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Wikipedia blackout notice now on all English Wiki articles. (wikipedia.org)
61 points by dazbradbury on Jan 17, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 33 comments

Note that NoScript (among other things) blocks the blackout bar. If you want to go directly to the anti-SOPA message, that's located here:


And here's the part where they discuss the NPOV issue:


In making this decision, Wikipedians will be criticized for seeming to abandon neutrality to take a political position. That’s a real, legitimate issue. We want people to trust Wikipedia, not worry that it is trying to propagandize them.

But although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence is not. As Wikimedia Foundation board member Kat Walsh wrote on one of our mailing lists recently,

We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate. And we depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression. For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge. We’re putting it in context, and showing people how to make to sense of it.

But that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia. Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or, if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to.

So; the blackout will work something like this:


The exact text is being figured out here:


(I think the current draft isn't very informative; it doesn't actually explain anything, just that there is a protest of SOPA/PIPA & link to some blogs).

My personal take is that as of last weekend we are now on the back foot - and going through with a protest right now plays into the hands of the politicians. What will happen is that SOPA/PIPA are effectively dead anyway (and were when the Whitehouse didn't outright support them), the press will cover this protest until it bores them and then, after the election, a lot of it will be slipped through under another name.

A mass blackout has the most impact, from a media perspective, the first time. I worry that WP and others have essentially been goaded into misfiring. (I also note that Issa has backed off going after SOPA this week; which I suspect is the right way to play against a delaying tactic).

I hope I'm wrong, but I am a little worried :(

The current test page is total weaksauce:

1. It resembles in all forms a pop-up Flash ad. The 2-second delay after loading, the black background, the "continue to Wikipedia" link at the top. I click those away instinctively (almost did this one!) and I suspect many many users will as well.

How to fix this: the page should be black by default, and the click-through link should be "below the fold" or similarly hidden.

2. The text is a featureless block. Its format -- small, justified columns with minimal inter-paragraph spacing -- looks like an ad masquerading as a newspaper blurb. This reinforces the click-through reflex.

3. The title sucks. "The Internet Must Protect Free Speech" doesn't address the problem I'm having, nor indicate that this is something more than an ad -- Wikipedia is black! A much better title would be "Why is Wikipedia Black?" -- this simultaneously indicates that this is something more than an ad, and entices the reader to read so they understand why.

4. The text is weak. Let's look at the first lines of each paragraph; these are by far the most important because they're what's read when the eye skims:

"For over a decade, global volunteers have..." --> bla bla typical Wikipedia advert fluff. Better would be "Until today, Wikipedia volunteers have been able to..."; the "until" indicates that something's different.

"We have only been able to do this because the..." --> almost entirely helper words. The only word of substance in this entire line is "able". Much better would be "Only the freedom and openness of the Internet makes this possible."

"However, the United States Congress is currently..." --> this paragraph NEEDS to mention SOPA. It's on CNN; people have heard about it and making that connection helps. Furthermore, "repressive censorship tools capable of destroying..." is ridiculously vague. Say exactly what power SOPA gives and why it's dangerous to Wikipedia.

"Please, consider whether a free and open..." --> no no no. Don't tell me to "please consider" an abstract concept. That doesn't help one bit. "Contact your representatives in Congress using the tool below to help maintain a free and open Internet." is a better call to action.

EDIT: This suggestion is pretty decent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:SOPA_initiative/Propo...

FWIW, if you disable JavaScript, that test.wikipedia.org page isn't blacked out.

Confirmed. I use NoScript and I saw no warning noticed until it was turned on.

Will there be a clickthrough to 'continue to Wikipedia' during the real blackout?

If not, it's too bad the blackout can't link to the relevant articles to explain things.

Of course the interests pushing the worst parts of SOPA/PIPA will keep trying to sneak it through in different forms, but that doesn't mean they'll succeed.

I'm reminded of the copyright industry's pro-DRM legislation from a decade ago:


When first proposed in 2001, it looked like a steamroller destined to expand the worst (anti-circumvention) parts of the DMCA. But tech backlash, plus the distraction of the 9/11 wars, meant by mid-2002 it was shelved, and the same idea hasn't returned as a credible legislative threat.

Surely it will, and will need to be fought again, but it shows territory can be won for years/decades, rather than just months, and the battle-lines can shift over time in net-freedom's favor, just as well as against it.

I find it interesting that they decided to blackout globally and not just the U.S. Their rationale:


Why is this a global action, rather than US-only? And why now, if some American legislators appear to be in tactical retreat on SOPA?

The reality is that we don’t think SOPA is going away, and PIPA is still quite active. Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. All around the world, we’re seeing the development of legislation seeking to regulate the Internet in other ways while hurting our online freedoms. Our concern extends beyond SOPA and PIPA: they are just part of the problem. We want the Internet to remain free and open, everywhere, for everyone.


I think they have followed an erroneous path towards the decision that this should be a global blackout. I'm not in the US, so this affects my view. I believe the vote was highly biased towards contributors who obviously followed their way to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:SOPA_initiative because they already care about SOPA. As someone outside of the US, I don't particularly care. The US already has stupid laws, like the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which isn't actively copied by most other countries and has created opportunity and profit outside of the US. Like most people outside of the US, I don't care if they can't drink before they are 21, gamble online or export cryptography. In fact, I'm happy that the US can pass stupid laws like that since it creates opportunity for the rest of the world.

Not that I agree with SOPA, I think it's a stupid law, but I don't think Wikipedia should subject the rest of the world to this. Think about it, how can one now honestly tell countries like China that Wikipedia is not controlled by US political thought, when it's advertising exactly that through this action.

> I'm not in the US


In the UK where we can't deport a "cleric" who is guilty of hate crimes, people can be deported to the US for breaking their copyright laws with no reference to the legality or not of their actions according to our laws. No doubt other countries have similar relationships with the US. Not being in the US does not mean you are completely shielded from the affects of US laws.

There are side affects too, you don't have to be directly affected by the law to have an effect on your life. If Wikipedia content came under the scrutiny of laws such as this and had to be taken down, being US based they would have to take the content down for all users not just US based ones.

OK the site could move all its hosting arrangements and its employees could all move to another territory but that:

1. is hardly practical

2. doesn't entirely solve the jurisdiction issue, unless you know of a magic country that will stand up to the US legal system, allows the current freedom of expression Wikipedia depends upon, has the technical infrastructure to support such sites, and that the relevant people will be happy to move to.

They are spot-on. SOPA and PIPA are just part of the problem, symptoms of the problem, which is a particular brand of censorship spreading all over the world. It is by no means restricted to the US, and while defeating these laws is nice, the "war" is far from over.

SOPA/PIPA seem to be dead in their current forms. Lawmakers are going to route around this public awareness by waiting a few months and renaming the legislation. I think Wikipedia should have waited until the next threat emerges.

Look at it from a strategic perspective: those of us who are protesting with blackouts are doing so to send a message to Congress and the non-tech public. We don't want to send the message that they can get us to go away by pretending to retreat, so even if SOPA is temporarily shelved, the blackouts should still take place. This proves that we're willing to act when threatened, and that we're capable of acting again if they threaten us again.

How is that remotely strategic? That's not a strategic perspective, that's s brain dead perspective. Blacking out Wikipedia right now does not change the behaviour of congress. The masses will look into SOPA angrily, find out that congress has already killed it, and then forget about it.

7 months from now during s major news event it will be attached onto some other bill and all public will toward opposition will be dissipated. Will Wikipedia repeat their blackout? It will be far less effective.

"following through" is not strategic. Congress is only concerned with manipulating the masses, they have no fear of a bunch of nerds who prematurely ejaculate when attempting to exert power.

The masses will look into SOPA angrily, find out that congress has already killed it, and then forget about it.

That's easily addressed by changing the wording of the blackout text: "Although Congress has shelved some or all of SOPA/PIPA, we still need to let them know that we won't accept this in the future. Call your representative and senator, thank them for listening to their constituents about SOPA/PIPA, and let them know you oppose the introduction of similar bills in the future."

It's exactly from a strategic perspective that this is a misfire. SOPA is already in the bin, and the general public has a very short attention span.

Yep. I suspect that having the protest now pretty much paves the way for them to sneak in legislation later in the year. Much like happened with DMCA.

So after thousands of small sites and a few big sites promised to protest on Jan. 18, what are they supposed to do? Just call it off, leaving people who didn't hear about SOPA being shelved to wonder why?

Currently they have blacked out the "donate to wikipedia" area

My brain skips this area of the site, I'm sure this is true of many others.

The proper effect tomorrow will be a full page one however.

I know this will generate a lot of awareness and constituent calls to Congress. But I don't think the effect on casual users will be exclusively what the blackout-proponents are hoping.

People will become more conscious of Wikipedia as an entity with a political agenda than before. They will realize it could go away – not just because of government censorship but also when it suits the lobbying goals of project leaders.

Among some readers, that could energize more devotion, but among others, create a sense that Wikipedia is more common, more political, and less relentlessly reliable than they'd thought.

I wonder if Wikimedia or anyone else is doing repeated surveys of users that could be used to judge attitudes before and after the blackout.

Wikipedia may have a political agenda, but here it is simply fighting for survival. It may indeed go away, but its editors are willing to fight to prevent it.

Jimbo Wales did a wide editor survey on his talk page. The few opposing voices (that I remember of) were about Wikipedia's neutrality. They were missing the fact that, while Wikipedia articles must be written from a neutral point of view, the existence of Wikipedia relies on non-neutral things like the right to freedom of expression and not being taken down on a whim because someone, somewhere, reported for some reason to some authority that some page was infringing some copyright.

Well, in fairness, that couldn't happen to Wikipedia directly because of provisions in the SOPA legislation.

The concern (which no one at WP is doing a good job of explaining...) is that we might be defined under SOPA as a "search engine" and therefore forced to stop linking to sites that, on a whim, are considered copyright infringing.

> Well, in fairness, that couldn't happen to Wikipedia directly because of provisions in the SOPA legislation.

'till next time? Good thing you show that you won't let people walk on your turf.

"But special rules apply now because our very existence is at stake" is a red flag for bandwagon/groupthink situations.

But I don't think the effect on casual users will be exclusively what the blackout-proponents are hoping.

Interestingly, you are right. At the moment emails to info@wikipedia.org (they are handled by volunteers) appear to be about roughly 50/50 for and against the action.

I haven't seen a "for SOPA" comment yet - most at "Wikipedia shouldn't be political" and "So why are you punishing me".

It could get much worse! I think there's been some groupthink in a bubble over this rush-to-blackout, a "we must do something, this is something, we must do this" spiral.

I wouldn't expect too much pro-SOPA backlash – though there's sure to be a little when the entire site is gone, because some people are genuinely intellectual-property and law-enforcement maximalists.

Most people simply aren't political and resent efforts by other people to make them so, especially efforts like blocking roads, chanting in bullhorns, closing libraries/schools, and so forth. (Blacking out a service with a lobbying message falls into that category of intentional disruption to prove a point.) No jumping off the Reichstag dressed as Spider-Man!

It's not showing to myself in Canada.

We know lots of Americans too! :(

I'm seeing it in Canada.

I had javascript turned off :S

They were only using a javascript blocker.

Out of curiosity, why do you have Javascript disabled by default? Security?

I'm curious because when programming web applications, I'm always making graceful fallbacks for non-Javascript users. It's usually not too difficult, but it adds to development time and code size. Honestly, I've been wanting to drop you guys for a while!

So I want to ask where your coming from. And maybe more importantly, is it okay for devs to start relying on Javascript yet?

Hah, the only reason I had it off was because I was testing my own website's "you require javascript to view this site"'s page and had forogotten to turn it back on.

I never surf without javascript, it breaks almost every web page I frequent.

I have javascript as a requirement to use my service and nobody complains.


Haha, fantastic, thanks!

I'll bet fox news will never post one article on the first global protest blackout action. If it does, the message will be completely fabricated internally.

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