Wikipedia, political lobbyist

Kate Lieb By Kate Lieb

A screen shot displays’s protest against Russian legislation that censors websites.

Wikipedia is becoming something of a force for political activism.

The latest episode came Tuesday, when Russian Wikipedia closed their site to visitors, instead posting the words “Imagine a world without free knowledge” and a brief message about a proposed bill in the Russian legislature to censor websites featuring “harmful information.” (A screenshot of the message is above.)

That initially appeared to succeed in creating a negative buzz around the proposed legislation in Moscow, as the Russian Duma tabled the vote. But Wednesday, the Duma passed more specific legislation that would censor websites featuring child pornography and promoting drug use and self-harm among minors, reports Radio Free Europe. Wikipedia and other groups opposed the bill.

Still, it was a rare example of Russian lawmakers bowing to public pressure. Russia’s Wikipedia editors had joined a chorus of critics when they temporarily blacked out their site to protest the bill.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Wikipedia was live once again, but users now see a thin red banner at the top of the page announcing that the revised bill had passed and could still result in Wikipedia’s closure. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign the legislation, which would become law in November.

Here’s an English translation of the current message:

Win or lose, Wikipedia blackouts are becoming part of politics in various countries.

On January 18th, Wikipedia blacked out its United States site for 24 hours to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act, which, if enacted, could lead to greatly restricted access to online content in America. Some European editions of Wikipedia did the same, some in support of the American Wikipedia’s protest of the American legislation, some to protest the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international treaty that would crack down on copyright infringement and other intellectual property violations on the Internet. Critics say ACTA would also restrict access to online content.

On January 20th, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives tabled both pieces of legislation. They have yet to be brought back for a vote. ACTA, meanwhile, has suffered from repeated protests in Europe.

The first such protest took place in Italy in October 2011. There, Wikipedia’s editors blacked out the Italian language edition for 48 hours because of an amendment to a bill called DDL Intercettazioni. That amendment would have required online publications to remove material the government felt was objectionable, without review, within 48 hours or face a fine of $16,000.

The Italian government amended the legislation by forcing only large online news sites to adhere to the regulations, leaving bloggers and sites like Wikipedia free from its jurisdiction.

Representatives from Wikipedia have said they protest these types of legislation because they would allow countries to follow the Chinese model of filtering content.

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