On 5 February 2013, Foreign Policy published a report by Pete Hunt on editing of the Wikipedia articles on the Senkaku Islands and Senkaku Islands dispute. The uninhabited islands are under the control of Japan, but China and Taiwan are asserting rival territorial claims. Tensions have risen of late—and not just in the waters surrounding the actual islands:
In recent years, partisans have taken the fight to Wikipedia, where articles about the islands have been subject to weekly "edit wars" between contributors. The content on these pages might seem to be of only marginal importance compared to more significant coverage in other outlets. But the "Senkaku Islands" and "Senkaku Islands dispute" Wikipedia articles are the two most prominent English-language sources of information about the islands on the Internet, with the top search result ranking on Google and thousands of page views every month. The Japanese and Chinese language editions of Wikipedia have their own article pages for the islands as well—each offering different chronologies of ownership. These sites, however, receive far less traffic and the content debates are far more diplomatic.
As the Foreign Policy article reports, the talk page of the Senkaku Islands article is replete with accusations of bias and censorship, with each side claiming to uphold Wikipedia policy—conduct which, Hunt says, mirrors that of Japanese and Chinese officials citing international law to back up their claims and counterclaims.
The growth of the on-wiki dispute paralleled that of the real-world conflict. Created in 2003, by User:Menchi, the Senkaku Islands article originally gave preference to the traditional Chinese name in its lead sentence, with the Japanese name mentioned second, and it was short, at just 300 words. By January 2010, it had grown to more than ten times that size, with 43 sources cited. In October 2010, User:Tenmeicreated a standalone article on the conflict.
As the political conflict around the islands intensified, so did the conflict at the Wikipedia article. The first point of contention was the islands' very name—should it be Diaoyutai Islands (the Taiwanese name), Diaoyu Islands (preferred in China), or the Japanese name, Senkaku Islands. Some editors advocated using the English name, Pinnacle Islands, to avoid the appearance of bias, but as Hunt reports:
This attempt at a compromise was quickly shot down, even as the talk page rhetoric heated up. "These pro-Japanese editors just a bunch of bully boys and hooligans!" an editor named STSC vented.
The second area of dispute was the question who owned the islands, and over time, the article grew to describe, "in long, excessively detailed sections", on which basis three different governments came to argue that the islands were rightfully theirs.
The third point of contention, Hunt says, has been editorial neutrality, with editors using the supposed nationality of their opposite numbers as a focus for attacks. But in the end, Hunt concludes, the unappealing, time-consuming and emotionally exhausting process delivers a result:
Regular editing dust-ups might suggest that the Senkaku Islands article and its "dispute" offshoot are dubious resources of little value. In fact, both articles nicely summarize the controversy and provide a long list of citations and references that can advance further research. While news accounts of the islands focus on recent diplomatic incidents and their international implications, these Wikipedia articles provide historical context and a more detailed explanation of the arguments underlying each side's claims to the territory. The vitriol exchanged by editors might be ugly, but it's also evidence of a transparent and ongoing screening process.
Hunt ends with the suggestion that for this and similar political disputes, Wikipedia forms what he calls a "kinetic diplomatic front":
As the standoff over the Senkaku Islands escalates, Wikipedia will continue to be a kinetic diplomatic front. The pages' high profile and the subject's newsworthiness forces embattled editors to revisit and relitigate the same name and legal status battles again and again against new challengers. Whether voluntary cooperation and third-party mediation is enough to contain the crisis—editing or otherwise—remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that a large Web audience increasingly perceives Wikipedia as the encyclopedia of record where history is documented and judged.
Wikipedia: a list of interesting things near you: On 5 February 2013, Atlantic Citiesreported on the GeoData extension announced by Wikimedia software engineer Max Semenik at the end of January, which "will include a centralized, structured catalog of geo-coordinates for articles." The extension "will streamline data storage, enabling programmers to mine and map the data quickly and easily through the API." Mobile phone users will be able to access Wikipedia articles on features and buildings close to their location.
Why social movements should ignore social media: The New Republic published a review of Steven Johnson's Future perfect: The case for progress in a networked age on 6 February 2013, authored by Evgeny Morozov. The review was critical of what it called Johnson's "Internet-centrism"—the belief that the Internet holds a hidden meaning: "decentralization beats centralization, networks are superior to hierarchies, crowds outperform experts. To fully absorb the lessons of the Internet, urge the Internet-centrists, we need to reshape our political and social institutions in its image. ... How can we afford not to reform the world around us when we know that something as unlikely as Wikipedia actually works?" Morozov argued that Johnson's "Internet-centric theory of politics is shallow. Wikipedia, remember, is a site that anyone can edit! As a result, Johnson cannot account for the background power conditions and inequalities that structure the environment into which his bright reform ideas are introduced. Once those background conditions are factored in, it becomes far less obvious that increasing decentralization and participation is always desirable. Even Wikipedia tells us a more complex story about empowerment: yes, anyone can edit it, but not anyone can see their edits preserved for posterity. The latter depends, to a large extent, on the politics and the power struggles inside Wikipedia."
Wikipedia for (Muslim) dummies: On 7 February 2013, The Platform, a youth website that was launched in 2010 by the Muslim Council of Britain's Youth Committee and hosts articles by academics, specialists, journalists and politicians, published an introduction to Wikipedia aimed specifically at Muslims. Author Asad Khan, a PhD student, told his readers: "I'm trying to address Muslims and anyone else who is concerned about the worrying way in which Islam and Muslims are misrepresented in wider society and the rising tide of Islamophobia. As a student of the Islamic tradition, I am often deeply saddened by the extent to which Islam's image has been distorted to the point that many Muslims who have not had the opportunity to learn with our great scholars will themselves harbour misconceptions about the religious tradition." The article linked to various YouTube videos explaining how Wikipedia editing works, including a Wikimedia Foundation video featuring a Muslim editor, and emphasised the importance of neutrality in Wikipedia: "Wikipedia is not about advocacy."
A WUSTL undergraduate may have written that Wikipedia article you're reading: The Washington University in St. Louis Newsroom reported on 8 February 2013 on a recent behavioral ecology course at the university, taught by Joan Strassman, PhD, that doubled as an "official Wikipedia course". Students were required to "edit an existing Wikipedia entry and then either add 25 references and 2500 words to a second entry or begin a new one. The goal was to bring at least one article up to what is called Good Article status by the end of the course. ... Because the students were writing for Wikipedia their work was much more closely scrutinized than student work usually is. The students had to defend their work not just to fellow class members—each article was reviewed by two other students in the class—but also to Wikipedia editors." According to Gabriel Hassler, one of the students, "There were people who were a little critical, but mostly people were saying I’m going to fix this and this, but overall you did a great job." As a result of the coursework, improvements were made to the Wikipedia article on peafowl for example, and four students succeeded in taking an article to GA status before the course ended: Gabriel Hassler (chacma baboon), Tony Zhang (scaly-breasted munia), Andrew Katim (vervet monkey) and Kevin Li (worker policing). Li was profiled on the Wikimedia Foundation blog in December.
Shahbagh protests in Wikipedia: The Bangladeshi Daily Star noted the Wikipedia article on the 2013 Shahbagh Protest on 9 February 2013: "The nearly 1700-word article with an aerial view of the gathering turns the spotlight on how the protests sparked and its historical background." The protests began after a tribunal sentenced Quader Mollah to life imprisonment. The protest, which is calling for the death sentence, was initiated by bloggers and online activists. The paper quotes the Wikipedia article as saying: "Mollah was found guilty of being behind a series of killings including large-scale massacres in the Mirpur area of Dhaka, which earned him the nickname of 'Mirpurer Koshai' – Butcher of Mirpur."