Wikipedia has joined a number of other sites in a blackout protest against SOPA and PIPA, two controversial acts that would change the function of the Internet as most people know it today. It joins a constantly growing number of sites that will shut down on January 18, from small blog sites and forums to popular sites such as Reddit.
The movement was started by Reddit after a blog post proclaimed that it would be shutting down; this in turn came after many online communities, Reddit included, began to suggest a shutdown as a more effective way of voicing their opposition. Other sites soon latched on, and though attempts to get Google and Facebook to do the same have so far failed, Wikipedia is just one of the large sites shutting down. Reddit recently boasted over two billion page views served last December alone, and according to Alexa, Wikipedia is ranked the #6 website in the world. Co-founder Jimmy Wales announced on Twitter that he expected approximately 100 million people to see the site’s protest message on Wednesday. These numbers alone show one thing is for sure: on January 18, people are going to have to pay attention.
SOPA and PIPA (two similar versions towards the same goal, one passed by the House and one by the Senate) have been seen as a threat to innovation and a show of censorship; those against the bills likened them to China’s firewall, and voiced their displeasure that a country so in favor of freedom would impose something so similar. As the movements gained support in Washington despite growing protests (SOPA sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith declared that arguments against SOPA were unfounded and “simply not supported by any facts“), sites decided that more action was necessary to draw attention to the issue.
Previously it seemed as though many people had no idea what SOPA was, nor why they should care, but seeing some of their favorite sites black out completely should spark some more action. SOPA and PIPA have gotten plenty of attention within tech communities, but outside of many tech-oriented sites, not many people paid attention to them. This unfortunate apathy led to the two measures to get as far as they did, but it’s not too late. Obama’s administration recently came out against SOPA, and SOPA itself appears to have been shelved for the time being.
The protests appear to be moving in the right direction, but it’s not over. The blackouts will continue on schedule, and hopefully the message is received: don’t mess with the Internet.