Wednesday 26 July 2017

Tim Walker: Darkness descends with Wikipedia's blackout day

Tim Walker

If you were researching your history coursework yesterday, or, say, writing a newspaper article about Wikipedia, then you will have found yourself at a loss. Instead of the largest encyclopedia in human history, visitors to Wikipedia.org were greeted with a black page, and a gloomy invitation to "imagine a world without free knowledge".

For 24 hours the website went dark in protest at the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, or Sopa, which is currently being considered by the US Congress. Wikipedia believes the law "could fatally damage the free and open internet". Tweeting in advance of the blackout, the site's founder, Jimmy Wales, made a less hyperbolic suggestion: "Student warning!" he wrote, "Do your homework early."

Of course, as a serious journalist, I would never normally use Wikipedia as a serious research tool. Well, I wouldn't only use Wikipedia. But in this case, it would undoubtedly have provided a semi-accurate and well-sourced set of facts about its own history and that of its founder -- not to mention a decent explanation of Sopa, and of the workings of the legislative branch of the US Government. Without it, I was forced to turn for facts to a series of more obscure websites and -- would you believe it -- printed books!

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