Costolo is Right: Wikipedia's SOPA Blackout is a Terrible Idea

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on January 16, 2012

From The News Desk

Earlier today, Radar correspondent Alex Howard asked Twitter CEO Dick Costolo if he had the 'cojones' to black-out Twitter in protest of SOPA. Howard was referring to Jimmy Wales' plan to close down Wikipedia for 24 hours this coming Wednesday.

Costolo's response was unequivocal...

And, you know what? He's right. Whatever your stance on SOPA, closing down a global business to protest an American law is foolish. And to shutter Wikipedia -- a crowd-funded international encyclopedia -- in protest of a single national issue is even worse. It's idiotic, it's selfish and it sets a horrible, horrible precedent.

For one thing, Jimmy Wales and the rest of the Wikimedia Foundation have spent the past few months pleading with users from around the world to donate money to keep their service up and running. Shutting down Wikipedia voluntarily, even for a day, makes a mockery of that entire appeal.

Arguing that a one-day closure reminds everyone of the importance of net freedom is like burning down one church to underscore the importance of the First Amendment for all of the others. Even if the shut-down did send an effective message, it's still not Wikipedia's call to make. If you ask the entire world for money to stay live, then you owe the entire world the courtesy of staying live, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

But that's not the worst of it.

One of the core principles of Wikipedia is its neutrality. No matter how controversial the topic, Wikipedia's own neutrality guidelines stress the importance of balance, of not taking a side. Sure, almost everyone in their right mind agrees that SOPA is a moronic piece of legislation but, just as Wikipedia editors mustn't editorialise on bestiality or devil worship or genocide, so they mustn't publicly take a side when it comes to American copyright law.

The trouble with taking a political stance on one issue is that your silence on every issue becomes a stance. Human rights abuses in Libya? Not as important as SOPA. Roe v Wade? Not as important as SOPA. Everything else that's happened in the world until now, and everything that will ever happen from this day forward? Not as important as SOPA.

This Wednesday, with its quixotic yelp in support of the Internet community's issue-du-jour, Wikipedia will do more damage to its independence than SOPA ever could.