Wikipedia Blackout Wednesday: Pause for Protest

Wikipedia (English-language) will be blacked out for 24 hours starting on Wednesday, January 18th
I have a love/hate relationship with Wikipedia. As with many web applications and services that can simplify the exchange of information, Wikipedia is one of those "use at your own risk" entities that is often the source of some very bad plagiarism in the papers and assignments students submit to their professors. As I say over and over again in my classes, scroll to the bottom of any Wikipedia entry and look at the sources of the information very carefully and with a critical eye before assuming it accurate.

Even so, the collaborative on-line encyclopedia project remains very useful for quick info on the fly, a place to get a basic sense of a topic area, and a nice starting off point for sparking connections and ideas you had maybe not thought of. Bottom line, anyone in academia would be lying if they said they didn't use it.

**updated**This a screen-grab of the Wikipedia site as it appeared at midnight EST
on Wednesday, January 18th.
With all of the openness and international collaboration associated with the Wikipedia project, there have been new movements afoot to try and control just how quickly and through what channels information flows on the net. At the same time, copyright is a growing concern and Internet piracy a hot topic of debate. Still, even if there is a legitimate basis for action in some arenas, these actions also carry the serious risk of limiting current freedoms on how information is exchanged and circulated on the web. In particular, the Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this past fall has raised many concerns. There are real questions about how freedom of speech and censorship will be addressed with an Act that attempts to limit how "foreign" websites access local publics. There is also the fear that this will be among the first of many moves to control and mediate how information and access to news and breaking world events will be dealt with. Just consider the crucial role the Internet has played in the wave of recent global and more localized protest movements, and you can see the significance of such legislation.

In a statement posted on their website, Wikipedia announced that as an act of protest against SOPA, it will black out the English-language version of their website for 24-hours on Wednesday, January 18th. At the same time, Wikipedia outlined the importance of maintaining a framework for open access and collaboration to maintain its existence:

"We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate. And we depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression. For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge. We’re putting it in context, and showing people how to make to sense of it.

But that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia. Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to."

The public needs to debate these issues, and I think Wikipedia is taking a bold move to raise awareness about the ramifications of policing the Internet to such a high degree. I am also interested to see how everyday people are impacted without access to Wikipedia for a day. Could turn out to be the bigger story!