Since midnight of Tuesday, January 17, 2012, Wikipedia shut down its English language site for 24 hours in protest of internet anti-piracy legislation currently being discussed in the U.S. Congress.  The encyclopedia site, which is perennially in the top ten most visited sites, is not the only site protesting with a shutdown, but they are by far the most prominent and vocal about it.

The image below greeted Wikipedia on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 and will remain there until midnight.

Although the site’s actions have become a huge story worldwide, some Wikipedia employees are not so excited about the protest.  Editor Robert Lawton said, “My main concern is that it puts the organization in the role of advocacy, and that’s a slippery slope.  Before we know it, we’re blacked out because we want to save the whales.”  [A]

The protest is in reaction to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill being considered by Congress.  A similar bill, called the Protect IP Act (PIPA), was approved by a Senate committee in May and is awaiting action by the full Senate.

So, how far should a business go in supporting causes based on the values of the owners?  I suppose this may vary greatly depending on the size and nature of the business.  It may be a much easier question to answer if you are the business, a sole-proprietor that is the only owner.  If, on the other hand, you were in a senior management position or even on the board of directors of a large corporation how would this change things?  Is it O.K. for the CEO of Walmart, or Bank of America to involve their companies in expressions of personal protest like Wikipedia is engaging in?  Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales obviously has his own opinion on this, which is being made clear to the world today.

To make things more interesting, Wikipedia is painting their protest with an interesting brush, with their welcome page for the day implying their free online encyclopedia is invaluable.  Some people may agree, as they have come to rely on it as a valuable resource.  While some may question the reliability of Wikipedia’s information, an investigation conducted in 2005 by Nature, a weekly science journal, concluded that, “Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries “. [B]  Britannica disputed these findings in 2006, but many people have heard this quoted out of context as an endorsement of Wikipedia’s overall reliability.

At the end of the day, while we could argue Wikipedia’s reliability or value, the fact remains millions of people worldwide use the site every day.  They choose to rely on it, so, it will be interesting to see the public response to the shutdown.

What has been your response?  How would your response have been different had Google shutdown for the day?


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