January 17, 2012

Resolutions, SOPA, Wikipedia blackout, Google, etc. essay

[Note this post is deliberately written in "personal voice", as it's more aimed at my vast dozens of readers, rather than expecting to have any significant effect]

I had intended to do a New Year's Resolutions post about planned site updates and eventually finally shuttering the blog, but I decided it was all just too much of a rehash to be worth the bits wasted (which fits the theme of worthless resolutions). However, the upcoming "Wikipedia Blackout" gave me an inspiration for weaving it all into at least a current event commentary.

For those unfamiliar with the term "SOPA", it's a proposed law involving extensive new powers for copyright enforcement. Potential aspects (specific details vary depending on versions) include domain-name seizures, payment-processing and advertiser blockades, blacklisting in the mechanism that actually locates sites on the Internet (DNS), mandating removals from search engines, changes regarding how sites deal with infringement, and more. This is all very scary from a civil-libertarian and open Internet point of view. And I oppose it. But there's no point in my campaigning personally. Most readers in my audience are already against it, and I doubt those who are for it will change their minds. The expected return is near-zero gain from the civil-liberties side, versus soft-on-infringement from the copyright-maximalist side. Besides, many on both sides get paid for this, I don't. Or, I don't want to do free lobbying for Google:

Since Leahy proposed similar legislation in late 2010, Google has been the most high-profile corporate opponent of the anti-piracy legislation. The company's business model depends on an open Internet, and some of its top properties, particularly YouTube, have long been targets for Hollywood and TV moguls.

Having a corporate ally is a clear boost for libraries, free speech advocates and open-Internet nonprofits, who don't have the lobbying might Google has.

Which brings us to the upcoming "Wikipedia blackout" in protest of SOPA. This has been an unprecedented politicization of the Wikipedia site itself, putting it to use as a tool for political advocacy. One of the things which interests me about Wikipedia (and I truly find it fascinating, which is not the same as regarding it positively) is that it's large enough to be a factor in real-world disputes, but small enough so that various factional politics are observable, and often even visible in terms of maneuvering.

The Wikimedia Foundation and co-founder Jimmy Wales clearly wanted to use Wikipedia as a lobbying tool here. That was blatantly obvious to anyone who knows how Wikipedia works. Most simply, if they didn't want to do it, Wales would have sanctimoniously intoned how Wikipedia must remain neutral, and that would be that. Instead, they engaged in a classic "Manufacture of Consent", which could have come right out of a political science study (which I wish someone would do). Essentially, the community was fed scaremongering about how Wikipedia was in (my phrase) mortal peril, and so the use of the Wikipedia site itself in this copyright law fight would be justified. I'm not going to detail all the machinations that went on, since I doubt anyone reading cares. But it was another increment of cynicism for me, to see the Foundation people's extensive "suggestions". And when those in charge of handing out goodies like jobs and fellowships (which doesn't have to be stated outright) want a certain outcome, that's a fist, not thumb, on the scales. But, of course, at the end it was a "community decision", like say a country's decision to go to war.

Anyway, watching this, I made a few stabs at participating and correcting misinformation (Wikipedia is NOT in mortal peril). But I kept asking myself "Do I really want to get into a big fight with the Wikimedia Foundation and Wales where ultimately this is a proposed law which I oppose???" (haven't I learned my lesson?). It was another iteration of "Do the ends justify the means?", and more specifically, is it worth all the inevitable personal attacks to oppose bad means being used by others? Other writers, with far bigger platforms, and the ability to defend themselves, can say what needs to be said.

And that leads back to uselessness of blogging, at least for the Z-lister. In every item above (fighting SOPA, opposing Wikimedia politicization, defending myself from attacks), the net result seems that blogging is going to get me more negative than positive. Maybe I've said that too many times, which recursively should be a lesson in itself.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on January 17, 2012 03:11 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)