The founder of Wikipedia : Why I want to bring down the internet – for a day

Jerome Taylor

January 17, 2012

Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder, hopes sites from Google to Twitter will join his protest against a legal crackdownThe founder of Wikipedia is leading calls for search engines and
social media sites including Google, Facebook and Twitter to take
themselves offline for an entire day in protest against a controversial
bill winding its way through the US Senate that could have profound
implications for the internet.

Jimmy Wales has called for a "public uprising" against the Stop
Online Piracy Act (Sopa), which critics say will have a "chilling effect
on innovation" by forcing websites to keep a much closer tab on what is
posted by users on their pages.Last night the Wikipedia founder
confirmed that all English-language sections of his website would be
taken offline for 24 hours starting tomorrow.Although the
legislation is American, it is likely to have a deep impact on websites
around the world because so many of the largest search engines and
social networking sites are based in the US.The bill is the
product of years of lobbying by music labels and film studios, which are
infuriated that so much pirated content is still available through
search engines and websites. They have lobbied Congress and the Senate
to introduce Sopa, which in its current form will transfer the onus of
responsibility for policing the internet from law enforcement agencies
to websites and the internet providers themselves.That has caused
serious concerns among the founders of leading search engines and
websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia, who have
written a joint letter to Capitol Hill urging a rethink of the current
legislation. Fearing that the Senate will push the bill through
unamended, Mr Wales is now pushing for the world's most popular websites
to initiate a "day of darkness" and shut down simultaneously in an
attempt to galvanise opposition to the bill.The idea was first
mooted by Reddit, a popular social media website where users aggregate
and rate links to other sites. Writing on his own blog, Mr Wales asked
followers to decide whether Wikipedia should do the same and initiate a
"public uprising" against Sopa."Right now what I'm thinking is
that if there is a credible threat that this might happen, this could
have a positive impact on the thinking of some legislators," he said.
"Do not underestimate our power – in my opinion they are terrified of a
public uprising about this, and we are uniquely positioned to start
that."The vast majority of responses to the blog post were in
favour of a one-day strike that would target all English-language
sections of Wikipedia, which would mean the website would be temporarily
unavailable in Britain.Facebook, Twitter and Google, which have
all publicly stated their opposition to Sopa, have yet to declare
whether they will join Wikipedia. But many users are already planning to
flood social networking sites tomorrow with information and links about
Sopa and why it could be harmful for freedom of expression.The
growing movement of discontent appears to have rattled the White House,
which has issued a statement suggesting President Barack Obama would be
reluctant to sign the bill in its current form."We will not
support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases
cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global
internet," the White House said, adding that online piracy needed a
"serious legislative response" but one that must not "inhibit
innovation".What happens next is likely to depend on the efforts
of competing lobbyists and whether enough steam can build up behind the
online protest movement. Mr Wales is intending to meet senior
politicians over the coming days to press for a more flexible piece of
legislation but the media conglomerates that want to see a hard line
from Capitol Hill are determined not to see their lobbying work stumble
at the final hurdle.It is not the first time Mr Wales has used
the popular encyclopaedia he founded to make a political point. When
legislation was put before the Italian parliament last year that would
have forced websites to automatically delete any content that was
flagged up as defamatory, Wikipedia hit back. For three days in October,
visitors who accessed the Italian version of the site were only able to
read a critique of the new legislation, which was quickly shelved after
a growing public outcry.

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