPA/PIPA legislation then under consideration in Congress. With today's Russian-language shutdown, the pattern suggests that this is now Wikipedia's go-to plan for what its editors see as crisis-points -- censorship bills on the cusp of becoming laws. The choice to self-censor, even for just a day, sends a powerful message to Wikipedia's users that greater government regulation of the Internet is a real and immediate possibility.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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