Students on the virtual battlefield

By Tiffanie Reynolds |

When Reddit and Wikipedia blacked out in protest of SOPA and PIPA earlier this month, James Phillips decided to black-out too.

The freshman political science major changed his Facebook profile picture to completely black with the words, “This has been removed in violation of SOPA,” and he blacked out the pages that he moderates on Reddit, which is part of a larger network. Several of his friends also protested, using the same completely black image as their profile picture.

“[On Reddit] we put up a banner basically saying what the situation was and what to do about it. So we had a link saying where to contact your local representatives and tell them to vote against it,” said Phillips.

Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) are two acts whose main goal is to stop piracy on the Internet. After a single report of material that violates copyright laws on a site or a link to a pirated site, the law enforcement has the right to shut down that website and block it from search engines.

It’s this invasive strategy that had Wikipedia, Reddit and 75,000 other sites protesting against the acts on Jan. 18. So much of the Internet runs on content posted and shared by users, and sites that rely on this content could be taken down, according to the criteria outlined in these acts.

“Copyright in this age is something that needs to be addressed. But the particular acts don’t do a sufficient job of addressing them. They don’t do what they’re supposed to do, and some of the things they address are problems that don’t exist,” said Dr. Matthew Wysocki, assistant professor of communications.

Even with these sites taken down temporarily, Phillips definitely felt the impact. He couldn’t use Wikipedia to help him on his research paper or Reddit to get his news. His favorite web comic also blacked out in protest for the day.

Logan Guidry, a sophomore theater arts major, only used news sites and Facebook to keep up with the protest and his friends who “blacked-out” along with him. Posting links to different news articles and sites with information about the acts, his biggest obstacle was keeping track of the conversation.

“I just felt weird because every time I would scroll down my home page there would be nothing but black picture and I couldn’t tell who was who,” said Guidry.

Becoming a part of the protest gave them both a glimpse into the negative effects these acts could cause as well as the kind of power the collective online voice has. Through their efforts as well as as thousands of others, both acts have been shelved indefinitely.

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