In the media
NYPD editing articles regarding allegations of police brutality and misconduct
NYPD editing articles regarding allegations of police brutality and misconduct
Replacing last week's announcement of the Wikimedia Foundation's lawsuit against the National Security Agency (see Signpost coverage) as the ubiquitous Wikipedia news story is a report from Capital New York about Wikipedia editing from the New York City Police Department (NYPD). On March 13, Kelly Weill of Capital New York revealed that numerous Wikipedia edits originated from 1 Police Plaza, the headquarters of the NYPD. In an interview, Weill said that she and a friend used a Python script (now also available on GitHub) to search the 15 to 16 thousand IP addresses assigned to the NYPD, identifying 85 different IP addresses which have been used to make edits to Wikipedia articles. A 27-page document in Google Docs lists all Wikipedia edits from those addresses as of January 11.
Many of the edits were innocuous edits to pop culture articles, including pages for The Nanny, ice cream soda, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Who Moved My Cheese?. Some of the edits were vandalism, such as this example of homophobic vandalism. Vice highlighted (March 14) some vandalism that inserted the name of a police officer in articles for Sailor Moon and Four Loko, attacked Susan Sarandon, and added a claim about the Fourth Circle in the Divine Comedy: "Brooklyn South Narcotics of the NYPD is an offshoot of this circle of Hell."
By far, most of the attention has focused on a number of NYPD edits to articles about incidents of alleged police brutality and controversial police practices.
- On December 3, 2014, an NYPD IP address made a series of edits to the article Death of Eric Garner. Capital New York noted these edits occurred only hours after a grand jury decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner's death. The edits appear to minimize the conduct of the officers while highlighting Garner's alleged menace. The IP editor changed "Garner raised both his arms in the air" to "Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke", "push Garner's face into the sidewalk" to "push Garner's head down into the sidewalk", and "Use of the chokehold has been prohibited" to "Use of the chokehold is legal, but has been prohibited." The editor also added the sentence "Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them" and replaced the word "chokehold", once with the phrase "chokehold or headlock" and once with "respiratory distress".
- In the Sean Bell shooting incident, Bell and two others were shot a total of fifty times by NYPD officers. An NYPD IP address altered the introduction of the article to read that they were "shot at a total of fifty times" (emphasis added). A different NYPD IP address participated in a deletion discussion for the article, writing "He was in the news for about two months, and now no one except Al Sharpton cares anymore. The police shoot people every day, and times with a lot more than 50 bullets."
- At the article Shooting of Amadou Diallo, an NYPD IP address altered details about a previous incident regarding one of the officers who shot Diallo, Kenneth Boss. A sentence reading "Boss had been previously involved in an incident where an unarmed man was shot, but remained working as a police officer" was changed to "an armed man was shot" (emphasis added) and the phrase "but remained working as a police officer" was removed.
- At the article Alexian Lien beating, an NYPD IP address removed several paragraphs of inappropriate commentary about Lien and the incident soon after it was inserted by non-NYPD IP editors.
- At the article New York City Police Department, an NYPD IP address removed several paragraphs about covert surveillance, psychological operations, and political demonstrations. Two years later, a different NYPD address removed two large sections. One section was called "Allegations of police misconduct and the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB)"; the other section, called "Other incidents", discussed numerous instances of alleged police misconduct from 1962 to 2007. Most of that material appears to not have been restored to the current version of the article.
- An NYPD address made a series of edits adding justifications for the controversial police practice at the article Stop-and-frisk in New York City.
Response in the media has been largely negative. The New York Daily News quoted (March 13) Andrew Lih (Fuzheado), associate professor of journalism at American University, as saying “Somebody interested in a fair treatment of history would look at these entries and feel uncomfortable with the NYPD editing this version of history." In Gizmodo, Kate Knibbs wrote (March 13) that the NYPD "has made edits that are clearly in its best interest, attempts to whitewash the bloodiest moments in contemporary NYPD screw-ups by literally re-writing history and recasting critical moments of police violence as irrelevant blips." In The New Republic, Jamil Smith wrote (March 14) "The cops knew where they had to go to control the message." Perhaps The Verge was the bluntest; its headline read "The NYPD may be editing the Wikipedia pages of people it killed" (March 13).
Later that day, Weill reported on the creation of a Twitter bot called NYPDedits, which posts tweets linking to Wikipedia edits from NYPD IP addresses in real time. (Last summer, a spate of these Twitter bots monitoring Wikipedia edits from world governmental bodies were created; see previous Signpost coverage.) The news story seems to have inhibited Wikipedia editing at the NYPD. As of this writing, NYPDedits has only tweeted links to two March 17 edits: a spoiler for a recent episode of The Walking Dead and a punctuation change to A Theory of Justice. Twitter was also the forum for many to express their outrage at the news story. Author N. K. Jemisin tweeted "they're even still lying about Amadou Diallo. SIXTEEN YEARS LATER NYPD still can't bear for anyone to know the truth."
Capital New York's story prompted an internal investigation. NYPD Deputy Commissioner Stephen Davis told Capital (March 15) that the investigation focused on the fact that the editing occurred using workplace resources and ignored the content of the edits. He said:
||If this had been done at someone’s home computer, there wouldn’t be an issue. The only issue here is that you’re not supposed to use a department computer for personal purposes, whether that’s shopping, whether that’s browsing, whether that’s going onto a website or whatever, you shouldn't be doing that.
Davis also said that the NYPD only keeps logs of computer activity for a year, leaving them unable to investigate most of the edits, which go back a decade. In her interview, Weill said:
||Part of their job is digital investigations ... to make the contrary argument that we can't track our own activity past a certain point I think is a little shaky ... I think really any large enforcing body should know what's been going on in their servers for over a year.
On March 16, DNAinfo reported a statement by Police Commissioner William Bratton at a press conference:
||Two officers, who have been identified, were using department equipment to access Wikipedia and make entries. I don't anticipate any punishment, quite frankly."
The New York Daily News reports (March 17) that at least one party was not happy with the NYPD's response. Brooklyn lawyer Leo Glickman said that Bratton's "dismissive attitude" prompted him to file a complaint about the Wikipedia editing to New York City's Conflicts of Interest Board.
Capital New York's original story noted Wikipedia's conflict of interest guideline. Juliet Barbara, senior manager of communications at the Wikimedia Foundation, told The Washington Post that "edits by the NYPD about something the pertains to their work would generally be considered a conflict of interest by the Wikipedia community" (March 16).
In related news, U-T San Diego reported (March 17) on similar editing to the article San Diego Police Department by SDPD employees, including one who removed a lengthy section titled "Misconduct". G
Architect addresses plagiarism accusations
Alejandro Zaera-Polo, Dean of the Princeton University School of Architecture, abruptly resigned last October after only two years holding the post. The resignation occurred amidst rumors that it was due to allegations of plagiarism in his contribution to the 2014 Venice Biennale. Zaera-Polo contributed text for the facade section of the exhibition Elements of Architecture and its accompanying catalogue.
Five months later, architecture news websites are reporting that Zaera-Polo has issued "A clarifying statement" via his website in order to address the "grotesque rumors", which he calls "demonstrably false". Zaera-Polo wrote that his resignation was "requested" by Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber after "my acknowledgement that I had removed all citations from my contribution" to the catalogue. They were removed because the work, intended for a general audience, was "polemical" rather than academic. Zaera-Polo conceded that "While compiling the information for the text and writing it into a narrative, I did incur inadvertently in a few instances of paraphrasis, which would have required citation if they were to meet strict academic standards."
Accompanying the statement was a list of sixteen "instances of alleged plagiarism", including twelve passages which bear similarities to text from Wikipedia articles. Also included were messages sent to Eisgruber in defense of Zaera-Polo by Rem Koolhaas, Pritzker Prize-winning architect and curator of Elements of Architecture, and James Westcott, editor-in-chief of the catalogue. Koolhaas wrote:
||The point from the beginning was to make a publication accessible to any reader. The catalogue is intended as a polemic, not an academic document. Zaera Polo also explicitly announced this at the beginning of his contribution. As such, Princeton’s expectation of citations for Alejandro’s text – which was conceived, with us, as a polemical tale full of speculation – seems a category error.
In response, Princeton issued a statement which said "He was asked to step down in large measure because of statements he made in writing that indicated he was unfamiliar with the university’s policies on plagiarism and that he may have directed his collaborators to breach the rules of the university." G
Wrestling writer objects to Wikipedia claim
On March 6, trainer and retired wrestler Bill DeMott resigned from the WWE following allegations of serious misconduct. At WrestleZone, Vince Russo, former head creative director at the WWE and WCW, recalled "The Bill DeMott That I Knew" (March 12). Russo wrote about his admiration of DeMott and his work ethic and objected to a sentence in the Wikipedia article on The Misfits In Action, a WCW stable of wrestlers which included DeMott under the name "Hugh G. Rection". The sentence, from the lede of the article, reads "They were originally formed in 2000 from a group of wrestlers that Vince Russo considered too lazy to get over." Over is a term referring to a wrestler successfully reaching fans in a desired persona, like a hero beloved by the audience or a villain hated by them.
Russo vehemently denied this supposition:
||Are you !@#$%^ kidding me, or what? I’m in charge of creative at WCW my first three months there, and I’m going to waste my time to come up with a concept for a group of wrestlers that are considered by me to be TOO LAZY TO GET OVER? Then I’m going to put those said wrestlers on LIVE TV with my freakin’ a** on the line? Do you understand just how asinine that statement is?
The sentence in question appears in the very first version of the Wikipedia article, created as a stub by an IP editor in June 2005. An editor significantly expanded the article and added its first references in November 2009. That editor cited the sentence to a short profile of The Misfits on the website Online World of Wrestling. The citation remains in the article as of this writing, though the URL has changed. That claim does appear on the OWW website, and, according to the Internet Archive, appeared there as early as June 2007. OWW was founded as the website Obsessed with Wrestling in 2001, but no older versions of their page on The Misfits are preserved in the Archive, so it is unclear whether the claim originated with OWW or whether they copied it from Wikipedia. G
Wikipedia and true believers
The media continues to discuss last month's Medium profile of Giraffedata and his long-running quest to rid Wikipedia of the phrase "comprised of". On NPR's Fresh Air, linguist Geoff Nunberg is the latest dissenter (March 12), arguing that "The English language usually knows what it's doing, even if it doesn't always seem as tidy as we'd like it to be." Nunberg identifies the Wikipedia editor as an example of a problem with the structure of the encyclopedia:
||It's striking that Giraffedata has been able to bring this off in the collaborative environment of Wikipedia. After all, what one Wikipedian can delete, another Wikipedian can restore. That's what's supposed to keep the whole enterprise from going off the rails. But even the editors who disagree with him about "comprised of" are evidently resigned to letting him have his way. Nobody's about to be as zealous about hanging on to the phrase as Giraffedata is about getting rid of it. And after all, it's not as if eliminating it does any real harm.
But it does show how the Wikipedia system sometimes puts it at the mercy of the dogged true believers. Not when it comes to the serious stuff — 9/11 truthers and anti-vaccinationists don't get very far. But you can pretty much have the run of the place if you dedicate yourself to some crotchet that nobody cares about remotely as much as you do. And for those purposes, the obscure quirks of English grammar are ideal. G
- The Jerusalem Post notes (March 20) that Benjamin Netanyahu topped page views among Israeli election candidates on Wikipedia, with 450,340 page views in the English and 53,630 in the Hebrew Wikipedia. However, the Zionist Union had the most viewed page among Israeli parties. A.K.
- An article in the Smithsonian says (March 19) a recent study of editing patterns shows that Wikipedia contributors are largely motivated by local rather than global interests. The study singled out the Middle East as one region playing a key role in the global spread of information, characterizing it as a "melting pot of ideas". A.K.
- Gawker recounts (March 19) "How One Man Made Himself Into an Aboriginal God With Wikipedia", citing a Wikipediocracy blog post on the Jar'Edo Wens hoax (see report in last week's Signpost). A.K.
- The Epoch Times reports (March 19) on what it calls Wikipedia's "crisis of identity", transitioning from a mostly volunteer-run organization to a more professionalized, cash-rich environment. The article, which quotes Pete Forsyth, also reviews the controversies surrounding the VisualEditor and Media Viewer. A.K.
- Newsweek interviews (March 18) Maia Weinstock, author and deputy editor of MIT News, about numerous subjects, including her organization of editathons to address the gender gap. G
- Equestria Daily, a blog for "bronies" (fans of the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic), posts a photo (March 17) of Jimmy Wales wearing a brony t-shirt. This isn't actually news, but it was too ridiculous not to include. G
- KQED's Forum hosted a panel discussion about "Wikipedia's Gender and Race Gaps" (March 13) which included Siko Bouterse from the Wikipedia Foundation. G
- ReadWrite reports (March 12) that Sirius, a new open source intelligent personal assistant developed at the University of Michigan, uses a static version of Wikipedia as a database. G
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