One of the most popular websites in the world, the heavily-trafficked social media forum Reddit.com, has announced that it will go dark on January 18 to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
Reddit's plans are hardly unique, but they are the first to confirm that their service will go offline for a day. Instead of their usual hodgepodge of user-submitted content, the site's front page will be dedicated to a message about how SOPA and its sister bill in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act, threaten basic Internet freedoms.
The site will also feature a live video showing congressional testimony from a number of tech luminaries, including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.
While the actual bills will not be discussed on the 18th, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has assigned his committee to investigate the potential downsides of DNS and search engine blockades. Both are being employed by repressive regimes like Iran and China to censor the information accessed by citizens, and both are techniques recommended by the pending legislation before Congress.
Issa, a staunch opponent of SOPA and PROTECT IP, said he scheduled the hearing because "the public deserves a full discussion about the consequences of changing the way Americans access information and communicate on the Internet today."
Other companies considering staging blackout protests include Wikipedia, Facebook, Google, Twitter and even Amazon, which face major disruption to their business operations if the U.S. Congress decides to fundamentally alter the structure of the Internet by breaking the domain naming system and blacklisting sites that link to any domain that carries infringing content.
A coordinated strike by the largest websites online would put immense pressure on Congress, as literally tens of millions of people find out they cannot search for that hot new viral video, communicate with friends and family, share links to breaking news or read from the world's largest encyclopedia -- leaving them with just a phone number and a note, urging them to call their representative.
Such a move would not be without repercussions -- a single day's worth of Internet traffic on these sites is worth tens of thousands of dollars, or more -- but that's nothing compared to the disruption posed by the legislation before Congress.
For Reddit, it's more than just lost revenue: the site's very existence is threatened by SOPA and PROTECT IP, simply because it is still a small business with a shoestring staff. The legislation would require their staff police all incoming user-submitted content for potential copyright violations -- but with such a massive volume of content to inspect, they'll not be able to do anything else.
For one of the top 100 websites in the U.S., that's quite literally an impossible task, which is why Ohanian told Bloomberg News recently that Congress may actually "obliterate an entire tech industry" by passing these particular anti-piracy bills.
"We're not taking this action lightly," Reddit administrators explained. "We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t believe this legislation and the forces behind it were a serious threat to reddit and the Internet as we know it. Blacking out reddit is a hard choice, but we feel focusing on a day of action is the best way we can amplify the voice of the community."