Will Reddit’s SOPA Blackout Make a Difference?

The next phase of Reddit’s war against the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) will begin next week when the social news community will black out its website for a period of 12 hours. In place of Reddit’s user-ranked news and lively conversations will be commentary and information about SOPA, as well as video of congressional testimony about the proposed legislation.

This is just Reddit’s latest strike against SOPA, a topic that has been front-and-center on the site for months now. Its community of users have turned the discussion into a type of digital activism, launching a successful boycott campaign against GoDaddy and rallying support for candidates running against pro-SOPA politicians.

How effective will the blackout be? To be sure, Reddit has massive traffic. The site delivered over 2 billion pageviews in December and has seen its traffic double within the last year.

At the same time, it’s hard to imagine that too many people who visit Reddit on a regular basis don’t know what SOPA is or are unaware of the arguments against it. Those have been plastered all over Reddit’s front page for quite some time, and the site’s anti-SOPA activity has been the subject of widespread media coverage (a fact that probably contributed to their December traffic explosion). For a healthy percentage of people who try to navigate to Reddit on January 18, the notion that SOPA poses a threat to the Internet as we know it won’t exactly be breaking news.

Getting More Big Players on Board

To truly stir up the masses, bigger players like Facebook or Google would need to make some kind of tangible anti-SOPA move, even if it’s just a brief homepage takeover or light box with a brief message. Sites of that magnitude (and that reliant on advertising dollars) are unlikely to actually black their services out for a day, but saying a few words about SOPA would at least get the attention of everyday, non-geek people who have never heard of Reddit. Imagine if every WordPress.com blog went dark for a day or if the admin panel included a message about SOPA as Tumblr has already done.

Given the makeup of Reddit’s community and the role the site has already played in anti-SOPA activism, it may actually be the perfect place to try out such an experiment, generating just enough additional awareness without alienating too many existing users. If successful, perhaps the model would expand to other sites. Wikipedia is just one major website that’s considering participating in this style of protest against SOPA.

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