The holes in Wikipedia's blackout

By: Frances Johnson

Date: 18 January 2012

Wikipedia’s blacked-out page{{}}

Wikipedia's blacked out page

News corporations, newspapers and social media sites have been aflutter with news of the temporary blackout across the English pages of Wikipedia. As of 5am today, if you visit Wikipedia you’ll see a black screen explaining that the site is inaccessible for 24 hours in protest of the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) bills currently being debated in the US.

The only English pages of Wikipedia that you can view are those explaining the reasons for the blackout. These argue that the enforcement of these bills ‘actually infringes free expression while harming the internet’, rather than preventing copyright infringement as intended.

This high-profile protest is a big step for a site generally considered neutral, but a move that they feel necessary if the Internet is to remain ‘free and open, everywhere, for everyone’.

It’s not a proper blackout

However, the blackout isn’t quite as all encompassing as it seems. If you read Wikipedia’s statement of intent in full, you will discover that is still possible to access the site on ‘mobile devices and smart phones’. In a society where an ever-increasing number of people own mobile devices, this exception somewhat undermines Wikipedia’s bold stance.

Forgive me for being a little cynical, but I can’t help but feel that a 24 hour Wikipedia blackout will be less effective than the media whirlwind surrounding it suggests.

If the blackout was implemented by Google, Twitter or Facebook, it would really make people sit up and listen. As it is, who will really be affected by the Wikipedia blackout? A few students trying to do a bit of last minute revision?

Why isn’t it worldwide?

Perhaps I’m being a little unfair. I commend Wikipedia for taking a stance. Whilst Google and Facebook have offered their support, neither is likely to take similar action as they have too many shareholders and advertisers to keep content.

I just feel Wikipedia could have been a bit more assertive – perhaps through a worldwide blackout or one spanning a greater period of time. It remains to be seen how many other sites will follow suit and what effect the protest will have on the progress of the bills, but as blackouts go, I wonder if this has too many holes in to be truly effective.

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