How the Wikipedia Blackout Affected Students

Wyatt Page, Writer

Have you ever used Wikipedia for a project or presentation? The digital encyclopedia is very accessible and in 2005, according to a notable journal known as “Nature,” Wikipedia is “statistically as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica.”  Many students do refer to Wikipedia for a source of information; as a result, you may have panicked on Wednesday, January 18,when you tried to do that research paper last minute, but then realized the website was blacked out.  What you found instead was a link to another page discussing federal legislation that could possibly be passed by Congress, and if accomplished, limit the freedom of the web.  These acts are known as the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Internet Protocol Act).  Just the proposal of them has made for a public protest, in this case, via the web.


The heart of the issue lies in what people refer to as the thing that “makes the world go ‘round,’’ more commonly known as money.  Some of the biggest companies in the world are claiming their revenue income is taking big hits due to widespread piracy in the United States.  In a 2002 FBI press release, officials estimated 200 billion dollars is lost to digital counterfeiting on an annual basis. Essentially the problem exists in websites such as, and other illegal pirating websites, as people have easy access to them and can download, music, movies, and even video games, completely for free, with just the click of a button.  Companies such as Apple, Rhapsody, other legitimate music downloading websites, and Hollywood as a whole, are enticing people to join their cause in putting a stop to the pirating.  However, there are two sides to every coin.


Silicon Valley icons and other web enthusiasts see these acts as reprehensible and unconstitutional, referring to our right of freedom of speech.  As a way to express their adversity to the proposed acts, 10,000 websites, including Wikipedia and Google, either blacked themselves out for twenty-four hours or else posted suggestions throughout their website to encourage viewers to contact their congressional representative and sign a petition for the protest.  Amazingly, the strategy was wildly successful; reportedly, 2.4 million tweets were made on the day of the blackout protesting SOPA and PIPA.  A staggering 162 million saw the Wikipedia blackout page and of those, 8 million went the extra step and looked up the congressional representatives that Wikipedia suggested.  These statistics show just how powerful these mother websites are and how quickly they can publicize their beliefs.  Also, to then have 5 percent (8 million) of a single websites’ viewers formally acknowledge their cause is a truly amazing feat for an industry that totaled to a meager 16 million users just 15 years ago.  But is this protest taking a toll on the everyday student such as us?


Quentin Fitzgerald, a 10th grader at ODA would say yes.  When asked what he thought of the black out he said, “It is for a good cause and everything, you know to protest SOPA and PIPA, but it was very troublesome for me when I realized Tuesday night that I couldn’t use Wikipedia.  I had a paper due the next day and was counting on it.”  Quentin used other sources via Google, but it took him twice as long as it normally does when he uses the digital encyclopedia.  Also, he wasn’t convinced of the accuracy in facts provided by these outside sources.  Along with Quentin, there was likely an insurmountable amount of students around the country in this situation on Tuesday night, making for a real web epidemic.  The question remains, is it really worth it to jeopardize so many students’ grades?  Was Wikipedia possibly trying to encourage people to hit the books for a night, instead of having the luxury of a clear and concise source of information?  Maybe they thought it would remind users of the importance of Wikipedia and the widespread reliance on the Internet.  Either way, this was a big eye opener for avid web users.