Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2019-08-30/In the media

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Many layers of fake news: Fake fiction and fake news vandalism: And the media report it all


Fake news comes in many varieties, and the fakers use Wikipedia to spread it. This month's examples include a fake plot summary of a fictionalized film retelling the story of the very real Charles Manson, and a reporter anonymously vandalizing a Wikipedia article to start media coverage on a politician he doesn't like. The simple censorship of a town's history of racial violence almost looks benign, or at least honest, in comparison.

  • Edit warring over a made-up plot summary, complicated by spoilers: The Verge, Esquire, and other media reported on an edit war over the Wikipedia article about the film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The Quentin Tarantino production is about the real-life Charles Manson, albeit with a wildly a-historical ending. The source of the conflict? A plot summary with an ending as wildly divergent from the film as the film is wildly divergent from the actual events. It seems that rather than reveal spoilers, an editor simply made something up. Editors who had seen the screening at the Cannes Film Festival objected that the content was bogus, yet did not wish to reveal the true ending as the film had not yet been released in theaters. The resulting edit war which saw the false summary removed and restored, the section of the article removed entirely and then restored, died out once the film was released in theaters and editors who had not seen the advance screening could confirm that the erroneous summary was indeed erroneous.-3f
  • John Delaney, RIP 2019?: On July 30, 2019, at the second round of 2020 Democratic presidential debates, former U.S. Representative and presidential candidate John Delaney was excoriated by Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren after he criticized progressives, including Warren, for proposing policies that he deemed "dead on arrival." Later that night, an anonymous vandal edited Delaney's biography on the English Wikipedia declaring that Delaney died, slain by Warren. The edit was reverted within three minutes and the article protected the next minute. A reporter for The Young Turks finished tweeting a screenshot of the vandalism the minute after. The vandalism and the tweet were reported by several seemingly reliable news sources, including USA Today, Mashable, and WKYC. When asked by The Signpost about the vandalism the reporter did not deny that he vandalized the article stating "I thought it was funny. Presidential debates are largely substance-free spectacle so no, I don’t think there’s much more to report."-S
  • The right to forget?: Wikipedia entries won't let Harrison shed unsavory past. Representatives and residents of the town of Harrison, Arkansas, removed material on its history of racial violence which goes back more than a century. They believe that the material doesn't reflect the current reality of the town. Mayor Jerry Jackson was quoted saying "I believe Harrison is probably the most non-racist small town in America because we have had this image to deal with for so long." This type of censorship results in fake history rather than fake news, but the results are much the same. We prefer the standard view of historians, the right to remember, over the right to forget.-S
  • Propaganda lives on as history: Dalton Delan describes a cold war propaganda battle about Yellow rain in The Unspin Room: A story lost to history – or at least to Wikipedia in The Berkshire Eagle. At this late date it may be impossible to determine which version of events is correct. Was the yellow rain chemical warfare or bee poop? The Wikipedia article, strangely enough, clearly favors the bee poop hypothesis.-S

Some real news

With so much fake news around, it's good to see that some reporters can actually find real news.

  • European court weighs in on the Turkish ban of Wikipedia: The European Court of Human Rights has set a deadline of the end of October for Turkey to prove that its ban of Wikipedia in the country is within European human rights standards, reports Ahval and Deutsche Welle (latter article in Turkish).
  • On Chinese Wikipedia, a bitter battle rages to define the Hong Kong protests: Wired UK gives a history of this summer's conflicts both on the streets and online. See Community view in this issue of The Signpost for more details.
  • Welsh Wikipedia Gives Me Hope: by Stephen Harrison in Slate describes the value of "smaller language" versions of Wikipedia in giving a foothold for those speakers to promote cultural diversity. Welsh Wikipedia has over 100,000 articles, which may account for a recent dramatic increase in the presence of Welsh in the tech world, such as increased quality in Google Translate.
  • Wikimania to the Rescue: another piece by Stephen Harrison in Slate gives a galloping overview of the first day of Wikimania 2019. He covers topics including a WMF partnership with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the conference's theme of the UN's 17 sustainable development goals, international camaraderie, reducing the carbon footprint of both the WMF and Wikimania, freely licensed textbook images, gender inequality, and harassment. And all in less than 800 words.
  • Meet Émna Mizouni, the Wikimedian of the Year yet another piece by Stephen Harrison, but this time published in One Zero. The interview with Mizouni details her work in Tunisia. See News from the WMF for further details.
  • "Detention" or "concentration"? : Gizmodo reports on the year-long dispute over whether the locations where the US government warehouses asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants qualify for Wikipedia's list of concentration and internment camps.
  • Fogcam is closing down after 25 years: The early webcam at San Francisco State University showed – what else? – a foggy campus scene. SFGate, BBC, Gizmodo, NPR, and Engadget, all covered the closure but did not refer to Wikipedia. Rather they linked to the www.fogcam.org website, which will stay open without the webcam. Fogcam.org referenced two articles on Wikipedia to show that they were the oldest operating webcam on the internet.

Odd bits


For further coverage of Wikipedia in the news see List of articles about Wikipedia
Do you want to contribute to "In the media" by writing a story or even just an "in brief" item? Edit next week's edition in the Newsroom or leave a tip on the suggestions page.