Posts Tagged ‘Wikipedia’

Hi All, sorry for the hiatus. But I’m back in black. New year, and lots to discuss. Let’s get to it!

Clearly I couldn’t let discussion about SOPA and PIPA and the ensuing takedowns architected by Anonymous go untouched in this discussion space, so let’s delve into this, shall we?

For those who aren’t aware (where in the hell have you been?), let’s first break these two down to their most elemental forms:

Here’s what (admittedly biased on this matter) Wikipedia has to say about what SOPA is, “The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a United States bill introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Provisions include the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the sites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyright material, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison”

Basically, this was legislators catering to big media companies’ interests by proposing a law that would give the U.S. government the right to prosecute people who propagated intellectual property that they didn’t own online. In other words, the internet wouldn’t exist unless the government felt that it should.

“Proponents of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against foreign websites.”

“Opponents say the proposed legislation threatens free speech and innovation, and enables law enforcement to block access to entire internet domains due to infringing material posted on a single blog or webpage. They have raised concerns that SOPA would bypass the “safe harbor” protections from liability presently afforded to Internet sites by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.”

So that’s SOPA in the House of Representatives. A second, replica piece of legislation was simultaneously being put up for consideration in the Senate called PIPA or the Protect IP Act. On this legislation, Wikipedia says:

“The PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA) is a proposed law with the stated goal of giving the US government and copyright holders additional tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods”, especially those registered outside the U.S. The bill defines infringement as distribution of illegal copies, counterfeit goods, or anti-digital rights management technology. Infringement exists if “facts or circumstances suggest [the site] is used, primarily as a means for engaging in, enabling, or facilitating the activities described. The bill was introduced on May 12, 2011, by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and 11 bipartisan co-sponsors.”

So that’s the house-cleaning. They’re the same piece of legislation, same clear and dangerous threat to internet freedoms and the Internet’s intrinsic ability to allow for the wide and free dissemination of information.  Now down to the brass tacks.

Let’s begin with the fact that just pragmatically, taking on the Internets is always stupid. Why? Because congress and the President are centralized forces of power- quite well identified and held to certain moral and legal standards of behavior and comportment. The internet is none of those things. It is a nebulous, unscrupulous, largely anonymous and completed decentralized force of power, and it will not be stopped. Which is why, they have certainly won this round of the fight and will ultimately win the war on issues of intellectual property online.

So Wikipedia was one of the largest of many web resources (others included Reddit, the social news site, and BoingBoing, a technology and culture blog) that decided to shut down for a 24 hour period in public protest against these two bills.  As the NYTimes Bits Blog reported: “Visitors around the globe who try to reach the English-version of Wikipedia will be greeted with information about the bills and details about how to reach their local representatives. Mr. (Founder Jimmy) Wales said 460 million people around the world visited the site each month, and he estimated that the blackout could reach as many as 100 million people. In addition, some international Wikipedia communities, including the one in Germany, have decided to post notices on their home pages leading to information about the protests, although they will remain functioning as usual.”

“The government could tell us that we could write an entry about the history of the Pirate Bay but not allow us to link to it,” he said, referring to the popular file-sharing site. “That’s a First Amendment issue.”

But then Anonymous had to go and get all involved, making it no longer a seemingly noble protest, but taking matters into their own hands. And this is where decentralization begins to get really interesting.

For Anonymous it wasn’t enough to shut down one’s own site, and make one’s own decision to go dark- Anonymous wanted to prove once and for all to big media companies such as CBS and Universal Music that it is but for the grace of Anonymous that their sites exist at all. In a bold and HIGHLY under-publicized and under-discussed move if you weren’t online (I think largely because of Anonymous’s reputation as an anarchist and borderline-terrorist non-organization) Anonymous temporarily removed and Universal Music as well as its parent company Vivendi from online view. There has been much speculation about whether the sites were full-on deleted, redirected, etc. and I won’t debate that here, but I think the major point here is that a decentralized network of self-labeled “hacktivists” hold the power to completely destroy someone else’s online presence as retribution. So while the politicians, PACs and lobbyists seek to pass these bills the old-fashioned way through our system of government and legislation, the internet turns its nose on their efforts and operates completely independently.

The repercussions of these acts by Anonymous are massive. Is it to be said once and for all that the internet is ungovernable? Certainly any jurisdiction over internet content and domains is highly debatable and obscure- who has the right or the resources to police the net? Where is that online security task force- is it a branch of the UN peacekeeping forces? Which country’s government holds the right to censor content? If Google’s tangle with China and the Arab Spring have taught us anything, it’s that the rules for who gets to yea or nay internet content are still being written and continue to be written by unknown authors, sitting in dark corners leading their revolutions with armies of revolutionaries who couldn’t recognize them if they passed by on the sidewalk.

President Obama said no to the current versions of these bills, but SOPA and PIPA are by no means dead in the water. This will be an ongoing discussion, but I stand by my opinion that even if SOPA or PIPA were to pass in Congress, they would have a completely unmanageable time attempting to enforce either in the chaotic and decentralized network that is the Net. The point it would seem, my friends, is moot.


September 22, 2010-

Hegel famously proclaimed that “history is a dialectic,” that is, a dialogue between people who may hold differing views, but who seek to accomplish a basis of truth by debating together. In other words, history has no discernible truth, but more closely attains the overall goal of “truth” through discussion from all of the voices of history and their personal accounts of what happened.

This quotation of Hegel’s is often cited in the context of discussions about the literary canon, or the “western canon,” as some refer to it. The term “Western canon” is used to denote the selection of books, music, art and general cultural that have most influenced the shape ofWestern civilization and culture over time.

As demonstrated, a simple search on Wikipedia for either of these terms will tell you much about what they are. However, Wikipedia doesn’t explicitly tell us is that it is also holding the record of how the modern canon is determined, and how the truth of history is being determined by the myriad of voices which contribute to it everyday.

A recent Bits blog from the New York Times mentioned the trail of edits that the Internet provides to anyone who is looking for it. James Bridle, founder of BookTwo is particularly interested in what the future of literature holds, but also how that discussion is playing out and how we can track where the discussion has been. In one of his recent entries Bridle points out that although an article on Wikipedia may tell a specific story, the edits show a process of opinion, correction, and the potential biases of each writer. In this respect Wikipedia, and every constantly updated website represents an archive of evolving information over time. What interests Bridle is the offer of two distinct stories: one that is front-facing to the reader and one that reveals the behind-the-scenes editing, writing and creative process.

To illustrate the point, Bridle selected the topic of the Iraq war as an entry in the Wikipedia canon and had all of the history of the entries surrounding the Iraq War published into physical volumes. In his entry, Bridle writes, “This particular book — or rather, set of books — is every edit made to a single Wikipedia article, The Iraq War, during the five years between the article’s inception in December 2004 and November 2009, a total of 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages.” Bridle notes that the entire set comes to twelve volumes, which nearly approximates the size of a traditional encyclopedia.

Which brings us to the favorite comparison of Wikipedia and your parents’ Encyclopedia. Is one or the other more reliable? Who gets to decide what is a part of the overall Western canon? Shouldn’t we all be alarmed by a process in which a child may be permitted to contribute to an online encyclopedia which many now claim is an expert source?

In fact, Bridle’s point reminds us of a standard strategy employed to defend the credibility of Wikipedia and its process against its would-be detractors. The strategy is to cite a story central to the process under which the Oxford English Dictionary was compiled in the 19th century. Simon Winchester’s book, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary details a Jekyll and Hyde story of the brilliant but clinically insane Dr. W.C. Minor who provided thousands of entries to the editors of the OED while he was committed at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. In other words, if a mad man may contribute significantly to a tome of the English language which is still very much the authoritative text today, why can a perfectly sane pre-teen not contribute to the modern canon of information about frogs, Major League Baseball, or global warming?Should we be preventing anyone from contributing to the ever-evolving conversation about what is truth and what is history?

As sites such as Twournal –which offers the Narcissistic boon of publishing your very own Tweets through time in print form– begin to proliferate, each of us can possess our very own piece of the modern web canon, whether in print or online. As Twournal describes itself, “Over time tweets can tell a story or remind us of moments. In 20 years we don’t know whether twitter will be around but your Twournal will be. Who knows maybe your great grandkids will dig it up in the attic in the next century.”

That means that each of us now has access to print a credible-looking book of our own (often misspelled) musings and meanderings as representative of history, according to us. Yet in the absence of a forum in which people can engage with our Tweeted observations, there’s no real dialectic. It therefore seems safe to conclude that Hegel would have preferred Wikipedia to Twitter, or to your Twournal.