Last Wednesday, the Internet exploded into a firestorm, which might not be unusual for a medium that so frequently and spontaneously erupts into an inferno of wounded pride and hurt feelings, but this time it was different. This time it wasnt a debate about whether I could do better than Tim Tebow at carnival shooting galleries or another soul-crushing remix of Rebecca Blacks Friday. This time, the story of the hour wasnt something as ephemeral and fleeting as most news nowadays; instead, it was an issue that directly affected people who promptly took a stand all around the world.
The issue at hand was the controversial legislation pushing its way through Congress. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) have started an unprecedented online movement to stymie their passage, culminating in the day-long Wikipedia blackout, which prevented users from looking up articles on the website, which has become the go-to resource for the common procrastinator (and, lets be honest, most people in general). Wikipedia, while not the only website that participated in the protest, was by far the most high-profile (with the possible exception of Google, which censored its logo). The absence of Wikipedia for one day has reached millions of people in possibly one of the most ingenious acts of protest ever organized in the Internet age.
For those unfamiliar with the bills, the SOPA and PIPA bills propose to give the government ultimate authority over whether a website is in copyright violation (i.e. an illegal downloading site or containing copyrighted information and data) and whether it deserves an Internet “death sentence,” as cnet.com refers to it. It essentially gives the government the power to prevent users from accessing the offending website. Opponents to the bill denounce it as an attempt to curb the freedom of speech on one of the least regulated mediums on the planet, which makes the public outcry all the more appropriate. While proponents of the bill say that the legislation is innocent and outrage has been completely unwarranted, it is abundantly clear that its higher-echelon opponents like Wikipedia and Google believe otherwise.
These high-profile opponents are making their voices heard, however. According to the Los Angeles Times, 162 people visited Wikipedia during the blackout and eight million looked up their congressional representative at the advice of Wikipedias blackout page. The movement has definitely gained steam, as SOPA has been tabled “indefinitely.” People who normally dont follow politics are now aware of this bill, which was these websites’ goal all along.