Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, issued a global day of darkness on Wednesday, shutting down the digital encyclopaedia for twenty four hours.
The blackout was a protest at Internet anti-piracy laws which have been proposed by the US Congress. Visitors to the website were unable to access articles and were instead presented with a letter urging them to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).
The blackout is cited on the Wikipedia website as having two purposes: to raise public awareness of SOPA and PIPA, and to encourage people to share their views with their representatives. Wales claims that if these bills are passed they will “endanger free speech and set a frightening precedent of internet censorship for the world.”
Oxford students were confronted with the daunting prospect of surviving the day without access to 3.8 million freely available articles. Some teetered on the brink of despair. Isra Hale, a first year medic at St Anne’s, stated, “I really needed them today, I feel disowned and disheartened. It’s such an essential component of my academic life.”
Michael Connolly, a first year chemist, commented, ‘I suppose the cause is good and this is an effective way to make the US government listen. But I really need to know what a peroxodisulphate anion is for my prelabs tomorrow.” Another first year, Xin Fan, expressed agreement. “I think Jimmy Wales gravely underestimates how difficult it is to throw together an unrealistically and suspiciously cogent essay using only YouTube clips of children’s history documentaries and the snippet view on Googlebooks.”
Other students adopted a more make-do spirit. “I get that it’s annoying; we all use Wikipedia,” commented Jasmine Krishnamurthy-Spencer, “but at the end of the day we should probably have a wider resort of websites.”
The prospect of both bills becoming law has caused widespread anxiety. Oscar Boyd, first year geographer, said, “Once the bills are passed they can shut down websites – completely black them out – meaning that they will never appear on search results.” Claire Gianotti, an American visiting student, voiced similar concerns. “I’d be worried if the American Congress enacted legislation that restricted our use of Wikipedia.”
Come Thursday, students were relieved to find the website up and running again. Jasmine remarked, !It really makes you appreciate how much we use and depend on it.! Her friend, Toby Huelin, added, “I might donate now it’s come back.”