Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2019-07-31/In the media

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Politics starts getting rough: Are we ready for the sharp elbows?


It took me a while to realize that I shouldn't edit articles about politicians during an election year unless I was prepared for a knock-down, drag-out fight. After my third edit on a political article I finally figured out "Oh, they're probably all going to be like this." With the already vicious tone of the U.S. Presidential campaign, we may be in for yet tougher times. This month we take a tour of how the media is reporting the difficulties of editing political articles on Wikipedia. - S

Political battles

  • What's the capacity of the Williams Arena in Greenville, North Carolina? Your two choices are A. 8,000 or B. 20,000. It seemed simple enough until U.S. President Donald Trump held a campaign rally there with his supporters shouting "send her back." The Charlotte Observer in "A Trump campaign tweet, the capacity of ECU’s coliseum, and what it did to Wikipedia" notes that a small edit war on this question followed the rally. The answer: 8,000 is the seating capacity; 20,000 also includes people on the floor of the arena, those standing outside the arena, at the airport and lining the street.
  • "Donald Trump’s Wikipedia Entry Is a War Zone", in Slate back in May, covered the "brutal, petty battle over every word" waged in Donald Trump's entry. Ten editors are mentioned by their usernames, but "readers know little or nothing about who exactly is presiding over one of the internet’s most high-profile sources about the most powerful person in the world." The dispute over the terms "racially charged" vs. "racist" was one of many disputes noted. "The dynamic on Trump’s page may be a relentless, exhausting tug of war. But ... disagreement—even heated, churlish, insult-hurling disagreement—is often not ultimately a bad thing."
  • "A bitter turf war is raging on the Brexit Wikipedia page" according to the April Wired UK article, including "death threats, doxxing attempts and accusations of bias". They ask "who gets to decide what counts as neutrality?" Five editors are mentioned using their usernames.
  • "Behind the Edit Wars – Indian election battles are being fought on Wikipedia, too" in Quartz India in May during the 2019 Indian general election detailed a tactic, in which a biography was vandalized and then a screenshot of the vandalized article was distributed in social media. After a Time magazine piece on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the author's Wikipedia article was vandalized. According to Pratik Sinha of fact-checker Alt News, Wikipedia is now "an active source of misinformation” in Indian politics.
  • The Weaponization of Wikipedia a blog and podcast by conservative broadcast journalist Sharyl Attkisson focuses on Wikipedia's "agenda editors", who, according to Attkisson, are often biased ideologues or paid PR editors. She denies that she has done anti-vaccine reporting as stated in the Wikipedia article on her. At the so-called "Sharyl Attkisson Wikipedia Biography Page" she takes the next logical step and writes a "Wikipedia article" the way she'd like to see it. She does make a few mistakes however. The puzzle global trademark on her page appears to violate our trademark policy. Most of the content comes from the real Wikipedia page, but she forgets to attribute her copying as required by the CC BY-SA license. She also leaves out all the references. How good can an encyclopedia article be without references? Other than a list of her awards, there's very little added to the article. Mostly she just removed information. Good idea, bad execution.
  • If you think English-language political disputes are tough, try a Russian one. Meduza, a Russian-language news website based in Latvia published "Revenge of the editors, Wikipedia has blocked a group of users who edited Russian-language articles to praise local governors and take down opposition activists" about the banning of eight editors on the Russian Wikipedia as sockpuppets. See this sockpuppet investigation (in Russian). The more established financial newspaper Vedomosti summarizes Meduza's analysis. Combining the most extreme versions of the dispute, it might appear that the owner of Russia's main Wikipedia-paid-editing firm has accused "Putin's chef" of whitewashing political articles. The Signpost cannot verify any of these accusations and notes the oversighters made their decision to block the eight editors based on technical evidence.
  • Harvard Business Review published "Are Politically Diverse Teams More Effective?" which recaps the effect of editors' political diversity on Wikipedia articles. Various versions of this paper have been published, reflecting the now-popular view that articles with editors of diverse political views are better or more neutral. See previous coverage in The Signpost.

Wikipedians in the news

Odd bits

Many Wikipedians may be too busy building our encyclopedia, or dealing with our usual squabbles, to see the wide range of topics involving Wikipedia that are covered by the media. The odd bits this month include a book review, a country rapper in a promotional video, a Commons photographer accused of "predatory" copyright lawsuits, Gaelic Football statistics, Indian police forces, the British schools curriculum, and our inclusion in a lunar library.

  • Chuck Klosterman switches to fiction from his usual non-fiction on sports, culture and music. Time magazine writes in its review of the short story collection, Raised in Captivity, about the short story "Rhinoceros", "an old friend who has gained some infamy by committing the 'insouciant cybercrime' of permanently deleting Wikipedia entries."
  • Watch: Lil Nas X Corrects His Own Wikipedia Page – a video from Capital FM – shows Lil Nas X staring at a computer screen and commenting on the Wikipedia article about him – a Wikipedia Fact Check. Despite a claim in the text, Lil Nas X doesn't seem to edit the article, and there's little or no evidence in the article history to suggest that he did. The format of a celebrity reading and commenting on "their article" goes back at least to 2009 with WBEZ's Wikipedia Files series. Loudwire's "Wikipedia:Fact or Fiction" series has had well over 100 episodes, mostly covering heavy metal bands. It's a great format for letting Wikipedians know when we've made mistakes, but Lil Nas X just mumbles away his opportunity.
Kenny Chesney 2013.jpg
Photo of Kenny Chesney as now displayed at Commons. This photo was involved in an earlier lawsuit with the photographer suing for $150,000
  • Cory Doctorow in Boing Boing writes on "How Metabrainz stood up to a predatory copyright lawsuit and won". An uploader on Wikimedia Commons filed a lawsuit against Metabrainz for not giving complete "idiosyncratic" attribution for a photo Metabrainz used on its website. The Commoner had previously filed 50 similar lawsuits against other companies suing for $150,000 of statutory damages per photo in one case. According to Doctorow "Metabrainz has engaged with both Wikimedia Commons and Creative Commons about the problem of legal predators using their services to bait their prey.... We're also suspending the use of Wikimedia Commons images in the project until we're sure that this risk has been addressed."
  • The Gaelic Athletic Association doesn't keep scoring statistics for Gaelic Football. Wikipedia hasn't been perfect in trying to fill in for the GAA. But "in the absence of an official resource, (Wikipedia) ... is often a journalist's best friend, the unreliable type your parents warn you about," according to Herald.ie.
  • India's Central Industrial Security Force starts Wikipedia and YouTube knock-offs. By reading Securitypedia on their mobile phones constables can read "a wide gamut of security related practices across the globe". The YouTube knock-off sounds much more exciting, "a constable can now take a quick crash course on assembling his gun, cleaning his AK-47, (and) training in a specific theatre."
  • "Schools have been told they should teach pupils how to examine X-rated movies, get a good night’s sleep and edit Wikipedia": SchoolsWeek UK reports on "Indecent proposals: 111 curriculum suggestions made to schools this year" culled from traditional and social media. The Wikimedia Foundation suggested that Wikipedia editing should be taught and “incorporated into digital skills.” The other specifically listed suggestions – teaching skills for critical porn viewing, sleep, gardening, and oral sex – were not made by the WMF.
  • Vital Articles backed up on the Moon: A copy of the English Wikipedia's Vital Articles that "will last up to 5 billion years" is now lying around on the Moon, etched as pictures on metal discs that are readable with a microscope. It was transported there in April by the Israeli Beresheet mission, as part of the Arch Mission Foundation's "Lunar Library". Although Beresheet ended in a crash landing, the organization's CEO Nova Spivack has since expressed confidence that the metal discs have survived the impact (based on NASA images of the crash site), and that a separate digital library containing the text of all Wikipedia articles is likely also "intact and recoverable". The organization plans to include a version with media files, also for many other Wikipedia languages, in a future mission.
    The "Lunar Library" project is not to be confused with the "Wikipedia to the Moon" effort which was envisaged to bring a disc with a community-selected collection of articles to the Moon by 2017 (Signpost coverage in 2016: "Mixed reactions to Wikipedia's lunar time-capsule"). Its future now seems in doubt, as the German company behind it, PTScientists, filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this month, albeit still hoping to "emerge stronger from the insolvency proceedings and implement our lunar mission as planned."


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