Today the Wikimedia Foundation announced that Wikipedia will be shut down for 24 hours, worldwide, beginning at 11:00 PM Central time.
The blackout is in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), two pieces of proposed American legislation tabled in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, respectively.
If passed, these pieces of legislation would do serious damage to the free and open Internet, including Wikipedia and many other websites, large and small.
This decision comes after much deliberation among members of the Wikipedia community, including Wikipedia administrators, editors, and users from around the globe. Much in the same way that content on Wikipedia is put together by multiple members of the community, the blackout was decided upon democratically and is representative of the wishes of a majority of Wikipedia’s vast user base.
The blackout signals a shift away from Wikipedia’s traditionally neutral political stance. This was addressed today by Sue Gardener, Executive Director of the Wikimedia foundation, in an open letter to the Wikipedia community:
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.
But although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence is not. As Wikimedia Foundation board member Kat Walsh wrote on one of our mailing lists recently,
“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 blackout comes on the heels of backpedaling by members of U.S. Congress in regard to SOPA, likely due to a massive backlash to the bill sparked on the Internet. In her letter, Gardener stresses that while SOPA may have been shelved, for now, it still poses a significant risk to the open Internet, in conjunction with the still very much alive PIPA.
Wikipedia has joined an expanding list of other popular websites that will also be shutting down their services in protest simultaneously, starting this evening. This list includes reddit, Major League Gaming, Destructoid, and the Cheezburger network (lolcats/failblog), among many others.[box type=”info”]For a detailed explanation of the risks posed by SOPA and PIPA, see this article by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that has historically championed the protection of digital rights and freedoms.[/box]