It’s not often that I encounter an idea that fundamentally shifts my thinking or view of the world but I came across one not too long ago: the Dunning-Kruger effect. The essence of the idea is that people below a certain level of understanding in something tend to over-estimate how well they understand it and those who are well versed in something tend to underestimate how well they understand it. In short, dumb people are too dumb to know that they’re dumb. That one idea fundamentally changed the way I viewed the world and not for the negative. More I understood where to draw the line on certain issues and gained a whole swath of insight into the reasons why people do certain things that make no sense to me.
Since late yesterday many websites have been going dark to protest the SOPA/PIPA bills that have managed to resurrect themselves since my post on it a couple days ago. I personally haven’t done anything because I know the vast majority of my readers are already informed on the matter and I’m not one to engage in me-too like behaviour just for the sake of it (just like LifeHacker who’ve copped some flak over it). However whilst the protests are proving to be a rather effective means of getting attention of this issue (it got air play here in Australia) I get the feeling that a lot of them, especially Wikipedia’s one, are running up against the Dunning-Kruger effect.
What proof do I have of this? The existence of Twitter accounts like this one showcasing those who don’t understand why Wikipedia is down. Forgetting for the moment that the Wikipedia blackout page explains exactly why this is happening and that it’s still available via their mobile site or Google cache it seems that the second something changes for these people they’re are simply unable to understand what has happened. It’s a known phenomena for us IT people: change the way something is done and most users won’t be able to figure out how to work around it. They are simply lacking the required level of knowledge to understand that they don’t have enough knowledge to approach the problem rationally, and react to it with vulgarities and mindless commentary.
For these people then the protests that Wikipedia et. al. are going through are thus meaningless for them as should they lack the required level of knowledge to understand why an online resource has gone away it’s unlikely they’d grasp the fundamental reasons of why SOPA is a bad thing. To them Wikipedia going away would simply be a loss of a valuable tool without reason (hence the reactions) or they’d wrongly attribute the blame somewhere else. They don’t understand that there is something they can do to prevent such things happening in the future, both for working around the blackout and for preventing such things happening again.
Does this mean that these shouldn’t have engaged in these protests? Far from it. I’d argue, based on completely anecdotal evidence, that the vast majority of people will be able to see the reasons why Wikipedia is gone and will probably just wait it out and not do much more. However there are those rational thinkers who were not privy to the evils of SOPA and PIPA prior to these sites going dark and they will more than likely join the cause afterwards. We’re already well past critical mass here so any more supporters simply adds additional momentum and hopefully that will be enough to kill these ridiculous bills before they go any further.