The world’s most popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, is going on strike on Wednesday. The “knowledge blackout” is aimed at protecting the Internet – and the website’s very existence – from online censorship.
The Wikipedia community and the Wikimedia foundation decided on a global blackout of the English version of the website for 24 hours starting at 05:00 UTC on January 18. The move followed a heated discussion which attracted the highest number of participants in the project’s 11-year history.
The blackout of one of the Internet’s most-visited places is meant to stop SOPA and PIPA, two controversial anti-piracy bills currently on the table in the US Congress. The bills, if they pass into law, would greatly increase the powers of law enforcement agencies and copyright holders to prosecute online infringement.
The bills would cripple the Internet, effectively killing all websites allowing user-uploaded content, endangering potential whistleblowers and severely damaging online freedom of speech, say its numerous opponents. Those include Internet giants Google, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, Mozilla Corporation, and the human rights organizations Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, as well as journalists, lawyers and many others.
Supporters – mainly entertainment industry companies – say the legislation is necessary to combat online crimes.
Wikipedians hope the knowledge blackout will greatly raise public awareness of the threat and put pressure on legislators. The only pages which will be available to users during the action are those related to SOPA, PIPA and the protest.
The community was split roughly in half over whether the blackout should be limited to the US or go global. The latter point of view finally prevailed. “American law is America’s business, but law that affects Wikipedia worldwide is an issue of worldwide interest,” one of the editors argued.
The protest move was inspired by a similar action in Italy in October 2011, where local Wikipedia went down for three days in a protest against a bill submitted to the country’s parliament.