Reddit, the news aggregator site, has announced that it will be blacking out its entire site from 8am till 8pm on Wednesday, January 18, to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and to send a message to Congress, which is currently reviewing the legislation. The protest is timed to coincide with a House Oversight Committee hearing called by Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) that is to examine how domain name service and search engine blocking might affect national security and also the US’s internet community.
Says Reddit on its blog:
The freedom, innovation, and economic opportunity that the Internet enables is in jeopardy. Congress is considering legislation that will dramatically change your Internet experience and put an end to reddit [sic] and many other sites you use everyday. Internet experts, organizations, companies, entrepreneurs, legal experts, journalists, and individuals have repeatedly expressed how dangerous this bill is.
The blackout promises to be in stark contrast to Reddit’s usual “glorious, user-curated chaos”; it will be a simple statement of what the internet could be like should SOPA and PIPA be approved in the House and Senate, respectively. Reddit will stream the House hearing “where Internet entrepreneurs and technical experts (including reddit co-founder Alexis “kn0thing” Ohanian) will be testifying” and will highlight community meetups and other advocacy campaigns against SOPA and PIPA. Rackspace Chief Executive Lanham Napier will also testify, as will several security, technology policy and civil liberties experts, says the Washington Post.
Anonymous, the hack collective, has announced that it will be joining the blackout, while Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales is considering taking the vast online encyclopedia offline too. Wales took Wikipedia offline in the past to protest an Italian privacy law and says he is “all in favor” of the one Reddit is planning, writing that:
I think it would be great if we could act quickly to coordinate with Reddit. I’d like to talk to our government affairs advisor to see if they agree on this as useful timing, but assuming that’s a greenlight, I think that matching what Reddit does (but in our own way of course) per the emerging consensus on how to do it, is a good idea.
Noting that “we don’t have the luxury of time that we usually have, in terms of negotiating with each other for weeks about what’s exactly the best possible thing to do,” Wales urged the Wikipedia community to decide soon about a sympathy blackout with Reddit. Wikipedia had actually considered a blackout at the very beginning of January, in discussions with Amazon, PayPal, Google and others about “whether a period of synchronized downtime could rally opposition.”
It’s not yet clear if WordPress, the blogging platform, is considering joining the blackout. But SOPA and PIP have raised enough concerns that Wordpress is speaking out about them. Describing “blogging as a form of activism” — and noting that WordPress is said to power about 15% of the web – community manager Jane Wells writes:
You can be an agent of change. Some people will tell you that taking action is useless, that online petitions, phone calls to representatives, and other actions won’t change a single mind, especially one that’s been convinced of something by lobbyist dollars. To those people, I repeat the words of Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Along with H.R. 3699, the Research Works Act, which threatens the public’s access to publicly funded research, SOPA and PIPA are legislative bills that intend not only to censor the internet, but to regulate the “glorious user-curated chaos” that characterizes it and that has made the internet the powerful tool of innovation, free speech, dissemination of information and knowledge, political change and far more that we know it as. I’m hoping Wikipedia and WordPress will join in the blackout: Seeing dark screens with one simple message (at the most) instead of the usual streams of information and images will remind us about what we value about the internet as it is, without intrusive legislation to curb its and our freedom.
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