SOPA: Reddit Confirms Jan. 18 Blackout; Wikipedia, Others May Follow

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It’s on — at least partially: Reddit has announced that it will go dark for 12 hours to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has said that he hopes to coordinate with the site so that Wikipedia does the same. Will other sites join in? Should we prepare for the Great Internet Strike of 2012?

Writing that it’s “not taking this action lightly,” Reddit announced on Tuesday that it will black out its site on Jan. 18 for 12 hours, starting at 8 a.m. E.T. During that period, the site’s content will be replaced with “a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit, link to resources to learn more, and suggest ways to take action.” The company will also run a live video stream of that day’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on Internet security, intellectual property and economic growth.

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On the site’s blog, the Reddit team admitted that “we’re as addicted to reddit as the rest of you,” but also explained that “we wouldn’t do this if we didn’t believe this legislation and the forces behind it were a serious threat to reddit and the Internet as we know it. Blacking out reddit is a hard choice, but we feel focusing on a day of action is the best way we can amplify the voice of the community.” The company says support for a blackout isn’t unanimous among the Reddit community, and it is asking for input as it decides what to do next.

Without unanimous support among Reddit’s community, it will be interesting to see how things go for Wikipedia if that site follows suit. Wales writes, “It would be great if we could act quickly to coordinate with Reddit,” though he adds that the community needs a “thumbs up/thumbs down vote” on whether to participate, and “we don’t have the luxury of time that we usually have, in terms of negotiating with each other for weeks about what’s exactly the best possible thing to do.” I suspect the ratio of those in favor of a blackout to those opposed would be greater for a more activist site like Reddit than one that’s more mainstream (and let’s be honest, passive) like Wikipedia.

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I appreciate that Reddit’s announcement factored in the importance of educating would-be visitors to the site about why it decided to go dark, what SOPA is and why it’s so important. I can only assume Wikipedia would do the same, should the community decide to go dark on the same day. After all, protests work only when people understand why they’re happening.

That said, now that we have a date for a potential shutdown, the question becomes, Who else will join in? Google, Twitter and Facebook have all been rumored as contenders, in part because of comments made by NetCoalition’s Markham Erickson. (When I asked, Google and Twitter declined to comment on their support for an Internet blackout.) But with a strike looming and despite attempts to push the issue onto agendas, support for this kind of action may be shifting in favor of alternative methods. Finding other ways to protest may be ineluctable — after all, we’re talking about the Internet’s most popular sites going dark for 24 hours.

Sure, there may be some disappointment that we’re not days from Temporary Internet Apocalypse to Prove a Point, but I suspect there’s relief as well. The idea of a multipronged attack on pro-SOPA arguments — including different flavors of activism and discussion — seems like the more mature response on the part of tech companies (which, after all, may not agree on what’s wrong with SOPA as it stands). Let Wikipedia close for the day and generate headlines, while others like Google and Facebook pursue alternative forms of protest that engage their respective audiences. In the end, the more people paying attention, the better.

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Disclosure: Time Inc. parent company Time Warner supports SOPA legislation.

Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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