Viral internet trends aren’t always a bad thing, but they are when they galvanize a largely uninformed opposition to weighty legislation.

On Jan. 18, Wikipedia blocked all its content to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill proposed to the U.S. House of Representatives. Supporters of the law point to its ability to protect citizens from counterfeit drugs, piracy and espionage, but it could effectively destroy free sources of information like Wikipedia.

Last week, millions of Americans protested SOPA, and many students used Facebook and Twitter to spread the word. Wikipedia reports that 8 million U.S. users looked up their representatives through the blackout page. Two days after the online protest, Congress decided to postpone further discussion of the act.

But almost overnight, the public sentiment that had spearheaded the shutdown of SOPA disappeared, and — except for a few victory tweets — not a word more was said about it. This brings up the question: Did social media really help us engage in valuable discourse about SOPA?

Most of us consider intellectual property an issue worth addressing, but why are so few of us still engaging in discussion about SOPA just a week after we so intensely voiced our opposition to it? The speed with which the issue disappeared from the national consciousness raises questions about what motivated the protests, as well as the doubts about whether the public understood the fine print of the bill it was protesting. Ironically, SOPA’s Wikipedia page — which might otherwise have acted as a mass educational tool Jan. 18 — wasn’t available during the blackout.

The Internet puts all kinds of information at our fingertips. It is so easy to tweet, post a video to YouTube or edit a Wikipedia page that sometimes we forget the value of thought. We, as students in the 21st century, have been given a remarkable tool kit for spreading information. But we must also recognize that misinformation can spread rapidly in our worldwide game of telephone.

Social media allows us to post our views, passions and concerns with the click of a button, and we’re fortunate to be able to stay connected online while exercising our free speech. In addition to taking advantage of the web for all its perks, we have a responsibility to make sure we use it to inform our own positions, not just post about them.

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