Aaronovitch makes the case in The Times today (£), but the ‘argument’ doesn’t come until the very end of his column and even then I don’t really perceive it.
He points out it’s self-serving, and Wikipedia didn’t make similar protests against the state of things in Syria and so on. Well, yes, but how is this a criticism? It’s an encyclopedia which, by the very nature of its identity, has an interest in preserving encyclopedias. So if it judges its existence to be under threat from legislation, is it not entirely proper for it to make a stand? Would we criticise, I don’t know, MADD for not also campaigning against the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists?
Then he notes that the blackout is arbitrary. That is, the decision is at the discretion of the site’s governors, or ‘core Wikipedia folk’. I can’t criticise this because I can’t even begin to see its relevance.
As a Times journalist I never want there to be a day when the paper is suddenly stopped for 24 hours because, for whatever reason, we don’t wish to produce it. I think we have a compact with the readers. We claim to be a necessary (and maybe even entertaining) part of their lives and the life of the democracy. We completely undermine this if we shut down.
But wouldn’t The Times also undermine its role as the lifeblood of democracy if it didn’t take a stand against laws it felt would threaten that very position? Because that’s precisely the position Wikipedia feels it faces. And then the question – an open one – is merely what form of attention-raising protest is best. Presumably Aaronovitch doesn’t dispute the efficacy of Wikipedia’s decision. So much TV and Twitter time was dominated by the move that millions more know about SOPA than this time two days ago, and that will surely have tangible effects on public discourse and subsequent Congressional backing. But I don’t see why the decision being self-serving and arbitrary, and Wikipedia professing to be an ‘essential’ service, lends support to the case against the blackout.