Why Wikipedia, Reddit and other popular websites have gone dark today?

If you have not noticed it already, some of the net more popular sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit have gone dark today. No, the internet is not broken and yes, your browser is working just fine. These and other sites have gone dark for the day to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States House of Representatives and PIPA – the Protect IP Act – a similiar bill winding its way through the US Senate.

According to proponents of these two bills, which include many television, movie, music and publishing executives, the aim is to bring an end to the online piracy of movies, books, articles, and music. If passed as proposed, SOPA/PIPA will increase the penalties for both suppliers and users of pirated materials and require search engines and internet companies to police the internet and remove sites containing pirated content from their results.

However, according to opponents of these bills, in their current form, they are overly broad and will lead to government sanctioned censorship of the internet and stifle innovations. The most controversial clause in SOPA is the one that may require internet service providers to use a wiretapping-like method called deep packet inspection to monitor their customers’ internet traffic (e.g. spy on your browsing habits) and block their customers from accessing banned websites. In effect, the law will allow the government to create and maintain a running “black list” of sites that must be banned; turning your ISPs and social networking sites into “little big brothers”; deciding what you can and can’t see. In an open letter to the House of Representatives, tech companies such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, and Wikipedia stated that they:

“…support the bills’ stated goals — providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign “rogue” websites that are dedicated to copyright infringement or counterfeiting. Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of web sites. We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job-creation, as well as to our Nation’s cybersecurity.”

But it is not just large internet companies that oppose SOPA, information scholars like those who are members of the American Society for Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T) are also strongly against the passage of this bill. (Please note, ASIS&T as an organization has not taken an official stand for or against SOPA.) Base upon the Twitter messages captured by Academiamap.com, an online Geo.Info.Visualization system of scholarly Twitter conversations, it is clear that SOPA has been a hot topic amongst ASIS&T tweeters from around the world (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Geographic Dispersion of SOPA Tweets (tweets made using the hashtag #sopa are highlighted in green)

The most active #sopa tweeters were @researchremix (Heather Piwowar) and @jasonpriem (Jason Priem). Both tweeted about the proposed blackout scheduled for January 18th. Heather Piwowar also drew parallels between another controversial bill the Research Works Act (RWA) and SOPA tweeting: “is the proposed Research Works Act…the new #sopa for the Open Access World?” RWA, which would bar the US federal government from mandating free public access to the research they fund, has brought a rift between publishers and academics, and would issue a great blow to open access movements.

As a result of the massive public outcry against SOPA/PIPA, it is unlikely that these bills will see the light of day in their current form, but with so much at stake for both sides, nothing is certain; hence the blackout.

Written by Philip Mai with contribution from Amanda Wilk.

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* The link to this infographic is made available courtesy of frugaldad.com; they are wholly responsible for its content. It is posted here by the SocialMediaLab.ca for informational purposes only and the inclusion of this link should not be construed as an endorsement of that website or the site’s owners (or their products/services).