The number one rule young journalists are taught when starting radio broadcasting is simple: No dead air. Cough into the microphone if you must, but don't allow silence to creep in.
For websites, going offline is the same premise -- a definite faux pax. Despite this, Wikipedia, Reddit and other leading sites are blacking out on Wednesday to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the legislation which, critics say, will curtail freedom of speech by censoring internet content.
"Imagine you are a merchant selling things and the government could walk into your store, take your cash register without warning, notice or due process and you wouldn't know they had taken it until it was already gone," Nick Farr, an IT consultant who advises start-up internet firms, told Al Jazeera. "That is basically the equivalent of what they are trying to do online."
The White House recently joined founders of the internet and other cyber activists to denounce SOPA -- which it says "reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet".
Andrew McDiarmid, a policy analyst with the Centre for Democracy and Technology who has been following the legislation, called the White House statement a "major development" and a "strong signal" that the legislation "has not been fully examined". Some analysts believe the bill will be killed with the White House's new-found opposition, but others -- including the founder of Wikipedia -- aren't so sure.
"We have no indication that SOPA is fully off the table..." Jimmy Wales tweeted. "We need to send Washington a BIG message." Other media and technology companies, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, eBay and AOL have also spoken out against the legislation, although they will not be blacking out in protest. The blackout of Wikipedia's English language site will last 24 hours.
While SOPA is floundering politically, another piece of controversial internet legislation -- the Protect IP Act (PIPA) is still being considered by the US Senate.
Supporters, including the film industry, say the legislation is designed to protect intellectual property rights on the internet by allowing the law enforcement officials to shut down "rogue" websites associated with piracy and copyright infringement.
Michael O'Leary, a spokesperson for the Motion Picture Association of America, an industry trade group, called Wikipedia's shutdown part of a campaign of "gimmicks and distortion", distracting from the real problem "which is that foreigners continue to steal the hard work of Americans".
Critics of the legislation charge that definitions are overly broad and the US is mimicking governments, such as China and Iran which censor the internet. Legitimate fears over piracy, critics say, could be used as a smokescreen to take down certain material.
"The requirements that search engines remove certain sites from their results set a dangerous precedent internationally, undermining US advocacy against the use of exactly these same tactics to suppress online free expression," McDiarmid told Al Jazeera.
Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, and one of SOPA's biggest supporters, said on Friday that he plans to remove the legislation's DNS-block requirement, which would give the Justice Department the power to disappear sites.
Most Popular Stories
- Slow Week Ahead of December FOMC Meeting
- Hispanics Seek to Grow School Board Members
- GM Bailout Saved 1.2 Million U.S. Jobs, Report Says
- Questions Remain in Jenni Rivera's Death
- 'Knockout Game': Myth or Menace?
- Bitcoin Used to Buy Tesla Car
- Banks Fret as Volcker Vote Approaches
- Paul Walker Fans Pay Respects
- U.S. Companies Eager for Iranian Business
- Yellen Set to Become One of World's Most Powerful Women