The SOPA blackout

From 5am GMT today, January 18, one of the top-ten most visited websites on the internet is unavailable for 24 hours – if you visit English-language Wikipedia, you’ll just get a page with a text concisely explaining why you can’t get the content you came for.


In a press release on January 16, the Wikimedia Foundation – owner of Wikipedia – said:

[…] the Wikipedia community has chosen to blackout the English version of Wikipedia for 24 hours, 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. 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.

(For more about SOPA and PIPA, Google has some easy-to-understand information focused on the US; the BBC looks at SOPA and PIPA from the broader international perspective.) [Later: BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones adds a depth assessment of SOPA and PIPA in his report Wikipedia – what can it tell us about Sopa?]

Wikipedia isn’t the only web resource to go offline today – other high-profile sites include Boing Boing and Reddit (the latter only for 12 hours). It’s notable that the heavyweights on the social web are conspicuous by their absence of action like today’s. So you’ll find business as usual at places like Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

As a way to raise awareness of the twin legislative approaches being addressed by US elected representatives, it will undoubtedly have a big impact, particularly in the US. I wonder, though, what Wikipedia’s (and the others’) measurable goal is. Or is it sufficient to simply get awareness raised around the world and over time we might see some kind of result? After all, SOPA itself is off the legislative agenda for now.

Plenty of opinion on that.

In the meantime, what will you do if you can’t get Wikipedia content today? You could try others from a dozen alternative resources Mashable suggests. If you speak other languages and if you’re looking for explanations of things rather than simply linking to them, try the other language versions of Wikipedia – they’re all up.

Or simply postpone your “what, why, how and where” searching just for a day. It’ll all be there again tomorrow.

[Update 1100 GMT] I discovered that I can access much of Wikiepdia on the mobile website. So far, every page I’ve gone to on my mobile device has shown up.

Actually, the mobile website works on a desktop computer too. Try it for yourself. Not everything will show up – some links redirect to the main website and you’ll get the blackout overlay page. Best bet: use the mobile site on your mobile device if you can’t do without English Wikipedia for a day.

It’s not much of a blackout from what I can see.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. David Phillips

    Taking down the English version of Wikipedia says a lot about Wikipedia.

    Americans are a tiny fraction of the population of the English Speaking Nations. It would seem by this action that Wikipedians have a truly American view of life. In addition, we see from and others that they have little concept of globalisation.

    However much one may agree with the objectives, being true to the global constituency is much more important.

    Joining the Little American movement is not a good place for Wikipedia or WordPress. If the US legislature wants to isolate the USA from the rest of the world that is a disappointing but not the end of the world.

    In the same way that the British Prime Minister has a wonderful idea about censoring the internet a few months ago, we have to rise above the politicians and not play their game. The power of the online community when it comes to the Ballot Box will be tested and that is when we can be parochially political.

    Where do the US presidential candidates stand on this issue? I am sure that they will feel the heat if Wikipedia was to join the rough and tumble of the hustings.

    In democracies, strikes are legal but mostly a poor way to turn the views of the community, electorates and legislators.

    • Neville Hobson

      David, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I must admit to feeling a bit troubled, too, by this action of Wikipedia and other popular sites. No matter how they justify themselves, I don’t see this kind of action as effective (although that remains to be seen).

      I’m also not sure what the thinking is either. For instance, I saw a post that reports that over 100 million people will be affected by Wikipedia’s action – and appears to think this is something good. I don’t think it is at all. Plus I contributed money to Wikipedia’s fund-raising appeal recently to help them stay online – and feel very disappointed indeed that they’re not at the moment.

      Still, this kind of action is part of the landscape. And I do strongly support the view that SOPA/PIPA are not good things at all. But whether actions like today’s will make any difference to anything – other than the disruption to 100+ million people – is another matter.

  2. Nick Hague

    Innovation comes from experimentation and needs creativity and destruction in equal measure – in order to create you need to destroy what has gone before. So what if the Internet was censored – would this limit innovation? I think the answer is a resounding Yes! Technology has created a third state that allows us as individuals to work alone as well as together. The company of the future will be narrow (focused on one particular specialism), hollow (use partners instead of reliant on in-house skills), flatter (not as many levels of management), creative driven and international (borders don’t get in the way of business any more). Therefore, if the internet and social media are suppressed then so is the power of smaller businesses and there goes any chance of SMEs dragging the UK economy back from the brink!!

    I would be interested in your thoughts relating to the SOPA/PIPA saga on how innovation is the only real differentiator we have in the west

  3. David Phillips

    I think that MegaUpload juxtaposed with SOPA and PIPA offer us an interesting perspective on the new economy.

    A lot of organisations depend on their Facebook pages.Under SOPA and PIPA a wild child can share IP and anyone can then shut down Facebook. The effect on the US economy would be pretty impressive. It would also have an effect in other countries.

    All organisations have content and IP somewhere in the cloud. If only an email forwarding service, its there.

    If you are not an American, think hard about whether you should use a service with an HQ or legal entity in the USA.

    This includes Google, Amazon (AWS), Facebook, YouTube and many more.

    The American politicians have not thought this through. Not that I think UK/EU politicians have either.

    However, it is my belief that the legislators will have their comupance. The history of the internet is that creative people find a way round any and every road block put in their way.

    It is a form of individual capitalism and is very powerful. Humans are hard wired in their DNA to make and keep the internet (the research is explained in my book).

    We are not our of the woods yet and the impact on governments and economies in the meantime will be pretty dire.

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