Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2020-03-01/In the media

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Mapping IP editors, Smithsonian open-access, and coronavirus disinformation: We're all over the map this month.


In most months, media reporting about Wikipedia fits into a theme. Reporters fixate on one topic whether it is disinformation, politics, or paid editing. It's all really one big story with each reporter giving their own variation on the theme. That's the way the media often works. No reporter wants to be left behind on the big story. This month nobody could agree on the big story. So much the better, we got some real news this month.

Mapping IPs

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Map of North Carolina using data from Wikipedia, based on Mandiberg's work

Wikipedian Michael Mandiberg makes the maps and explains their mysteries in "Mapping Wikipedia: An unprecedented data set shows where the encyclopedia's editors are, where they aren't, and why" in The Atlantic. The beautiful maps pack in the percentage of IP or anonymous editors out of the total households in every U.S. county. The overall pattern shows low editing in the Great Plains, the Deep South and Appalachia. Mandiberg convincingly relates this pattern to other geographical patterns relating to religion, population density, education, income, politics and race. Reading this article will help you learn about both Wikipedia and America.

Striking the mother lode

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Alto sax owned and used by Charlie Parker at the Smithsonian Institution

"The Smithsonian Institution has released 2.8 million images" according to The Verge and Smithsonian Magazine. Another 200,000 images will be released this year, and the releases are expected to continue. For how long? Smithsonian Magazine coyly mentions that the museum's collections total 155 million objects.

The images released include both 2-D and 3-D files. Some of the flat images were uploaded to Commons long ago, but the newly released images are likely better quality, with jpg images of about 20 MB and larger TIFF images released for each image I checked. They are licensed CC-0. Wikipedians may be most enchanted with 2-D images of 3-D objects, images that are not otherwise easily found in freely licensed formats. The photo of Charlie Parker's alto sax is one example.

The material comes from all 19 of the Smithsonian museums, 9 research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo. Smithsonian Open Access is here. Wikimedia DC is working on a coordinated upload strategy.

Did Mike Godwin blow it?

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Contents of PL 104-104 Title V, the Communications Decency Act

"Did the Early Internet Activists Blow It?" by Mike Godwin, the WMF's general counsel from 2007-2010. Godwin covers a wide range of legal issues related to the internet in its early days. He has changed his mind a bit on some issues. For example he states "I no longer think that tolerance of disruptive speech is invariably the best answer, although, even now, I believe it’s typically the best first response."

The most important issue he covers is about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Section 230 generally gives internet platforms like Wikipedia immunity against liability for material added by its users. It also states that if a platform removes some material posted by users, it does not lose its immunity if it fails to remove similar material.

As Godwin states, the Supreme Court "voted unanimously to strike down most of the CDA, which was aimed at banning 'indecent' but otherwise legal pornography from the internet. Our victory left in place only the act's Section 230, which was designed to empower internet companies to remove offensive, disturbing, or otherwise subscriber-alienating content without being liable for whatever else their users posted. The idea was that companies might be afraid to censor anything because in doing so, they would take on responsibility for everything."

Section 230 is now a matter of political debate. Critics claim that it allows "too much free speech" such as disinformation and other forms of fake news. Former U.S. vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden is a well known critic of Section 230.

While Godwin now better understands some of the motivations of those who oppose Section 230, he still believes it is the best way to protect free speech on the internet and can even help protect us from disinformation.

Coronavirus disinformation

"On Wikipedia, a fight is raging over coronavirus disinformation": Omer Benjakob writes in Wired about how Wikipedia's articles on the 2019–20 coronavirus outbreak began and have changed and interviews Doc James about the outbreak.

There are at least six articles about the outbreak. Over the 3 weeks ending February 6, there were over 18 million pageviews of these articles. To update Benjakob's numbers through February 26, add another 8 million.

While the surge in pageviews began about January 17, the 2019–20 Wuhan coronavirus outbreak article was started on January 5. On the 9th the Novel coronavirus article was created. Other articles soon followed. The main article was edited 6,500 times by over 1,200 editors, according to Benjacob (as published on February 9).

Rumor and disinformation were a problem. Doc James told Benjakob that "the editing community often concentrates on breaking news events, [and therefore] that content rapidly develops. The recent outbreak of novel coronavirus has been no exception." Conflicts between medical and media reports were common and the main article now has a section on coronavirus-related disinformation.

What can computers do that people can't?

What's happening in India?

  • Unreliable in India? The Tribune reports that this year's Economic Survey of India, conducted by the Ministry of Finance, has collected data from Wikipedia as well as from more traditional sources such as the World Bank. Also reported by The Economic Times, who said Wikipedia is "not considered [a] reliable source of information" for a government report.
  • The Indian Express reports that the Indian Central government intends to implement an Internet-wide filter system which requires large websites to rapidly comply with government takedown requests. Such a system would be incompatible with Wikipedia's accessibility in India.

Thanks for the love letters

Three very complimentary articles appeared this month. It's great that some people who are not aware of Wikipedia will have such a nice introduction. The articles may also help improve morale among editors. But something is missing. Perhaps it is some recognition that Wikipedia is a dynamic, evolving platform. Perhaps it's the complete lack of criticism. Perhaps it's just me, but the thrill is gone.

  • "Wikipedia Is the Last Best Place on the Internet": Wired presents a history of the public's view of Wikipedia which has gone from making it the punchline of bad jokes all the way to "muted criticism". The author, Richard Cooke, states on Twitter that this story is a love letter to Wikipedia. He covers his beloved from Nupedia all the way through to Wikidata concentrating on the cultural and emotional side of editing. His judgement on Wikipedians is generally sound and positive, with the only misstep being his admiration of our humor. He even tells several Wikipedia jokes. None deserve more than a muted chuckle.
  • "How Wikimedia controls the chaos of constant contributions to create Wikipedia": from Digital Trends sends its own love letter to Wikipedia, with an emphasis on technology rather than humor.
  • "The Good Internet Lives On" in Wikipedia according to Rachel Riederer in the The New Republic. She finds our hoaxes and vandalism to be endearing, at least in comparison to the slick hidden fake news of other sites on the internet. Wikipedia has "managed to remain fun and strange—a reminder of a time when the internet was quirkier, before (the internet's) captains were regularly hauled before Congress."

Remaining fun and strange

In brief

Odd bits




For a detailed compilation of news about Wikipedia, see Wikipedia:Press coverage 2020
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