Today, some of the best websites on the internet—and Reddit—are blacked-out to protest SOPA. But you think "SOPA" is what an Italian tourist says when asking for the cleaning supplies aisle at an American convenience store. Here's a guide for those of you whose brains shut down when thinking about tech stuff, but still want to know what the hell everyone's tweeting about.
You can still use Wikipedia
OK, this is the big one: Even though Wikipedia has picked up its toys and stormed off like a baby, you can still access it. Just drag this bookmark to your browser bookmark bar: Unblock Wikipedia. Then visit any Wikipedia site, like this one, and click the bookmark. Voila. America's high schooler's thank you, Stewd.io.
SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act
It's a House anti-piracy bill currently making its way through Congress that targets foreign websites dedicated to piracy—i.e. The Pirate Bay, and those janky Chinese TV-streaming websites you watch Mad Men on. Obviously, media companies and News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch love the thing.
It is bad
But the internet—yes, THE ENTIRE INTERNET—is mad about SOPA because the bill overreaches in trying to destroy what they dramatically call "rogue" websites. Some of its provisions, like forcing search engines like Google to delist foreign sites deemed dedicated to piracy, sounds suspiciously like something China would do. CNET calls SOPA "an Internet death penalty," but SOPA is so broad that a lot of legitimate websites could be mistakenly executed. Do you want innocent websites to die?
You Should Care
SOPA represents a step towards an internet where the U.S. government and giant corporations have the power to determine what you see (or don't) when you Google something, or type in the URL of a website they don't like. (More than they already do, of course.) If you value an internet that is weird and upsetting and fun, and not just a digital shopping mall, then you should care about fighting SOPA.
Beware SOPA Madness
But some people really go overboard with this thing. Techies have been freaking out like SOPA would force U.S. troops to crush one million kittens, instead of just possibly censor some websites. They've staged a pointless boycott of web domain provider GoDaddy for supporting it, threatened to "destroy" the senators behind it, and bravely posed in front of their webcams for this insufferably twee "I Work for the Internet" campaign.
It's Probably Not Going to Pass
At least not as it's written now. SOPA was shelved on Monday after the White House came out against it, as it's currently written. Internet people point out that a sister bill, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), is still being considered in the Senate. But PIPA's sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy, has said he'd be willing to remove the most objectionable parts. At this point, today's big blackout is as much a power play by geeks as anything. They're making noise in order to show political solidarity in advance of 2012 and beyond—for better or worse.