Reddit has announced that they will be blacking out their site on January 18 in opposition of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (a.k.a. PROTECT-IP, PIPA).

There has been some discussion on Hacker News about that site following suit, though nothing official from the site runners.

Obviously Stack Overflow stands in opposition of these bills as well, so is there any possibility of joining in the blackout as well?

Stopped they must be; on this all depends.

  • 11
    Excellent choices, as the users of Reddit, HN, and SO are technically illiterate and probably mostly support SOPA Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:29
  • 50
    we could black it out just for the USA :)
    – waffles
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:29
  • 3
    @MichaelMrozek That was brought up on HN as well, and initially I agreed, but it was said that the idea was more about making a protest and attracting media attention being simply about informing that sites user base. Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:31
  • 16
    @AgentConundrum It's not a very effective protest if the only people it inconveniences or even affects are people that were already on your side Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:33
  • 13
    If we make a mistake on the load balancer config, yes. Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:34
  • 17
    @MichaelMrozek Do you agree with support SOPA? [Yes] -> site goes black for a day [No] -> it works :)
    – waffles
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:34
  • 4
    +1 for alien/unicorn/braveheart mashup.
    – Jeremy
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:39
  • 9
    Oh for the love of God please stop with this.
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:43
  • 16
    I feel like this should be a community decision, not a corporate/company decision... Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:51
  • 6
    @NickCraver: Use a message like "If you care, this error was intentional to oppose SOPA. If you don't care, nevermind this, we're working on it. It wasn't about SOPA at all. Where would you get that idea? glarey face"
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 1:01
  • 6
    What about users trying to get the Fanatic badge? Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 1:29
  • 13
    If SE goes down as a form of protest, I might just ramp down my usage of SE, as well, as a form of protest. Nobody will care, mind you, I'm just one irrelevant user. But the only infuriating part about SOPA so far is the panic. The internet will survive. Meanwhile, we should continue using SE to make the internet better. Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 2:05
  • 5
    The picture need a windmill to be tilting at.
    – Rosinante
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 2:27
  • 17
    NO! On Jan 26 I get my fanatic badge, I don't care for anything else (see I already think like one).
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 3:05
  • 14
    If we do this then there will be a 200% spike in productivity worldwide.
    – JNK
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 19:19

9 Answers 9


We don't own Stack Exchange... we're just taking care of it on your behalf.

The content on Stack Exchange is licensed under Creative Commons, and as such, is the property of the community. We deliberately set it up that way. We set it up that way specifically to prevent the company or its successors from taking it away from you (as Expert's Exchange did) or charging you for it. As such, taking Stack Exchange away even for a day would, IMHO, require the approval of the current community around this site.

  • 70
    "We don't own Stack Exchange" is an abject untruth. While I can't gauge whether or not you intended for people to believe that they actually have any real ownership in any of the Stack Exchange sites, as one of the principals, you should be extremely clear in your positions on anything regarding anything on any of the sites. Pithy is antithetical to the philosophy of Stack Exchange.
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 1:51
  • 6
    What I meant was, the content on Stack Exchange is licensed under Creative Commons, and as such, is the property of the community. We deliberately set it up that way. We set it up that way specifically to prevent the company or its successors from taking it away from you (as Expert's Exchange did) or charging you for it. As such, taking Stack Exchange away even for a day would, imho, require the overwhelming approval of the current community around this site. Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 1:57
  • 7
    Then perhaps that should be edited into the answer to clarify?
    – casperOne
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 1:59
  • 31
    @JoelSpolsky CC license does not mean that SE cannot shut down if it chooses to. The CC license enables someone else to take all the content up until that day and host it while SO is down and rake in the moolah. Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 2:01
  • 6
    While what you say is technically true, creative commons licensing reflects a fundamental social compact between us as operators of the site, and the people who contribute to it. Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 2:03
  • 7
    I've always seen Stack Exchange as custodians of the content that we produce. SE is not in the business of producing quality content, they're in the business of enabling and curating it. Given that, I think we'd really annoy a substantial part of our community if we joined in the blackout, perhaps irreparably. A responsible curator doesn't do things like that (as Joel noted) without overwhelming support. Transferring a domain to another registrar is something a curator should be able to do at their discretion. Taking the site down in protest? That's a whole different matter entirely.
    – user50049
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 8:01
  • 23
    You don't own the content but you do own how it's delivered and presented. Why not "black out SO" by making the background black and the text white? And have a little "why SO is black today" banner linking to some anti-SOPA page.
    – CanSpice
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 20:07
  • 5
    @CanSpice I can see the meta explosion already...
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 20:12
  • 3
    Maybe SE won't go for a blackout...but do you need to talk to imgur (the image hosting provider)? That was, I believe, set up by a Redditor - so you'll have to make sure any image-based blackout won't affect the stack.imgur domain and we end up with no pictures.
    – tombull89
    Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 8:54
  • 3
    I don't believe a "shutdown" is warranted, but a statement (color reverse & banner like @CanSpice suggested, or a JavaScript based one like sopablackout.org) would certainly be appropriate in my personal opinion
    – voretaq7
    Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 18:22
  • 1
    @JoelSpolsky: how about changing StackExchange style to * color:black; background-color:black; for one day? The content will still be available. Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 18:01
  • The first internet blackout @JoelSpolsky, Just change the main body to be white text on black background, like in the link above, and put a simple link to the Stop The Wall page. SOPA and PIPA are down but not out, and only if the users of the internet actively oppose the legislation can they be defeated.
    – Jack Viers
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 21:49
  • If something wants to take away our freedoms by force in a way that could harm this community owned system, then it is in the best interest of the community who control it. Otherwise the government could potentially come along and in the end the thing is still taken away like Experts Exchange. It is the government exerting force against the free people. This is not about piracy, this is about defending our freedoms.
    – MetaGuru
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 0:47
  • Revisiting this answer in 2024, the first half of the first sentence is now correct - you no longer own stackexchange because you sold it to a crappy company named Prosus. The "on your behalf" part is however decidedly less correct now than it was in 2012.
    – l4mpi
    Commented Mar 1 at 12:00

I like the spirit behind this, but in reality, what proponent of SOPA is going to care?

SOPA Proponent: "Oh well look at that. They're going ahead with SOPA and they took themselves down. Makes our job easier!"

There must be more effective ways to protest SOPA than shutting down the places where people are discussing how to stop SOPA.

  • 10
    As I said in the comments on the question itself, I made this in response to the idea on HN that, although the people on the site itself may not need to be convinced, the more large sites that go down, the larger the chance of a mainstream media response. With the mainstream media covering the action, "regular people" become more aware of the problem. Response on this page shows me that I was perhaps mistaken. Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:42
  • 2
    The problem is, that coverage could backfire: "hackers joined together to protest the upcoming law meant to stamp out piracy"... Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:45
  • 5
    What mainstream media covers us? I would say that the only media in the hacker world is already squarely on our side.
    – John
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:46
  • 8
    @BobCratchit The point wasn't to have the MSM call us out specifically, but more to show that discontent over SOPA isn't limited to one site, but that it's a view many people share. Besides, the more sites you have involved, the more likely others are to join in as well. Besides, just because the membership of SO is SOPA-aware and opposed to SOPA doesn't mean that the membership of, e.g. cooking.SX or english.SX would be similarly aware. Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 1:00
  • @AgentConundrum True...network wide it could spread awareness somewhat...I'm just not sure the effect would be worth spending a day out of business.
    – John
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 1:05
  • Relevant: reddit.com/r/AdviceAnimals/comments/offqo/… Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 21:05
  • @Ullallulloo I'm not quite sure what you're trying to say...
    – John
    Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 21:47
  • @John: Me neither, just a similar discussion on Reddit. Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 22:15
  • 1
    It's not about making SOPA folks sad, it's about making people know about the problem. As many as possible. Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 17:54
  • 1
    It's awareness to the general public, so it would be mostly pointless shutting down the trilogy, but make all the stack exchange sites (at least) have a black background and white text would be awesome!!!
    – Jonathan.
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 15:51

We're just preaching to the choir now. At this point, SOPA needs to be evangelized outside our technical ghettos. We have plenty of awareness on technical (Stack Overflow) and geek (Reddit) sites about SOPA -- but tell me, when was the last time you saw a mainstream news article on SOPA? I can't recall ever seeing a single one.

It'd be a lot more effective if mainstream websites like Google and Facebook went offline for a day in protest. If a service your mother or grandmother uses went dark in a big public way, that is far more likely to generate much needed mainstream news coverage of what SOPA is and why it is dangerous. Without regular folks fighting alongside the geeks we don't stand much of a chance.

I suggest reserving your lobbying efforts for the "regular joe" websites, where going dark in protest would actually be effective in generating the right kind of mainstream publicity. Otherwise we're not accomplishing anything useful, IMO.

edit: I was impressed to see Wikipedia go dark; that's one of the best possible outcomes here, as it is so widely used by such a broad spectrum of people. And although Google didn't go dark, they did put up prominent notices. This is the way forward, to get Joe Six-Pack on our side, not just the geeks.

  • edition.cnn.com/2012/01/06/tech/web/sopa-web-piracy-act
    – balpha StaffMod
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 7:30
  • 5
    the root issue has never really been SOPA or the rest of the draconian industry backed laws, it is the huge amount of cash that is injected into the system by the lobbyists, fixing congress is the first problem that should be solved lessig.tumblr.com/post/13119510676/…
    – waffles
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 9:46
  • 1
    Again, I made this post after reading an argument on HN that taking down that site (one much smaller than, though equally technically oriented to, this one) as an act of solidarity with reddit would be of benefit if only as an amplifier to attract attention. It's "reddit blacks out in protest of SOPA/PIPA" vs. "several large websites blackout in protest". Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 0:19
  • 2
    Beyond that, though I stupidly said "stack overflow" in the post, I was thinking of "stack exchange" when I made it. While the flagship site is clearly a "technical ghetto", that label is less accurate on other SX sites like cooking.SX, english.SX, or even photo.SX, and blacking them out might be more noticeable to the unwashed masses of the non-technical public. Also, I think you're making a bad assumption by assuming everyone who comes to SO knows about these bills. I'm sure there are plenty of "programming-as-a-9-to-5-job" programmers who occasionally come here who might not be aware. Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 0:23
  • 1
    Point taken though. "[My] idea is bad and [I] should feel bad." (I mean that as a joke, btw.) After reading the reddit post, then the HN discussion, I just thought I'd float the idea here as well given the GoDaddy response. As a Canadian, my hands are pretty tied as far as what I can do about the bills (I can't donate to your politicians, for example, and they wouldn't ever take my calls since I can't vote for them), but they're still disturbing to an international audience. Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 0:26
  • 1
    @agent Google was 91% of all incoming traffic to Stack Overflow from Jan-Dec 2011. And 73% of all incoming traffic to Stack Exchange in the same period. So if Google blacks out, we are de facto blacked out as well. Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 0:32
  • 2
    There's the argument that Google and Facebook need to be incentivized to actually black out. Also, I haven't seen anything out of Google to suggest they're actually seriously considering a black out; I've only seen third party speculation. A full blackout also seems unlikely for Google, and a lot of people are expecting that the most they'll do is a banner or an interstitial. The argument being that if even one person has a major issue as a result of a full blackout (one example I've seen is someone getting bitten by a venomous snake that they don't correctly identify because Google was down) Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 0:55
  • ... then public opinion will quickly shift against Google for having caused it. Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 0:57
  • 3
    Is games.se used by people "outside of our technical ghettos"? Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 17:34
  • Readers of the Washington Post (admittedly geeks by a different name) would know that both bills (but especially SOPA) are in trouble and will likely need to be watered down if they are to pass. Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 19:02
  • @AgentConundrum You might want to check the google homepage.
    – Mob
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 12:53
  • @Mobinga I'm Canadian, so I can't see it. I've seen screenshots though. Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 19:46
  • 1
    There was a NY Times article about it (motivated by the blackout) today; unfortunately it was of the "he said"/"she said" variety, without much actual research. Seemed like they'd just heard about the blackout and didn't have a lot of time to put together an article.
    – jscs
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 21:14

Are you kidding? Do you have any idea how many people were upset when a banner was shown in opposition of it?

Taking it down for a day will only serve to irritate hundreds of thousands of programmers who need an answer right now. It won't convince them to spend time writing their representative rather than, you know, working.

So no, I would not recommend it.

  • 2
    Exactly! Reddit goes down for a day... who cares? SO goes down for a day... well, people actually come here because they need something.
    – Dennis
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 3:53
  • 5
    I come from Australia, not sure how much use it would be for us foreigners writing to your representatives anyway? I shall do what AUS does best and drink a beer in solidarity.
    – going
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 5:07
  • 18
    So, for you, no SO = no work done for the day. Sorry, but that's shameful. If you "need" an answer, and SO is down (in a hypotetical world where the whole internet is just SO) go figure it out by yourself, or wait a few hours until it comes back up. Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 9:39
  • 6
    @CamiloMartin "no SO = no work done for the day" Not at all, it's more like a force multiplier. Of course good programmers can figure out the problem without SO. It wastes time, though, when they might be able to spend 5-10 minutes getting an expert to help them rather than 20-30 minutes discovering the answer on their own. Stack Overflow is a resource, just like water. The average human can do without water for a day. Is it shameful for them to want the water, and avoid certain tasks if they don't have it? No. Your extreme viewpoint is useless, just as the extreme of downing the site.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 14:11
  • But couldn't the sites be served if you knew the IP address...and the banner only served if you used DNS to look it up? Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 1:01
  • 8
    @AdamDavis those "20-30 minutes discovering the answer on their own" are what made them experts. now they spend 5-10 minutes. And no, SO is not like water, you can't live witout water. SO is like a sweet little piece of cake that kids get addicted to. Grown-ups love a piece of cake once in a while, but their nutritional value is almost null, if you get my drift. Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 12:28
  • @CamiloMartin Are you arguing that we should take the site down to force people to become better programmers? Interesting thought, but I don't see how that's relevant. Besides, that sort of thing is easily countered by the fact that experts are often born of good mentorship, so it's quite possible that someone will grow more quickly in programming skills by using stack overflow than without. Either way, it has little to do with SOPA.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 14:22
  • 1
    @AdamDavis admittedly, it has little to do with SOPA, and altough I'm all for as much noise about that law as there can be, I'm mostly alone in that trend of tought. Yes, programmers grow a lot quickier having SO, MSDN, W3Schools and whatnot at hand, but one day without these things wouldn't hurt anyone. Hacking things by yourself is so much more fun, and it teaches a lot, too. Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 17:33
  • 2
    if you rely on SO for an answer... and you can't find it our yourself then the case is truly lost. On a flip note: I do not think SO itself helps making 'better' programmers as a whole. Efforts put into research and hard work may do so. Questions being answered in 5-20minutes do not.
    – bestsss
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 8:34
  • 2
    @CamiloMartin, I am with you, if you cant hack your own way, you aint any programmer.
    – bestsss
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 8:35
  • @bestsss good to know, but I do think SO and blogs helped me a lot to get started where they provided a more straightforward explanation than the equivalent MSDN, Wikipedia, books, etc. counterparts. Also, some users here post answers that teach by showing a different way of doing something. I'm however all for hacking the details and meat of the problems by yourself. An interesting thing to note is that the answerer is a quite good user, and I wouldn't think he's not capable of relying on crude documentation or hard thinkering for a day. Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 22:46
  • @xiaohouzi79 Actually due some treaty or something the US has with Australia, under SOPA/PIPA australians accused (it may have been convicted but I think it is just accused) of copyright could face a US jail sentence up to 5 years.
    – Jonathan.
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 15:53
  • @Jonathan. - There's no treaty, you don't need an agreement when you are being ************ horse. Anyway our govt. would screw up the paperwork and end up paying 2 mil. (plus a book deal) in compensation to the accused.
    – going
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 21:48
  • @xiaohouzi79 This article seems to suggest it is the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Australia: heraldsun.com.au/technology/…
    – Jonathan.
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 21:50

Instead of taking down SO and replacing it with a black page, why not show solidarity with Reddit et al by "blacking out" SO by giving it a black background with white text? Throw a banner linking to an anti-SOPA position at the top and you're done.

That way you get around the two main objections ("SO can't just shut down without permission from the content's copyright holders", and "people need to get their questions answered") while still delivering the anti-SOPA message.

  • Because this isn't a "solidarity" site. It's a knowledge exchange. Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 18:59
  • 1
    And wikipedia is a "solidarity" site?
    – CanSpice
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 19:18
  • No, but Wikipedia doesn't need to show solidarity with itself. It already has a far more fundamental reason to jump on this "blacking out" bandwagon, which is its widespread, non-niche, non-technical reach. Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 20:41

Wikipedia's reasoning is given here:


And roughly follows the logic that so many of their editors discussed the action (thus it's important to the community) and the majority felt this action was an appropriate method to spread awareness (thus the majority wanted to do it) that they decided to black out. Further, more members felt the blackout should be worldwide than those who thought it should only affect the US, so the blackout means wikipedia is going black worldwide.

Only 78 people have participated in voting on this discussion. While the majority (2/3) support it, there's still not a high enough level of community participation to believe that the community of Stack Overflow wants this to occur. Not even enough people on meta want it to occur.

If this is something the community wants, we'd need to see several hundred more votes here, then we'd need to request the general participation of Stack Overflow in another vote to see what the larger (non-meta) community thinks.

  • Very good points, but I'd like to note that the large involvement in Wikipedia's discussion was probably due in part to the discussion itself becoming big news on the internet. You probably aren't going to get that kind of spontaneous interest here. It's probably too late now, but I think it would be useful to have place an ad (not a system message) on the main site directing people to this discussion if we wanted wider community input.
    – Jeremy
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 18:37

I think Stack Exchange should join the SOPA strike somehow.

For example, one of:

  • make a big black banner pointing to http://www.sopastrike.com/ (the Wikipedia article will not work ;-))
  • make some black-color dominant style
  • change the CSS style to something like * { color: black; background-color: black }
    This way, the Stack Exchange content will still be available
  • 1
  • 3
    I think displaying a SOPA advertisement would be fine.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 19:15
  • 1
    * { color: black; background-color: black } - not sure if poster does not understand CSS, or is trying to offer a worse alternative than downing the site.
    – Yi Jiang
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 14:09
  • @YiJiang'sProble_: I don't mean to use exactly this style. (see "something like" in my post). It was just an tip/example of a "black inc on black color" idea. Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 15:17

Just make the background black and the text white, and have a small banner (and if people complain add a [small/tiny] close button to the banner which returns the site to normal colours).

If SOPA/PIPA comes into action then sites that let users upload their own content, so that includes Stack Exchange sites (as Stack Exchange is not responsible for, nor owns, what we upload (ask, answer, comment, etc.).

So posting this link would allow Stack Exchange to be shut down, under SOPA/PIPA.

I think 24 hours of a black background is worth being able to continue asking and answering questions for the near future. (Don't think: "Oh, it's just one site it won't make a difference", because it's not one site; it's a whole network of over a million users (quite a bit over I'd imagine), and if everyone thought that in general, martial law would be in place years ago).

The people who complained about the banner last time didn't have any idea. You can try to stay apolitical, but it's not about politics any more. It's about the Internet, and the survival of sites like these. Even if 300 users bother to come on Meta to complain/up-vote a complaint, that's less than 0.03% of the users on Stack Overflow alone.


Though SOPA is clearly a threat to the kinds of free exchange of information that are the bread and butter of sites like SE (anyone questioning this should read the bill, or review the discussion of Wikipedia's policy), several good arguments have been advanced above (notably the high time value of some content on SE, and fact that such a blackout is likely just "preaching to the choir") against a full backout.

Perhaps we could agree on a hybrid solution that would address these concerns, as well as providing a way for individual community members to make their voice heard more clearly:

  1. Black out the site completely by default, but provide a simple link to "opt in" to full access to the site.
  2. Provide full access to all content for the entire day to users who click the "opt-in" link once.
  3. Reward users who do not click on the "opt-in" link for the full 24 hours of 18 January with a "SOPA Protester" badge.

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