[Foundation-l] Discussion duration and the SOPA shutdown

phoebe ayers phoebe.wiki at gmail.com
Thu Jan 19 02:02:46 UTC 2012

On Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 4:24 PM, George Herbert
<george.herbert at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 3:39 PM, FT2 <ft2.wiki at gmail.com> wrote:
>> It's worth pointing out the discussion was open from 15 December to 16
>> January before any close.
> No, there was informal discussion going back into December.  "The
> discussion" - the concrete, date-attached specific policy and
> implementation proposals and so forth - was about 3 days worth.
> People talking about it and bandying informal ideas around for a month
> doesn't make it a formal consensus discussion.

That is very true. But it is also true that we would not have gotten
to the formal vote stage in the first place, and certainly not a quick
vote, if there hadn't been quite substantial support shown for the
idea of a protest all the way along in discussion. I don't think that
anyone can say consensus was trending one way and then a quick weekend
vote overturned it and went a totally different way; I think that
weekend vote confirmed what was already becoming quite clear, and the
multiple questions helped iron out the details.

The community no doubt could have kept discussing for another week or
month. But to push out a decision we did have to, well, decide. As it
was there was only barely enough time to get things working
technically (and there are still substantial bugs). I can only
congratulate our amazing staff and volunteer community for working
under immense pressure, over a long weekend and all night, to make it

So why, you may reasonably ask, was a short deadline set? Well,
politics. Initially we thought that there was going to be a serious
hearing on SOPA on the 18th, so several sites called for a boycott
that day. Then that hearing was postponed at the last moment, but it
was unclear to when or for how long. And PIPA is *still* up for a vote
next week. Time is *short*, by any measure, and it's not always clear
when the best moment to do things on the hill. In 20/20 hindsight I'd
argue today was actually a fantastic day to do it -- the congress is
just back, it's kind of a slow news day otherwise, and we appear to
have hit both bills in a time when people are still making up their
minds and gauging support. And the effect of coordinating with other
sites shouldn't be underestimated -- I've heard this referred to as
"black Wednesday", one of the largest acts of online activism ever. We
made a difference, all speaking as internet citizens, and it does take
time -- and a set date -- to coordinate with other sites. We helped
lead that effort. It was worth it.

I agree with you -- more time is better, and a few days is not enough
to come to full community-wide consensus. While there will always be
people missing from the table, for one reason or another, we should
work hard to minimize that effect whenever possible. But I *do* think
a few days is enough time to make sure that you have a *reasonable*
consensus, especially when you've got 1800 people participating and a
very clear trend; and I think with all these other factors considered
we did a pretty good job of balancing the timing issues. Someone
needed to move for an RfC if we were going to make any decision happen
in a reasonable time frame; the WMF likely wouldn't have gotten
involved at all if we didn't need that buffer time to, well, turn the
site off (and no one wanted to spend a whole lot of extra tech staff
and communications staff time on the protest if it wasn't wanted).

I realize that I speak from a privileged position here, of having been
heavily involved and paying close attention to SOPA discussions for
weeks, and that may be one of the problems -- it is easy to forget,
when you have had something very much on your mind, that not everyone
has paid such attention to it. In future certainly even fast actions
should be better communicated through all our channels, and we should
spend more time on the !votes if we have it.

But I am also pleased that when it comes right down to it -- this
community can still be bold.

> There are a whole raft of nuanced issues that were bulldozed in all of
> this, ranging from the wisdom of WMF / Wikipedia taking political
> stands organizationally, to lack of sufficient consideration for the
> invisible third leg of the stool (the readers / userbase), to rapidity
> of decisionmaking, to aspects of the community majority bullying those
> who for some reason opposed the change.

At least to your first point -- I will say that this was done with
thought, from the WMF's point of view. In fact it was done with a
whole lot of thought -- big discussions around the Italian protest
action, legal analysis from our lawyers, Board discussions around
advocacy, and general consensus that opposing these bills was the
right thing to do.

The community en.wp decision is separate, but it was also nuanced, and
so I don't think it's true that all these issues were bulldozed,
within Wikipedia or the WMF. (I don't know about the bullying aspect;
I hadn't encountered that or heard other complaints about it, but I am
concerned to hear this report -- that's certainly no good.)

And as for the readers? I suspect a whole lot of people are realizing
that they take Wikipedia for granted today. If anyone wants to see the
kind of impact we've made, media coverage is a reasonable proxy;
there's an in-process list of stories going here:

Thanks George for your thoughtful notes, as ever; and I'll repeat
something here that I said somewhere else -- that these questions of
advocacy, of what battles we fight and how, and how we decide, are
ones that we will have to work on together, as a community. This is
uncharted territory for all of us.

I won't claim that I, personally, was certain this protest was the
right thing to do -- but I was pretty sure, and I am glad that I got
the chance to talk it over with others, who were also pretty sure; and
I am very glad that collectively the decision went the way it did --
because I think in the end it was the right one. But you know what?
We'll keep on talking about it, either way; we can only learn from the
things that went wrong; and we can decide together whether it sets a
precedent (or doesn't) and what that means.

-- phoebe

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