The Case For and Against the Wikipedia Blackout

Other big Internet players haven't rallied behind Jimmy Wales, after the Wikipedia founder confirmed that the site would go dark this Wednesday to protest SOPA. 

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Other big Internet players haven't rallied behind Jimmy Wales, after the Wikipedia founder confirmed that the site would go dark this Wednesday to protest SOPA. Wikipedia has joined Reddit for a 24 hour blackout tomorrow. But other anti-Sopa sites aren't sure this is the best way to protest the anti-piracy bill. When asked if Twitter would blackout as well, CEO Dick Costolo called the whole thing "just silly." "Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish," he tweeted. Others have taken the Costolo stance, but Wales is still going ahead with the event.

The Case Against the Wikipedia Blackout

Isn't depriving the world of Wikipedia, the 6th most popular site on the Internet, according to Alexa, a little extreme? Taking the beloved and useful encyclopedia away from the web for the sake of protest is like burning a church in the name of the First Amendment, argues (the brand-new) PandoDaily's Paul Carr. "Arguing that a one-day closure reminds everyone of the importance of net freedom is like burning down one church to underscore the importance of the First Amendment for all of the others," he writes, after calling the law "foolish," a "horrible precedent," "idiotic," and "seflish."

Wikipedia shouldn't take sides. A site that has an entire page dedicated to its neutrality guidelines, shouldn't take such an apparent political stance on the issue. Carr continues:

The trouble with taking a political stance on one issue is that your silence on every issue becomes a stance. Human rights abuses in Libya? Not as important as SOPA. Roe v Wade? Not as important as SOPA. Everything else that’s happened in the world until now, and everything that will ever happen from this day forward? Not as important as SOPA.

And, it's just going to be really annoying. Even Wales admitted that a Wikipedia-less day will present problems for Internet users, telling students to get homework done early that night. As a go to source of information on everything, a day without the encyclopedia is going to be rough. "I think in addition to going dark to protest SOPA, Wikipedia should have mailed all its users old Encarta CDs," Matthew Ingram joked on Twitter.

The Case For the Wikipedia Blackout

The protest is supposed to be extreme. Of course, shutting down the site will deprive Internet users -- including we bloggers -- of an important source of information. But that's the point. SOPA, as it stands, would affect sites like Wikipedia, argues Wales. "The general sentiment seemed to be that US law, as it impacts the internet, can affect everyone," he told The Telegraph's Emma Barnett. He continued:

As for me, what I am hoping is that people outside the US who have friends or family who are voters in the US, will ask them to make a call to their senator or representative, and I hope we send a broad global message that the internet as a whole will not tolerate censorship in response to mere allegations of copyright infringement.

Wales wants to get the attention of casual Internet users, showing the impact of SOPA on the average web-surfers. And, Carr got a little extreme: it's not exactly as violent and destructive as setting a house of worship on fire. It's not like the website won't be there on Thursday. This is a peaceful move.

Wikipedia shouldn't take a neutral stance on something that so directly effects its vitality. There is a difference between Roe v Wade and SOPA. SOPA will have a direct impact on how the website operates. "The government could tell us that we could write an entry about the history of the Pirate Bay but not allow us to link to it," Wales told Bits Blog's Jenna Wortham, explaining how SOPA would change the integrity of the site.

Besides, Wikipedia's neutral point of view only applies to its articles. Wikipedia the company is allowed to have opinions outside of its article pages, points out Reddit commenter Hyper Anthony.

I've read through a lot of the opposing arguments, and I feel like many of them are simply editors that are conflating Wikipedia's policy for a neutral point of view in articles with a neutral point of view in the community. If you've ever participated in a talk page argument on Wikipedia, you'd find very quickly that the community is certainly not neutral... nor should it be.

They view it as a matter of integrity, but from my view of things it isn't applicable in this context because SOPA/PIPA threatens the whole of Wikipedia and its continued existence. Standing up against that doesn't endanger any of the articles or even the mission of Wikipedia -- it sends a message that the free flow of information is important, and gives a taste of where we would be if Wikipedia closed down.

Regardless, of the anti-blackout wrath, Wikipedia is going ahead with its blackout. And, tomorrow will be an annoying Internet day. Luckily, the web is a big place with lots of other reliable sources. We'll manage.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.