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When there is a significant threat to the well-being of a particular project, the wiki's community can engage in project-wide protests to draw attention to the issue.
Types of protests
A banner, such as the one used in the yearly fundraiser, let people know about a serious issue. Code has been proposed that would create a persistent, non-dismissable expanded banner on all pages, if that was felt appropriate.
Non-standard main pages
Changing the main page so that it has coverage of a specific topic, or provides a statement of the cause of the protest.
This type of action makes it impossible for readers and editors to access more than one page, where a statement of the cause for the protest can be read.
If a large number of editors feel that a project is not being run in a good manner, they may "fork" the project. This may prove difficult since the WMF provides such significant support (the servers, brands, logos, and other vital items of the Wikimedia projects), which may be hard for volunteers to muster.
The primary benefits of a project-wide protest are that it's generally dramatic in nature, which raises considerable attention for the issue, and that attention can be incredibly effective in highlighting the underlying concern. The Wikimedia projects are a powerful platform, and our actions can effect significant change.
Part of the reason users trust the Wikimedia projects is because they understand the projects are built by people like them, and are intended to be of service to readers. Therefore, we can expect that at least some users will appreciate receiving information about pending legislation etc., that is sincerely intended to help them understand what is in their interest, rather than in the interests of corporations, governments or industry groups.
Project-wide protests rely on the good will that the Wikimedia project has built to seek out and encourage change that will promote the project's long-term interests. Protests also put the movement at the forefront, rather than simply the website. The site is no longer just providing information, it's providing a mouthpiece for a particular agenda.
Holding a project-wide protest also reminds users of the extent to which they use us and expect us to be around and it points out the value of mirrors and alternatives to the main site.
In some instances, protests that uses blocking of the information, can lead to an increase of donations, if they find the view expressed worthy.
The largest downside to project-wide protests is that in the short term they undermine the primary jobs of a Wikimedia wiki: to educate and serve readers. Readers from other areas, where the protest is not relevant, may still be affected, as well as editors from other language versions of the project (e.g. Wikipedia) who want to use the site for translation or other similar purposes.
While the ultimate goal is to protect Wikimedia's values (such as neutrality), the act of staging a protest can have the opposite effect: it can reduce people's confidence in the project's neutrality. By staging a protest, the project is taking a stand on the issue, publicly. There's also a concern that a particular project taking a stand will be interpreted as the Wikimedia Foundation taking a stand, or even a Wikimedia chapter where its geography overlaps with the project's language, although chapters don't control projects.
Site-wide protests on any larger site also come with an inevitable segment of the community that disagrees with the protest, no matter the level of consensus to engage in protest.
The Wikimedia projects are language-based, not country-based; for example "the German Wikipedia" is not "the Wikipedia of Germany", it is actually – in theory and practice – "the Wikipedia produced and available in the German language". All Wikimedia projects are within the auspices of the Foundation, based in the USA, and are therefore subject to the law of that country not of any other country no matter the language. To act as though there was a direct and indivisible relationship between country and project would be detrimental to all projects and Wikimedia generally
There is a danger that smaller communities can be overrun by a large number of POV-pushing protesters.
Other concerns are that unsuccessful protests can decrease project morale. Protests can also have ripple effects, disrupting projects that rely on a particular wiki (GLAM outreach, Campus Ambassador programs, Toolserver tools, etc.).
Certain public services are prohibited from striking on the grounds that they are essential. The Wikimedia movement argues that unimpeded access to information is critically important: that's why we oppose censorship. To remove people's access to Wikipedia, even if we do it ourselves, suggests that Wikipedia is non-essential, rather than being a service that must of necessity be provided without interruption or interference.
When Wikipedia is down, readers may go to mirror sites and grow accustomed to them.
The primary implementation difficulty is social, not technical. Some projects, especially the larger ones, once seemed to lack the coherence of vision and leadership necessary to agree to and execute a project wide protest.
A second issue is that not all wikis are clearly aimed at a particular jurisdiction; for example, the English Wikipedia's primary audience is several large regions of the world. For sites like the German Wikipedia or the Italian Wikipedia, the primary audience is much more focused to a few particular countries or smaller regions. This issue could be resolved by using geolocation based on visitor's IP addresses.
This list is incomplete; please expand it, if there are relevant instances.
- February 2002: Spanish Wikipedia – type: forking.
The project was forked into Enciclopedia Libre Universal en Español mainly due to concerns over whether adverts would be put on the site to fund it.
- July 2010: Acehnese Wikipedia – type: non-standard main page.
On the project's main page, a conspicuous template message called (in English) for the immediate deletion of "images insulting the Prophet Muhammad PBUH" from certain pages on the English Wikipedia and added that the project would be prepared for a "boycott" of Wikipedia if a fatwa were issued on the topic (detailed timeline, Signpost article, Foundation-l discussion). The local consensus was overridden by stewards and a global sysop, and all local admins were eventually de-sysopped.
- October 2011: Italian Wikipedia – type: site-wide block.
The project was shut for all read and write access (using a combination of JS, CSS and TitleBlacklist), instead directing readers and editors to a letter. This letter explained the reasons behind the action (relating to a proposed media law in Italy) and met with broad very favourable press reaction. Other projects issued statements in support, sometimes using the sitenotice or the main page to advertise them. – Discussion and links at Wikimedia Forum/Italian Wikipedia.
- Multiple (hence not tracked and unknown) "minor" protests or public campaigns have been supported on projects' pages, main pages or sitenotices during the years; most recently, Wikipedia for World Heritage.
- January 18, 2012: English Wikipedia shut down and some other languages showed a banner for one day to protest against SOPA.
- April 2015: Marathi Wikipedia put a lengthy sitenotice commenting the Indian copyright law and the narrowness of its copyright exceptions.
- June 2015: Freedom of Panorama in Europe in 2015 protests, e.g. a German Wikipedia large black sitenotice leading to 30k visits for the explanatory help page on the first day and some thousands signatures.
- June 2016: French banner on Le gouvernement français privatise le domaine public (briefly, due to local complaints and CSS disabling).
- May 2017: Italian Wikipedia sitenotice for Response to 2017 ban in Turkey after some local discussion (RfC).
- July 2018: European Parliament vote in 2018 triggers shutdowns of Wikipedias and some sister projects in it, es, lv, et, ca, pl, gl, eu, pt; plus banners in en and other languages. Earlier, the German Wikipedia had run some banners as well.
- March 2019: a series of banners and shutdowns for the same reasons, see EU policy/Copyright_2019.