Blackout forces students to imagine life without Facebook

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By Chris Francis, Editor-in-Chief

This past Wednesday, Jan. 18, several of the internet’s most successful sites, sporting immense visitor volumes, “blacked out” for 24 hours.

Google’s ubiquitous multi-colored logo, known for whimsically changing to reflect seasons, holidays and current events, censored itself with a large, black bar. Wikipedia shut down all of its English pages, dooming students’ research attempts. WordPress, the popular blog-posting site, obscured the text on its front page with black bars, “censored” written across each text field.

This blackout was not due to any server failure or power outage, but was, in fact, a protest organized by the internet giants to fight against the twin bills currently under consideration in Congress: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

The acts were created in the spirit of protecting intellectual property (IP), as claimed by their supporters.

Generally supported by major IP owners such as the Motion Picture Association of America, each bill alone allows IP holders to quickly and harshly shut down any internet site found to contain the unlicensed spread of copyrighted materials without any court trial or verdict.

The intention of this corporate power is to put a stop to piracy as soon as it starts and deter its return.

But those who oppose SOPA and PIPA—the sites participating in the blackout, along with other service-providers on the internet—believe that the broad wording of the bill will give too much power to large corporate IP owners.

These corporations would then potentially have the power to unceremoniously close down Youtube, Facebook, Imgur, or any other site with user-created content.

“The overly broad provisions we’ve seen in the pending SOPA and PIPA bills could be used to target legitimate U.S. sites and chill innovation at a time when it is needed most,” said Zynga, a popular browser game host and developer, in its official statement on the bills.

These two bills are the cause for battle among countless legislators and lobbyists who argue over the artistic, constitutional, and economic ramifications if either is passed.

The main focus of the blackout, however, was to emphasize the effect on the average internet-user’s life.

Each of the blacked-out sites made a point to explain to their users the possibility of its disappearance or radical change should either bill pass. The useful services that many depend on would be gone, along with the jobs and advertisement revenue created by the services.

For some Illinois Wesleyan University students, this is only a shallow evaluation of the issue, though. “Most people don’t really understand,” said senior computer science major Jordyn Maglalang, a member of the Association of Computing Machinery on campus.“They think it’s just about losing a convenient service, but there’s more to it than that.”

“It’s basically corporate fascism,” said junior political science major Katie Rose Brosnan.

The same ideas are expressed by active SOPA/PIPA protesters throughout the internet. Wikipedia’s “blackout” page stated, “The U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet.”

Although the bills still maintained a significant amount of support before this week, the blackout seems to have already dissuaded some powerful forces. Directly preceding the blackout, while Google and others warned of their impending protest, the White House directly threatened to veto SOPA and PIPA if the legislation was not revised.

Texas representative Lamar Smith, who first introduced the bill in the House, was not fazed. “This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts,” he said on Tuesday, the day before the blackout. “Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy.”

Despite Smith’s resolve, SOPA/PIPA may be losing the momentum they carried before this week. Nevertheless, those on campus who are against the legislation still worry and continue to urge students to become involved in meaningful ways.

“Our student body is widely uninformed and the fact that there has been very little talk around campus about these bills until this last week helps support my concerns,” Maglalang said of the need for students to comprehend the issue.

As of now, the SOPA has been shelved, to be voted upon at an unspecified “later date,” while PIPA will finally come to a vote in the Senate on Jan. 24. All of the internet will hold its breath.