Wikipedia - after the blackout

Blacked out Wikipedia page

Breathe again students, relax fact-checking journalists, Wikipedia is working once more - so let's step back and evaluate Wednesday's blackout. Did the dramatic gesture made by the online encyclopaedia and other websites really change anything?

And before we get started - yes, I know we should not rely on Wikipedia as an unimpeachable source so please take my first few words with a pinch of salt. And I also know that it was easy enough to get round the blackout if you wanted, but that's really not the point.

The aim of the gesture was to raise the profile of the debate about America's proposed anti-piracy laws, Sopa and Pipa, and to try to change the terms of that debate. And it looks this morning as though the blackout succeeded on both counts.

The Wikimedia Foundation, the organisation behind the site, reported this morning that 162 million people had "experienced the Wikipedia blackout landing page" in the space of 24 hours.

Perhaps more significantly, eight million people in the United States looked up their congressional representatives through Wikipedia and, it is claimed, went on to protest about Sopa and Pipa. Wikipedia paints a picture of jammed switchboards at Capitol Hill and servers buckling under the weight of email from protestors.

Now this kind of internet protest is easier to organise than getting thousands of people onto the streets to demonstrate - and often has even less effect on the course of legislation. But this time it does seem to have worked.

One prominent Republican backer of the new laws, Senator Marco Rubio, announced on Twitter "After hearing from people with legit concerns, have withdraw support for #Pipa. Let's take time to do it right." And when the BBC in Washington tried to find voices on Capitol Hill willing to be interviewed in support of the legislation, nobody returned the calls.

Rupert Murdoch was not so shy. "Seems blogosphere has succeeded in terrorizing many senators and congressmen who previously committed. Politicians all the same," he told Twitter, before asking: "On Sopa, where are all big film stars with many millions to lose?"

But it looks as though the media backers of Sopa and Pipa have lost this round of the battle to Silicon Valley and the web activists.

Now of course Wikipedia was far from the only website taking action, but without its involvement the whole protest would have had a much lower profile in Washington and around the world.

So its strategy - not a total blackout but one that was effective enough for users and the global media to notice - has proved effective. But has Wikipedia damaged its reputation in the process? I note that the politician sponsoring Sopa called the blackout a "publicity stunt" and said that it was "ironic that a website dedicated to providing information is spreading misinformation about the Stop Online Piracy Act."

I learned that, by the way, from Wikipedia's entry on Sopa. I suppose I had better go and find another source to check that quote...

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    You know you could just stop the wikipedia page while loading to read it right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I first heard of SOPA on a forum I'm on, and immediately it seemed like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut - the fact that a site as big as Wikipedia felt the need to shut down temporarilly over this pretty much says it all though - it definately was a wakeup call to a lot of netheads.

    And now the corporatists have been given a wake up call! Not so bad! :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The commenter "Philip" is entirely correct. Media companies need to realise that the Internet has broken down borders. Why is it that Music/Movies/TV shows are released many months before they are "officially" available this side of the pond? A delay of, say, a week or two might be acceptable but in this day and age they need to realise this and take advantage of it, not fight it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I think a lot of people will see arrogant egos heading large organisations trying to influence the creation of a law.

    They will also see arrogant egos heading other large organisations trying to influence the stopping of that law.

    What they wont see is democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    A wikipedian posted this, and I agree with it wholeheartedly. Doesn't it seem weirdly ironic that a website which by its own description, is not censored - and does not like censorship - turns itself off, thereby performing censorship of its own material, in order to protest censorship?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Howling Mad Murdoch...wasn't he in the A-Team? The old monopolistic business models and practices will soon be coming to an end, Rupert. The timelines are converging fast, and we'll soon be in a new age of Aquarius...That means total truth, and no more oligarchial lies and control.The meek are going to inherit the earth, metaphorically speaking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The blacking out of Wikipedia can only be a good thing - people will have had to think and to actually check their sources. No wonder the Press gets a bad name if this is where Rory gets all his information from!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    So Murdoch thinks politicians have been "terrorised" does he? Isn't it rather more a case of politicians actually listening to the concerns of people who voted for them?

    And maybe the "big film stars" already have enough money not to worry about getting involved. Perhaps they're just not as greedy as Murdoch...

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    How does getting in touch with your congress/senate representatives and making your views known consititute terrorising them? Isn't that what democracy is supposed to be about? Also, isn't it ironic that one of the sponsors considers the protests "misinformed" when the reason the bills exist in the first place is because most of the representatives don't really understand how the internet works?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    It was a "soft" blackout by Wikipedia. They allowed your search page to load before it went redirected to a blackout/message page. All you had to do was press the escape key as you click on your search and the page displayed lovely!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    It wasn't a very good blackout, I had lots of fun reading stuff on Wiki yesterday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    When the only person willing to go on record as supporting a bill is Rupert Murdoch, that says volumes about it.
    It is good to know that the spirit of Horatio Bottomley is alive and well, if only in the US Senate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I work in a university and we tell our students not to use Wikipedia however yesterday we got ‘I can’t do my coursework cos the sites down’. If the site went down for a longer period maybe my students will learn to read books and use the library.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    If Wikipedia had not participated in the blackout their reputation would have taken a hit, in my eyes at least. This is a bigger deal than most people realize. They slowly and slowly erode our freedom's. One bill at a time. It happens so slowly and gets so little press usually nobody takes notice. That is the saddest part. How many Americans have actually looked at what it says in the Patriot Act

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    These two Bills need to be viewed in conjunction with the changes in Patent and Copyright laws in another bill, this removes the need to prove originality or research , just be the first to patent or copyright and pay the money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    A week ago, the SOPA blackout was a fanciful idea being tossed about by the Reddit community and Anonymous on Twitter. Fast forward seven days, and the whole world's been forced to pay attention. Who says activism doesn't work? Here's how SOPA was received in the UK:

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    @ #1 "Murdoch and his lot think the US government works for him and not for the people."

    They do!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Wikipedia is a non-profit organisation which has earned the trust the public has placed in it with its squeaky clean history.

    8 million Americans understand that politicians do not work for them, but for their lobbyists.

    Even without knowing the specific details of SOPA, gut instinct tells you who is right and who is wrong..

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    "Wikipedia damaged its reputation in the process?"

    It's reputation is enhanced in my book, I did not realise how much I used Wikipedia until yesterday and was faced with the black-out message quite a few times as I searched for info and came across it.


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