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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wikipedia: Should it Go Dark to Protest the Stop Online Privacy Act?

Posted By on Tue, Dec 13, 2011 at 11:45 AM

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Should Wikipedia shut itself down to protest the bizarrely clueless anti-piracy measures Congress is considering?

As with many things about Wikipedia (such as whether an encyclopedia that anybody can edit is a good idea), it's not an easy question to answer. Would it even be effective? It's hard to know without trying it, but it's also hard to picture Lamar Smith, one of the sponsors of the House version, freaking out over the loss of Wikipedia.

The idea could spur Wikipedia users to speak out against the proposed laws. But Republican Alexander and his like-minded bipartisan colleagues already know that everybody hates the measures except for themselves and the big media companies to which they are shamelessly pandering.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, operating on that site's (and increasingly, the world's) assumption that crowds are smarter than people, put the question to the Wikipedia community. Not, mind you, that he put it up for a vote -- it's just a "straw poll" to gauge interest, a "quick reading of the community feeling." Of course, that led to endless yammering and endless alternative proposals. In the end, Wales, an individual human with actual responsibility and a reputation attached to his name, will make the ultimate decision.

Aside from whether a shutdown would do any good or not, there's the

question of whether it's the right thing to do by Wikipedia's own

standards: "Wikipedia exists to bring knowledge to everyone who seeks

it." There is no addendum that says "... unless we want to shut it down

to protest a law we don't like."

In a shutdown, for example, people wouldn't be able to use Wikipedia to learn about the Stop Online Privacy Act or the Senate's version, PROTECT IP, to learn how horrible those measures are.

They also wouldn't be able to look up Lamar Smith.

Why, people would have to Google those things! If they did, though, they might find out some things that Wikipedia doesn't include,

such as the fact that companies involved in "TV/Movies/Music" are Lamar

Smith's top campaign contributors, and that four of his top 10 givers

have a direct interest in SOPA, including his No. 1 giver, Clear Channel,

and his No. 2, the cable lobby. All Wikipedia has to say about his

contributors is that the booze lobby comes in at No. 3.

Still, it seems like pulling the plug on Wikipedia might not do much

more than piss off people who just want to find out who played bass on

the Rolling Stones' last album or which Simpsons episode featured Krusty's racist standup routine.

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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Dan Mitchell

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