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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Dark Day for Students

For those who may not have noticed, Wikipedia turned off the lights today on all of their content in a protest that will last for 24 hours.  They are protesting two bills currently under consideration by the US Legislature:

"Wikipedians have chosen to black out the English Wikipedia for the first time ever, because we are concerned that SOPA and PIPA will severely inhibit people's access to online information. This is not a problem that will solely affect people in the United States: it will affect everyone around the world."

"SOPA and PIPA represent two bills in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate respectively. SOPA is short for the "Stop Online Piracy Act," and PIPA is an acronym for the "Protect IP Act." ("IP" stands for "intellectual property.") In short, these bills are efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites, but, in our opinion, they do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet. Detailed information about these bills can be found in the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act articles on Wikipedia, which are available during the blackout."

I haven't read enough to know whether I agree with Wikipedia or not. 

But if I had to make a knee jerk call as to whether those who drafted this legislation might have gone too far in pursuit of a noble cause (think 'Patriot Act' for context), I'd have to guess that this is another case of a good cause having been hijacked by some misguided folks who don't have a clear understanding of just how badly the framers of the Constitution wanted to keep the government from messing with the freedoms of private individuals. 

Or perhaps those folks do know, but have the odd notion that they know better than the framers.

In either case, the real losers in all this IMHO are the students who have reports/papers due today or tomorrow, who will now be forced to actually go to the library and do actual research rather than simply cutting and pasting passages from Wikipedia.

Posted by David Bogner on January 18, 2012 | Permalink


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A real student knows that wikipedia can still be accessed. Just click the stop button as soon as you get to the wiki site and it won't reroute you to the protest page. Alternatively, you can just get the cached version on google.

If you don't know this, you obviously are not a student ;-)

Posted by: Moshe | Jan 18, 2012 3:26:50 PM

Moshe... If you read down the page on their site you would have seen the following: "During the blackout, Wikipedia is accessible on mobile devices and smart phones. You can also view Wikipedia normally by disabling JavaScript in your browser, as explained on [our] Technical FAQ page. Our purpose here isn't to make it completely impossible for people to read Wikipedia, and it's okay for you to circumvent the blackout. We just want to make sure you see our message."

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jan 18, 2012 3:42:54 PM

SOPA and PIPA are bad bills that will hurt the internet and mostly focuses on things hosted overseas. Websites such as MEMRI and PALWATCH would certainly be blocked by it. I can go into detail for you if you would like, but here is a fact that should make you wonder: The average senator is 63 years old. Do you trust your parents to make laws regarding the internet?

Posted by: Seth | Jan 18, 2012 4:45:31 PM

I haven't read the bills, but when both the Huffington Post and the Heritage Foundation are opposed to a bill, it MUST be bad!

@Seth, don't be age-biased dude. Remember, some of those Senators probably helped Al Gore invent the internet!

Posted by: ProphetJoe | Jan 18, 2012 5:27:52 PM

I don't trust Wikipedia - OK if you just want to look up something that isn't too important for accuracy, like the filmography of a certain actor, but I other stuff? When you don't know who has written the entries, where have they sourced their information from etc etc. We are teaching the next generation to take one source as "undisputed" fact. Hmm, sounds like the average approach to journalism. Sigh. Sorry if that sounds like old fogeydom, but I do despair that we have heard the death knell of REAL research, and REAL investigative journalism

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Jan 18, 2012 8:10:56 PM

It's scary that (as I just found out) my 8-year-old knows what "Wikipedia" is but not what an "encyclopedia" is.

Nothing to do with the SOPA/PIPA thing (I have no opinion on that as yet, not having found out about it until about 2 minutes ago.) But while Wiki has its uses, the most prevalent one seems to be summed up by the following two words: "sloppy scholarship".

And yes, I sometimes use it also... (sigh)...

Posted by: psachya | Jan 18, 2012 8:37:18 PM

Here's a better (or at least funnier) explanation of why PIPA/SOPA is bad for the internet and really should be opposed: http://theoatmeal.com/ (probably only live through end of day, as it's the homepage link)

Posted by: Michal | Jan 18, 2012 8:54:00 PM

Uh...what's wrong with a library? I work in a library. We give access to research information that is more reliable and current than Wikipedia. In fact, the profs at this university do not like their students using Wikipedia! So...

Posted by: Jerri | Jan 18, 2012 9:53:35 PM

As we are reading about the 10 plagues in the weekly Torah portion, it is most appropriate that while the English Wikipedia is dark, the Hebrew one is fully lit!

Posted by: Raz | Jan 18, 2012 10:40:04 PM

Seth... I had a witty answer to your question, but I see another commenter had a way funnier one.

ProphetJoe... Good point.

Kiwi Noa... No matter where you get your information you have to be capable of critical thought, and also be prepared to find flawed or even sloppy scholarship. The difference is that if you find bad or biased information in the encyclopedia Britanica, you can send a letter to the editors... And maybe it will be fixed in the next edition (yeah right). But meanwhile, how often do individuals, or even libraries replace their encyclopedias? If you find something wrong or biased in Wikipedia, you can challenge it in real time. Heck, you can change it yourself, assuming you can bring a supporting source. The older I get, the more I realize that there are few perfect sources,of information.

psachya... See my response above.

Michal... That's great! I hope they keep it up for a few more days. I want to share it with some friends on a forum I frequent. But the forum is blacked out over the same issue.

Jerri... The problem with libraries is that when you spend too much time in them you lose the ability to detect sarcasm and other forms of irony.

Raz... :-)

Posted by: Treppenwitz | Jan 18, 2012 10:59:39 PM

Libraries have their use, but are often inefficient for day to day use. It is possible to use Wikipedia in a productive way, use it as a way to find sources and then make sure those sources are reliable through a third party. Unsourced content on Wikipedia and analysis of sourced content should not be used.

Posted by: Seth | Jan 19, 2012 6:10:50 AM

By the way, I went to Capitol Hill today on my afternoon break (I live near DC and mostly work on Israel time) and had a conversation with a Republican representative who was standing on the sidewalk with his staffers, one who supported SOPA and also happens to be a huge supporter of Israel, which I knew and is how I broke the ice. I say supported and not supports because I explained to him why the bill would not only hurt the United States economically, but also would limit crowdsourced intel that has proven invaluable over the past decade while not stopping the nefarious uses of such technology in a significant way. Without giving away his identity for his sake (and mine), while he said that he would 'think about reconsidering his position' he went from being a supporter this morning to a public detractor by the end of business.

Posted by: Seth | Jan 19, 2012 6:17:20 AM

The Wikipedia blackout was just a javascript. Disable Javascript and it's not blocked.

About SOPA/PIPA: Days will be getting a lot darker if SOPA passes. Now it looks like it wouldn't since many co-sponsors have already withdrawn their support, among them quite some Republicans.

The problem with SOPA is that in its current form and its broad wording it provides individuals with executive powers, bypassing any judiciary. Its a bill made for misuse, abuse and harassment while it's totally ineffective against digital piracy and IP theft. In fact, this bill would suit Iran or China, but not the US of A.

Posted by: haifadave | Jan 19, 2012 8:35:54 AM

Wikipedia's mobile site was still working.

Posted by: Gavi | Jan 19, 2012 11:08:42 AM

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