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News and notes

2019 Picture of the Year, 200 French paid editing accounts blocked, 10 years of Guild Copyediting

"Pacu jawi" (bull racing), Picture of the Year 2019, by Rodney Ee

Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year 2019

3rd place, girl in Kurdistan dressed to celebrate Nowruz by Salar Arkan سالار ارکان

Commons announced the results of the 2019 Picture of the Year contest. Congratulations to all winners and thanks to everyone who participated by submitting images to Wikimedia Commons, by evaluating Featured Picture Candidates throughout the year, and by voting in the selection process.

French Wikipedia catches undisclosed paid editing firms by posing as customers

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French Wikipedians announced on May 27 that they had shut down more than 200 accounts that had conducted undisclosed paid editing. Eighty of these accounts are believed to belong to several French language PR firms who specialize in Wikipedia editing. Most of these firms have also been blocked on the English-language Wikipedia. The remaining 120 accounts are likely single-purpose accounts working at company PR departments, which only wish to edit the articles about their own firm.

They were caught after two French admins posed as customers and asked for examples of past work. In an interview with The Signpost admin Jules* said "We have uncovered dozens of undeclared paid accounts, abuse of sockpuppets, patent lies, promotional additions (often relatively subtle), ballot box stuffing in Pages to delete, etc." They had collectively made around 19,000 edits.

Jules* did not believe that contacting the firms directly without fully disclosing their intentions was an issue since they did not impersonate anybody and the firms they were investigating purposely broke Wikipedia's rules by sockpuppeting and refusing to declare their paid status on-Wiki.

The French investigation was first reported on the English Wikipedia on the COI noticeboard by Bri based on a tip to The Signpost and was soon acted upon by MER-C, an administrator with a long-term interest in combatting undeclared paid editing. He soon blocked 85 accounts on the English Wikipedia, 41 of which had made an edit here. Many of the edits were to pages for French companies, such as Air Liquide and Ardian.

In 2018 French Wikipedians started a semi-annual event called "Mois anti-pub" (Anti-advertising month) to neutralize promotional pages. The same year they started the Wikiproject Antipub to fight the use of Wikipedia as an advertising tool.

They have since found undeclared paid edits (UPEs) on French Wikipedia (see Par le passé), "but this month was the first time we found paid edits on this scale. It's a bit like our own Wiki-PR scandal" according to Jules*.

In early April this year the two French admins, Jules* and 0x010C, decided to contact "e-reputation agencies" posing as potential customers interested in creating a Wikipedia page for a real company where one of the admins worked. When they asked for a price estimate, they also asked for examples of the paid-editing firm's previous work.

Jules* stated that "Using those examples, I started researching the page histories of the clients reported by the agencies. I spent dozens of hours and found many accounts, used by several agencies, including agencies we had contacted and agencies we had not contacted. Almost all of these accounts had not disclosed their paid editing and many of them also used several sockpuppets."

He said that the paid-editing firms know Wikipedia's rules in detail, as well as ways to avoid following the rules without attracting attention. "For example, one agency said to us it was not possible to remove well-sourced negative content because 'moderators' would just revert the removal. Instead they proposed 'hiding' the negative content inside newly added positive content." Some paid editing companies, though, did try to remove well-sourced content.

Jules* and 0x010C published their work on May 27th at the French sysop noticeboard, with detailed results in the subpage. The subpage shows that the same editors edited English Wikipedia as well, as seen in the "crosswiki" column. The French community is now reviewing the paid content here.

The French newspaper of record Le Monde covered the scandal, and spoke with François Jeanne-Beylot, founder of the PR companies Inmediatic and Troover, who had his accounts blocked following the investigation. He offered (in French) a strained defense of his work, arguing that his firm was only training companies to contribute, and that the contributions were therefore not paid.

"I find it brutal to suspend accounts without trying to understand our approach", he said in French. "It is difficult to convince Wikipedia administrators that companies also have their place".

MER-C, for his part, was not surprised by the announcement. This "may jolt the French, but we've seen a lot worse" at English Wikipedia, he said. He is waiting for more developments from the French Wikipedia, though he hasn't as yet had contact with French admins. He wants to establish "a cross-wiki version of COIN as a paid-editing noticeboard. Cross-wiki UPE is becoming increasingly problematic and the approach taken to counter it is very piecemeal."

Guild of Copy Editors Drive

The May GOCE copy editing drive ended today, marking ten years of GOCE drives. Their backlog reached zero – the previous drive reduced the backlog by 75%, with this one reducing it a further 209 articles to end at 156 articles, all of which were tagged during May. To learn more about the GOCE's work, you can read last month's Wikiproject Report.

While this drive has not been particularly different from most others in terms of copyedited articles, it has seen many new members helping out – this month saw an large influx of new members and new users participating. The result of of this was double-sided – on the one hand, many new editors are learning the ropes of copyediting, which in the long run will lead to better progress and performance, but in the short run leads to more experienced copyeditors checking the newer work instead of copyediting articles themselves. The Guild is conducting their twice yearly coordinator elections this June – all editors in good standing are welcome to participate, voting starts mid-month. Another Guild event beginning mid-June is a week-long copyediting blitz, focused mainly on reducing the increasingly large number of articles on the Requests page. -- P2

Brief notes

RfA candidacies by year, 2007 to present
  • RfA dry spell ends: CaptainEek's hat thrown into the Requests for Adminship (RfA) ring marked the end of a 60-day absence of new candidates since March 5. According to research by The Signpost staff, only three months in the last decade had zero requests for adminship: March 2019, May 2019, and April 2020 – a reflection of the overall decline in RfA candidacies (see previous Signpost coverage). – B
  • New administrators: Following CaptainEek's candidacy for administrator status, two other Wikipedia editors stood for consideration and passed. The Signpost welcomes the English Wikipedia's newest administrators,
  • New user experience for newcomers being designed: The WMF Growth Team, which seeks to boost editor retention, has been piloting several features aimed at making it easier for newcomers to contribute on increasingly large Wikipedias in different languages. They are now seeking feedback on a prototype from English Wikipedia. The features include a newcomer homepage with links to resources, tasks, and positive reinforcement, as well as structured tasks, an algorithmically-generated feed of suggested newcomer-friendly edits. -Sdkb
  • Wiki Education Foundation appoints new board members Wiki Education Foundation, best known for Wikipedia outreach to universities and their outreach management tool the Program & Events Dashboard, has appointed two new board members.
  • New Wikimedia Sister Project proposal: While proposals for new projects come with regularity, it is unusual for one to get the discussion which Wikilambda is getting. Wikilambda promises a series of miracles including global templates which would work across Wikimedia projects. Support, oppose, or question this and other submissions in meta:Category:Open new project proposals. – B
  • Introducing the Sports Wiki Visibility Project: A new organization has been created to promote the creation of content related to Ultimate Frisbee with special attention given to countering systemic bias. The tagline on the official website describes the project as "An effort to raise the visibility of folks from historically marginalized groups in ultimate and other sports, through Wikipedia pages." – Ib
  • Letter to media platforms, Wikimedia Foundation cc'd: A group of journalism and research organizations led by Center for Democracy and Technology have sent an open letter to the representatives of various media platforms to preserve all instances of misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic that may have been otherwise deleted and archive it for future research. The Wikimedia Foundation is one recipient.
  • Wikipedia editing levels back at 2010 levels. According to one simplistic, but correspondingly robust measure, Wikipedia editing is back at levels not normally seen since 2010. Wikipedia:Time Between Edits measures the time taken for each ten million edits, and the ten million done between April 9th and May 31st took just 52 days. Since 2010 there has only been one ten million interval faster than that, and that was during the move of intra wiki links to Wikidata – a process that involved millions of bot edits. Recent years seem to have stabilised at a million edits every six to six and a half days, so the lockdown period with its editing levels of a million edits every five days is a significant increase. 2020 isn't truly comparable to 2010, we have more edit filters since then to reject vandalism without logging an edit, the interwiki links and consequent (mostly) bot edits have moved to Wikidata, and some of the infobox edits have also gone to Wikidata; but The Signpost welcomes the new and returning editors involved in this increased activity. -WSC