While the issue is important, the move will do more harm than good
Wikipedia is going ahead with plans to take down the entire English site in protest to the SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy bills. The English Wikipedia will be inaccessible for a full day on January 18th, not just for those in the US, but globally.Wikipedia argues that this is needed to raise awareness of the issues and the bills which threaten the very existence of the web as we know it. It believes that the drastic move is necessary for the biggest effect.
"In an unprecedented decision, the Wikipedia community has chosen to blackout the English version of Wikipedia for 24 hours, in protest against proposed legislation in the United States," Wikipedia announced.
The interesting part is that Wikipedia argues that it was the decision of the community since many got involved in the discussion.
"Over the course of the past 72 hours, over 1800 Wikipedians have joined together to discuss proposed actions that the community might wish to take against SOPA and PIPA. This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia," Wikipedia wrote.
"The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills," it said.
While the issue may have indeed been one of the most discussed at Wikipedia, 1,800 people is by no means representative of the Wikipedia community which is made up by hundreds of millions of people, the readers.
The vast majority of those do not engage in internal Wikipedia discussions, they are not even aware they exist. What's more, it makes perfect sense for the people that are concerned about SOPA the most to be the ones joining the Wikipedia discussion. The decision then was hardly representative of those that would be affected by it.
Still, Wikipedia did recognize the issues surrounding the decision, one being that this is a matter that affects the US alone or primarily and the second being that Wikipedia should not get engaged in political debate.
Simply put, Wikipedia does not have the right to deprive millions of people of the information they themselves put there or for which they have paid, through donations. The millions of people that contribute money to the site each year to ensure that it can continue to serve as a neutral party have the right to access the information which they've come to expect from the site.
Wikipedia is now setting a precedent and it's setting itself up for further criticism down the road. Any issue that people feel strongly about but for which Wikipedia doesn't take down the site will be deemed less important than SOPA, as Paul Carr eloquently writes.
SOPA and PIPA are certainly dangerous. And some form of protest should be OK even for Wikipedia. But taking down the entire site is not the option. A simple banner, like the one Wikipedia is running right now to announce the blackout would have sufficed.