Wikipedia has shut down its English-language site for 24 hours today to protest two bills aimed at stopping online piracy (the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Protect IP (intellectual property) Act) that Wikipedians say would “fatally damage the free and open Internet.”
I keep reading that this blackout will cause students to freak out more than average humans: The New York Times claims that the blackout is “no doubt causing panic among countless students who have a paper due.” The Huffington Post reported that “some students are wrapping up work early in anticipation of Wikipedia's blackout (or even turning to books), others say they expect to hand in assignments after their due dates.”Buzzfeed went to Twitter and found “25 angry kids who can’t do their homework because of the Wikipedia blackout.”Tthe Washington Post came up with a “survival guide” to help students (along with 20-somethings looking to cheat at bar trivia night). And our Post colleague Hayley Tsukayama found at least some students on Twitter complaining about how hard it was to do homework projects
Many of these reports cite a tweet from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on Monday:
But I have to wonder: Are students really freaking out more than everyone else? I doubt it for these five reasons:
1) Most college students are smart enough to find a way around the blackout. A couple of years ago I had to interview a group of Maryland high schoolers who were quarantined in a Beijing hospital during the swine flu scare. I conducted those interviews via Facebook, as these students were able to quickly find a way around the Chinese government’s blockage of the site. This blackout isn’t any different.
When I asked my Twitter and Facebook followers how they were coping with the blackout, they shared these tricks for getting around it:
* Use Google’s cache feature to see Wikipedia pages as they were before the blackout hit.
* Use the Spanish site (or the French one or whatever language you studied in high school). Or use Google Chrome’s translation feature on one of those pages.
* Access Wikipedia through your mobile phone browser or iPhone application, which are still working.
2) The spring semester has barely begun and it’s unlikely that students have major research papers due. Seriously. And a lot of colleges are still on winter break.
3) Wikipedia is not the only source--or even the main source-- students rely on. Professors have beaten into the heads of students that they are not allowed to cite Wikipedia as a source. I have seen quite a few faculty rants against Wikipedia on quite a few syllabuses.
Sure, many students use Wikipedia as a starting place for their research (as I often do as a reporter) but it’s not the only source that they use. And many students are offended by the suggestion that they don’t know how to use a library (or books, online journals and other scholarly sources).
Kevin Howe, a second year student at Kirtland Community College in Michigan, wrote this on my Facebook wall: “I am proud to say that I'm old school.....I can use our college library better than some of the faculty and staff.”
4) Many college students are joining the protest by shutting down their own sites. This is a protest that many college students are supporting, backing and joining. The student-run GW Patriot at George Washington University is having a #BuffAndBlueOut today. The student-run Middblog at Middlebury College is not operating today. The School of Information Studies at Syracuse University has blacked out its academic homepage. And I have seen several students turn their Facebook profile pictures into black boxes or error messages.
5) If they are freaking out, it’s not just about Wikipedia. Craigslist is down, slowing searches for roommates, cheap TV’s and sketchy hook-ups. And, seriously, how are students going to kill time without funny pictures of cats on the temporarily shutdown site I Can Has Cheezburger?