Tracking the Blackout: Wikipleadia

All day today, the Tech tAUk blog will be following the SOPA/PIPA protest blackout and general reactions to it all over the internet. We aren’t exactly too happy about the bills either, but when we start churning out episodes for the new semester, we’re going to do our best to present information about the legislation as accurately as possible. We’ve reached out almost two dozen people to come on the show and explain their position. So yeah, we can be journalists when we feel like it!

First item on the agenda today: Wikipedia, and the high volume of news articles and blog posts already out telling people how they can get around the site’s blackout. For those of you who still have no idea what’s going on, the English Wikipedia page has gone dark to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act. Both have been lobbied for by Hollywood, and opposed by Silicon Valley. In other words, two of California’s biggest job creators are waging war on each other. (Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!) So Wikipedia is participating in a mass blackout today, alongside Reddit, the Cheezburger Network, Imgur, etc. to raise public awareness of both bills, encouraging users to contact their elected representatives and tell them to vote against the legislation.

Wikipedia joining the blackout got a lot of media attention, and if our most valuable encyclopedic resource is unavailable for mass consumption, then a lot of people will pay attention. But for some odd reason, there is a large spate of news articles on ways to circumvent the blackout so you can still check Wikipedia. New Scientist details five ways to circumvent the blackout: going on Wikipedia via a mobile device, using a Wikipedia app, disabling JavaScript on your computer, using Google cache, or just learning a second language and going to Wikipedia’s French page instead.

A Google News search for “get around wikipedia blackout” (without the quotation marks) shows over 200 results, as of this post. Some people are even bitching about Wikipedia blacking out at all. There is now a single-serving Twitter account, herpderpedia, chronicling all the people on Twitter bitching about how they’re unable to access Wikipedia. And honestly, after looking through the stream of tweets they’ve retweeted, I think my faith in humanity has significantly dropped.

But back to the circumvention. Why are we so desperate, and why are news outlets so eager, to explain to us all the ways to get around the Wikipedia blackout? The point of the blackout is to raise awareness about these incredibly important pieces of legislation. The counterargument to this is basically, “Fuck democracy! I need to find out the population of New Zealand for a world politics assignment, and there is literally no other place on the internet I can go to in order to acquire that information!” The eagerness to exploit the blackout’s loophole is rather pathetic, because it is symptomatic of a society so reliant on the internet for information that it cannot grasp there are other tools for learning out there. Google has not completely shut down, so you can still search the internet for other useful resources.

I’m not saying we should all withhold information about how to bypass the blackout, but in the name of all that is good and decent, could we try to make our priority informing the general public about bills that target the very internet they’re using to bitch about the protests trying to save the internet instead of just giving them what they want and saying, “Hey, you don’t have to worry about being civic-minded, here’s a way out!”