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English Wikipedia anti-SOPA blackout/Technical FAQ

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On January 18, 2012 the English Wikipedia was blacked out in protest against proposed US legislation, the "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA) and the "PROTECTIP" (PIPA), which threaten free speech and the free exchange of information online due to their potentially pervasive impact, especially on community-driven websites like Wikipedia.

This FAQ is intended to be a central information point for technical implementation details, for interested users and re-users of Wikimedia content, including bot developers and API users. It's hosted on meta.wikimedia.org to ensure that it can be fully edited and discussed during the period of the blackout.

Which site is blacked out?


The English Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/. No other Wikimedia site will be blacked out.

Is this just read access or reading and editing?


Read access on the main site will be unavailable, but with a handful of exceptions and emergency access methods (described below). All editing will be disabled.

From which country?


The block will be worldwide.

How long will the blackout last?


From January 18, 5:00 UTC to January 19, 5:00 UTC.

How is the blackout implemented?

  • The read access blackout is implemented by means of a CentralNotice "banner" which overlays the entire page after being loaded (it does not have a clickthrough back to the page). Some whitelisted pages are exempted.
    • The JavaScript code for the CentralNotice implementation can be seen here and can be previewed here. Messaging and functionality is subject to change.
  • The write access blackout is implemented by means of setting $wgGroupPermissions to the edit right for all users to false. This means all users will get a permission denied error after attempting to edit.

Are there ways to circumvent the read blackout?


The community has asked us to preserve emergency access options. The following methods will remain available to access content:

  • Disabling JavaScript in your browser
  • Using bookmarklets or other tools to unhide the content
  • Visiting the mobile site at http://en.m.wikipedia.org/
  • Accessing site content via the API
  • Appending ?banner=none to the end of page URLs.
  • Abort the page load before the CentralNotice "banner" is loaded (Can be done through the "Esc" shortcut in most browsers).

As noted above, the mobile site will be available, but will display a banner pointing people to ways to protest SOPA/PIPA.

Are there ways to circumvent the write blackout?


No. Write access through the website and through the API will both be disabled. We may expand write permissions for emergency purposes but the idea is that all editing will cease, in protest against the proposed legislation, for 24 hours.

Will crawlers or API users get special responses?

  • robots.txt will be updated with the following rules:
    • Disallow: /wiki/Special:BannerController
    • Disallow: /wiki/Special%3ABannerController
    • These rules will prevent the read blackout JavaScript from being loaded.
  • API read access will continue to operate normally.
  • API write access attempts will receive a permission error in response.

Will the content be hidden via site CSS?


At this point, the content will only be hidden via the CSS and JavaScript that's loaded by the blackout banner. We're not planning to additionally hide the content via static CSS, because this would be confusing to users who have JavaScript disabled (you'd see no content but no banner either).

If users want to demonstrate (on en.wp or another wiki) a method to black-out the site and add black-out relevant messaging using CSS but no JavaScript (e.g. by designing a background image that would be shown in the CSS-only version), please point us to such suggested user scripts here (we won't be able to consider all suggestions in time). Please do not make modifications to the site CSS/JS prior to the blackout, to prevent accidental disruption of search engines (some crawlers evaluate JS and CSS).

Shouldn't you be more/less comprehensive in your blackout?


This is neither intended to be an impenetrable barrier to access nor an ephemeral attempt to grab attention. It's a historic, measured, temporary action in protest against specific legislation which threatens the free and open Internet and, by extension, Wikipedia. In order to provide clarity about the reasons for the blackout, the following articles will remain available to read during the blackout:

SOPA/PIPA/OPEN related en.wp articles:

FAQs and community discussions

Legal & Other Pages

How is the "Find your rep" feature implemented?


Through a MediaWiki extension called CongressLookup, which is based on data from the Sunlight Foundation APIs, supplemented with additional data obtained through govtrack.us and contactingthecongress.org. Errors can be reported during the blackout here: English Wikipedia SOPA blackout/Congress data