[Meta] No LessWrong Blackout?

post by CaveJohnson · 2012-01-18T19:48:58.375Z · score: 16 (23 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 49 comments

Contents

  Overcoming Bias will resume normal service on Jan 18 8:00pm (Eastern Time).
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49 comments

Our sister site apparently is:

Overcoming Bias will resume normal service on Jan 18 8:00pm (Eastern Time).

Today Overcoming Bias joins Wikipedia and many other sites in protesting proposed legislation — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECTIP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate.

If passed, SOPA and PIPA will give the US Justice Department and courts tremendous power to shut down entire sites. These bills endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, potentially setting a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world.

You can find out more about the impact of SOPA and PIPA from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Interesting, my model of Robin Hanson had him say something about the blackout and how it shows people are hypocrites. Though obviously he has strong opinions on intellectual property. I think it would have been a good idea to Blackout LessWrong today. It would have given us a status boost in most of the communities we frequent.

49 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Spurlock · 2012-01-18T21:53:39.328Z · score: 25 (29 votes) · LW · GW

I applaud the sites that have blacked out and/or put up anti-SOPA messages. SOPA and PIPA are bad news, and the word needs to be spread.

That said, there are 2 very important differences between those actions and the hypothetical LW blackout:

1) The sites that are blacking out are by and large sites that could be directly and severely hurt by the legislation. This is why I consider it okay for Wikipedia to black out about SOPA, but would be furious if the site were to black out because the editors didn't like some piece of immigration reform. They're not simply choosing to use their status as a soapbox, they actually must defeat these bills if they wish to continue existing.

2) The community driven sites that blacked out (including Reddit and Wikipedia) did so only after a serious discussion with their userbase. LW falls into this category, but no such discussion has taken place. Community site = community decision.

So IMO, a LW blackout would be an arbitrary political stance on a non-particularly-related issue, and a total snub to the community since we weren't consulted about it. I wouldn't be too pissed, since SOPA really does need to be stopped, but I would definitely consider it tacky.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-18T22:44:34.130Z · score: 29 (31 votes) · LW · GW

This is correct: for Wikipedia it was life or death, which is the only reason several hundred Wikipedia editors actually voted 85-90% in favour of it. (Which is remarkable. If you said "the sky is blue" to a group of Wikipedia editors, they would immediately produce a hundred pages of referenced counterexamples. Each with a little blue number after it.)

comment by FiftyTwo · 2012-01-19T00:17:42.801Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

[Citation needed]

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-19T00:23:19.125Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

One of the key skills of Wikipedia editors appears to be generalised cross-domain bikeshedding.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2012-01-19T00:24:32.175Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You made the points I wished to better than I would have.

Another difference between LW and somewhere like reddit or wikipedia is they both have a large ratio of 'lurkers' to contributors, so there is a large number of users finding out about SOPA/PIPA for the first time today. Whereas my impression of lesswrong is that far more of the content is viewed by the same people who contribute content, so there isn't a silent mass of people who aren't aware of whats going on, as discussion isn't taking place in a less obvious subreddit or moderators section.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-18T22:39:28.962Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

The answer is obvious: if you're in America, please phone, email and write a paper letter to your Congressman and Senator. Stop for a moment and do that now. Yes, you. Use the zipcode finder on Wikipedia. Then proceed with LessWrong.

(me, I've just had two days in the Wikipedia press storm. Apparently did well on BBC R4 PM yesterday evening (38:50 on). [That's second only to R4 Today for serious political impact.] I'm now doing coding for work to wind down. In Ant. It's like INTERCAL in XML.)

comment by Prismattic · 2012-01-19T03:18:40.451Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Don't mail paper letters to your representatives. Mail delivery to political elites in the US has been a nightmare ever since the anthrax attacks. Type and hand-sign a letter and fax it to your representatives if you want it to be read when it still matters.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-19T09:01:47.713Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm, I'd say do all of those things. Then get back to bikeshedding on the Internet ;-p

comment by dbaupp · 2012-01-19T00:07:37.126Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for putting your effort where your mouth is!

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-19T20:48:55.445Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I'm not American so I can't take the direct approach :-)

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-19T20:48:40.564Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Grognor · 2012-01-18T21:39:08.612Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure whether to be disappointed about LW's non-participation in the blackout.

On the one hand, it seems like a weird thing to pretend to be impartial about.

On the other hand, I doubt there are very many people who come to this website who don't already oppose this new wave of nonsense.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-19T02:10:48.626Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I think it would have been a good idea to Blackout LessWrong today.

It would be a pretentious waste of time. Lesswrong isn't signficant or relevant to the SOPA issue. Wikipedia is.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-19T02:09:23.543Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting, my model of Robin Hanson had him say something about the blackout and how it shows people are hypocrites.

My model of Robin Hanson has him do hypocritical things anyway and STILL talk about how hypocritical it is.

You don't necessarily lose status by admitting that you do things that people only do to prove how high status they are. Hanson uses himself as an example from time to time.

comment by fburnaby · 2012-01-23T14:00:22.110Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You don't necessarily lose status by admitting that you do things that people only do to prove how high status they are.

Interestingly, this seems to only apply in rationalist communities. While I think it's a good norm for encouraging truth-seeking, it seems bad for winning to let each-other off the hook too easily.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-23T16:37:22.281Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interestingly, this seems to only apply in rationalist communities.

I wouldn't say that. It applies in a significant proportion of communities with a self help emphasis and the overwhelming majority of those that are focused on dating.

While I think it's a good norm for encouraging truth-seeking, it seems bad for winning to let each-other off the hook too easily.

There isn't any letting each other off the hook involved. Doing things just to signal your status is a basic social skill and not something to be ashamed of.

comment by fburnaby · 2012-01-23T23:23:17.736Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Doing things just to signal your status is a basic social skill and not something to be ashamed of.

Yes, but what I'm trying to get at is that if we started assigning status to people who actually accomplish things, we'd all start ... accomplishing more things!

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-18T20:09:50.935Z · score: 9 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I'm glad we didn't participate. Doing so would have sparked an ugly political debate about censorship and SOPA and who controls LessWrong. Additionally, not participating signals being apolitical; though participating would raise our status in some communities, it also reduces our perceived impartiality.

comment by SilasBarta · 2012-01-19T03:05:08.014Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

To play Least Convenient Possible World:

What if Congress were considering the "Exterminate Less Wrong Act of 2012"? What kind of anti-ELWA speech or activism would you consider inappropriate here?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-19T03:17:06.304Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In the LCPW I would consider discussion and activism completely appropriate. My argument is consquentialist, not deontological--if the legislation in question was damaging enough and discussion/protest of ELWA was useful enough that the expected value of doing nothing was less than the expected value of talking about/protesting ELWA, I would be fine with such discussion and activism. I don't think this is the case with SOPA.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-19T09:56:01.475Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It does worry me that Wikipedia quite definitely reduced its perceived impartiality. It basically had one shot. This sort of thing needs to be rare.

OTOH, in public perceptions: when Wikipedia says you suck - you really, really suck.

comment by dbaupp · 2012-01-19T00:02:58.546Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

not participating signals being apolitical; though participating would raise our status in some communities, it also reduces our perceived impartiality

Like with Wikipedia, the legislation threatens the viability/legality of LW in the US (and this would likely affect every LWer, even us non-US readers). Also, although not being protested, the RWA threatens a significant portion of open science, which could be far, far worse than just removing a website here or there (EDIT, however, this doesn't directly affect the existence of LW, so I feel the need for LW as an institution to protest is smaller).

So these laws are not necessarily something LW should maintain an apolitical stance.

comment by JenniferRM · 2012-01-18T22:55:30.616Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for mindkiller link :-)

I'm not really sure that creating a "perception of impartiality" is a community goal. It certainly isn't what I care about. Mostly I think its just that there is a lot of value to the kinds of conversations that are possible here, and I think that talking about "normal" politics would do more damage to those conversations compared to the specific value that it would generate. And its not even that we don't talk a lot about politics here, its just that we're more likely to talk about them in a very abstract way...

I really appreciate articles about how to calculate the total expected value of a political action that coherently respects issues of self-reflective agency on all parties. My suspicion is that we'll get less of the really good stuff if we talk about run of the mill political topics, and I think that would be sad. If this makes me "look impartial" so be it, but I don't feel impartial and don't particularly want to give that impression. Personally, I feel (and for that matter would not mind appearing) as though I'm simply partial to sanity and clear thinking because it is so rare and so useful, and I'm willing to accept certain costs or constraints to protect what I'm partial to.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-19T00:34:27.765Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not really sure that creating a "perception of impartiality" is a community goal.

Agreed. However, it is one of my goals. One of the things I love about LessWrong is that there are very few political debates in the sense that most people recognize them, and this is a community norm that I would like to continue.

comment by dlthomas · 2012-01-18T23:44:04.429Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

We did have some discussion previously, not specifically about blacking out the site, but about the issue generally. My position, there, was that LW is not a place for political issues no matter how much we're all in agreement on them. "Our kind" should co-operate on such issues but I don't think this is the place to coordinate that; I think there do exist plenty of other places that can serve as well for that, I think that what is here is valuable, and I think that adding politics to the mix risks disturbing it.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-01-18T22:23:22.966Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I am somewhat glad that the discussion wasn't had. Which is not to say I'm glad we didn't black it out. I would anticipate a discussion being highly divisive in the community, with no clear majority either way, between the two general ideologies of "No politics on LW" and "SOPA and PIPA need to be stopped at all costs". I think I would have a very slight preference towards a blackout of LW, primarily because I think the consensus (both on the general internet, and to a larger extent here) is so one-sided against SOPA/PIPA. Because of this, I don't think the mind-killing potential is as high as it normally would be.

That being said, I don't see much reason for a blackout. 1. SOPA/PIPA wouldn't affect LW particularly much. 2. I would be shocked if blacking out LW actually spread the word to any additional people who didn't already know.

But at the same time, it makes me a little sad to see websites not blacking out, today, for example Bing, by which I was very surprised. Almost all of my favorite sites have some form of protest going on.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-18T21:12:26.754Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Then I'll truly have nowhere left to go. :-(

comment by billswift · 2012-01-18T20:08:14.727Z · score: -12 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Here's a comment I left in a thread on HN:

Those sites that are completely blacked out, like makezine and Wikipedia, are doing exactly what many accuse DRM of doing. Annoying their users while producing no real benefit. Google's and HN's methods are better.

ADDED: Most of them don't particularly matter to me, I rarely use Wikipedia, for example. The one that has annoyed me is the Internet Archive blackout - www.archive.org

comment by gwern · 2012-01-18T20:39:54.509Z · score: 20 (24 votes) · LW · GW

while producing no real benefit

Out of curiosity, how many Congress-critters would have to recant before you would concede 'real benefit'?

comment by billswift · 2012-01-18T23:02:50.627Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'll concede that it was of help, if they don't try to pass one of them, or an equivalent bill, next year after the elections. As I put it in a different HN comment thread:

For now, any way. As soon as it's out of the news, after the elections, they will almost certainly try to pass them, or another similar bill, again. It's a never ending game of Whack-A-Mole. Eventually, one will get through.

ADDED: This is a combination focussed benefit for SOPA/PIPA/RWA supporters, versus a collective action problem for the opposition. While I hate the SOPA/PIPA/RWA trilogy, the reality is they will very probably (>80%) become law within the next three years.

comment by rwallace · 2012-01-18T23:51:07.673Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

It would be wonderful if defending freedom were a one-off job like proving Fermat's Last Theorem. As it turns out, it's an endlessly recurring job like fighting disease; unfortunate, but that's the way it is. And yes, sometimes our efforts fail, and freedoms are lost or people get sick and die. But the answer to that is to work harder and smarter, not to give up.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-19T02:38:56.451Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

it's an endlessly recurring job like fighting disease

Until you eradicate smallpox, or polio, or Congress.

comment by billswift · 2012-01-19T14:16:44.647Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Who's giving up? You whiners are just playing the politicians' game. Avoidance often works better and wastes less time. Some people have begun work on an alternate domain name type system, and others different style replacements that would be harder to control, for example.

If you want to trade quotes, what about

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

comment by billswift · 2012-01-18T23:16:21.157Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For those unfamiliar with the RWA, here's Derek Lowe's discussion, Down with the Research Works Act.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-18T22:42:25.850Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Orrin Hatch has apparently recanted (edit: "not ready for prime time"), though for some reason I find it hard to assume good faith.

comment by gwern · 2012-01-18T22:46:02.955Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hatch has a long history, it is true... No doubt his recanting is purely tactical, like the rescheduling of SOPA was. ('not ready for prime time' kind of implies that he would like it to come back when it is ready.)

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2012-01-18T21:12:59.954Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Wikipedia is not completely blacked out. From their "learn more" page:

Is it still possible to access Wikipedia in any way?

Yes. During the blackout, Wikipedia is accessible on mobile devices and smart phones. You can also view Wikipedia normally by disabling JavaScript in your browser, as explained on this Technical FAQ page. Our purpose here isn't to make it completely impossible for people to read Wikipedia, and it's okay for you to circumvent the blackout. We just want to make sure you see our message.

(Admittedly, many people will not notice this.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-18T21:53:04.217Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Finally, the day has come! My faith has been vindicated! *starts lynx*

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-01-18T22:11:55.283Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You can also just hit Esc while the page is loading.

comment by dlthomas · 2012-01-18T23:45:57.052Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

or append ?banner=no to the url

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-18T22:41:15.231Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The Wikipedia blackout has been the single most effective protest against SOPA.

We got a front page headline in the UK. Admittedly only in Metro, which is complete rubbish ... but is read by every bored commuter in the country.

comment by Matt_Simpson · 2012-01-18T22:45:09.175Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My prior agrees, but have any evidence?

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-18T22:55:23.422Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Wikipedia's the only striking site that got the mainstream media interested. There's been 4 million lookups on Wikipedia's zipcode finder so far today. (Full data will be released in a day or two, when the WMF staff have had any sleep.) Wikipedia took the entire existence of SOPA mainstream.

I may be biased because the UK mainstream electronic media coverage has been substantial - I've been doing radio for two days, others have been doing television (including Jimmy Wales on Newsnight, which is seriously important here). I don't know what the US media coverage landscape looks like - has it hit mainstream electronic media, or are they treating it as something those funny Internet people are making a fuss about?

(Edit: The post-blackout press release. 8 million zipcode lookups.)

comment by Nornagest · 2012-01-18T23:15:51.553Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know what the US media coverage landscape looks like - has it hit mainstream electronic media, or are they treating it as something those funny Internet people are making a fuss about?

Articles either displaying the blackout logo or directly mentioning Wikipedia in the headline are above the fold on cnn.com and nytimes.com, and below the fold on MSNBC. Most of the editorials I see look to be coming down on the opposition side. Don't see anything on the SF Chronicle front page.

I don't follow US news much, but it looks like it's got some attention.

comment by Caspian · 2012-01-19T02:08:38.222Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Congratulations on the media coverage!

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-01-18T22:44:26.329Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Might be hard to compare Wikipedia and Google. I'd guess more people use Google, but Wikipedia is more invasive. Regardless, it is certainly highly effective.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-18T22:59:35.871Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think for media coverage, it would have been Wikipedia. Journalists joke about students left stranded without Wikipedia for their homework ... but as far as I can tell, they're almost all utterly reliant on Wikipedia as their handy universal backgrounder. They're feeling its absence keenly. (And crying with relief when they realise it still works on their phones.) The news cycle started as soon as the warning banner went up yesterday.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-01-19T02:12:45.178Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

but as far as I can tell, they're almost all utterly reliant on Wikipedia as their handy universal backgrounder.

How far can you tell?

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-19T09:03:38.687Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

They say so speaking to them (they used to say so a lot, when it was a novelty - say, 2005-2008), and I get the impression from stories that seem to have been backgrounded from Wikipedia. (Which is admittedly subjective rather than statistics. But when you recognise the Wikipedia writing style ...) I suspect this is a lot of why Wikipedia gets a really easy ride from the press.