The reddit community has been one of the most vocal and effective online critics of the Stop Online Piracy Act, with its December 22 call to punish GoDaddy forcing the domain registrar just one day later to publicly disavow its support of SOPA after losing tens of thousands of domains.
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Now reddit plans to black itself out for 12 hours on January 18 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST to underscore its opposition to the SOPA bill currently in the House as well as the Senate's Protect IP Act (PIPA). At first glance this seems like an odd, even dumb, strategy. How can a site essentially shutting itself down for a half-day help in the fight against legislation that opponents (including myself) believe would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders, through court orders, to punish foreign and domestic sites accused of copyright infringement by having them 1) removed from search engine results 2) prohibited from generating revenue through online advertising networks, and 3) cut off from online payment processing networks? It can't. But reddit's doing more than that. It's using the site during those 12 hours not to literally go dark, but to educate and, hopefully, build public opposition to the proposed legislation. Here's how reddit explains it in a blog post:
Instead of the normal glorious, user-curated chaos of reddit, we will be displaying a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit, link to resources to learn more, and suggest ways to take action. We will showcase the live video stream of the House hearing where Internet entrepreneurs and technical experts (including reddit co-founder Alexis “kn0thing” Ohanian) will be testifying. We will also spotlight community initiatives like meetups to visit Congressional offices, campaigns to contact companies supporting PIPA/SOPA, and other tactics.
Reddit acknowledges that while "support for a blackout isn’t unanimous" among redditors (when is anything unanimous among redditors?), "we feel focusing on a day of action is the best way we can amplify the voice of the community." It strikes me as a pretty clever way for a site to leverage its large readership (nearly 35 million unique visitors and 2 billion page views in December alone) in a political battle. Redditors less aware of the potential ramifications of SOPA and PIPA who visit the site during the 12-hour "blackout" will get an education and be provided with ways to take action against these two bills. So maybe the "blackout" should be called a "learn-in." Feel free to run with that, reddit.