Special report

English Wikipedia to go dark on January 18

The Wikimedia Foundation, in a press release on January 16, 2012, announced that in an unprecedented decision, the Wikipedia community has chosen to blackout the English version of Wikipedia for 24 hours beginning at 05:00 UTC on Wednesday, January 18.

SOPA and PIPA protest

In conjunction with the protest, a few designs for the blackout screen were proposed

The blackout is in protest against proposed legislation in the United States – the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and PROTECTIP (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate. The press release stated that, "If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States."

The release goes on to say that, "Over the course of the past 72 hours, over 1,800 Wikipedians have joined together to discuss proposed actions that the community might wish to take against SOPA and PIPA. This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia, which illustrates the level of concern that Wikipedians feel about this proposed legislation. The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills. Of the proposals considered by Wikipedians, those that would result in a "blackout" of the English Wikipedia, in concert with similar blackouts on other websites opposed to SOPA and PIPA, received the strongest support."

This discussion was confirmed on Monday afternoon with a public statement made on the SOPA initiative action page.

The release included a statement from Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, who said, "Today Wikipedians from around the world have spoken about their opposition to this destructive legislation... This is an extraordinary action for our community to take – and while we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world."

The release ends by urging Wikipedia readers to make their voices heard: "If you live in the United States, find your elected representative in Washington (https://www.eff.org/sopacall). If you live outside the United States, contact your State Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs or similar branch of government. Tell them you oppose SOPA and PIPA, and want the Internet to remain open and free."

The release was quickly followed by a blog posting by Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. In it, she says that, "In making this decision, Wikipedians will be criticized for seeming to abandon neutrality to take a political position. That’s a real, legitimate issue. We want people to trust Wikipedia, not worry that it is trying to propagandize them."

Gardner goes on to quote Wikimedia Foundation board member Kat Walsh, adding that, "Like Kat and the rest of the Wikimedia Foundation Board, I have increasingly begun to think of Wikipedia’s public voice, and the goodwill people have for Wikipedia, as a resource that wants to be used for the benefit of the public. Readers trust Wikipedia because they know that despite its faults, Wikipedia’s heart is in the right place. It’s not aiming to monetize their eyeballs or make them believe some particular thing, or sell them a product. Wikipedia has no hidden agenda: it just wants to be helpful."

On the reason as to why this is a global action, rather than U.S.-only? And why now, if some American legislators appear to be in tactical retreat on SOPA, she says, "The reality is that we don’t think SOPA is going away, and PIPA is still quite active. Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. All around the world, we’re seeing the development of legislation seeking to regulate the Internet in other ways while hurting our online freedoms. Our concern extends beyond SOPA and PIPA: they are just part of the problem. We want the Internet to remain free and open, everywhere, for everyone."

A footnote of the post urges U.S. citizens to take action, and to contact their representative to let them know that they oppose SOPA and PIPA.

Following the press release, a banner alerting users of the blackout appeared throughout the English Wikipedia.


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