In the media
US opposition research firm blocked; Australian bushfires
GOP opposition research firm blocked for editing Wikipedia
America Rising is a Republican opposition research organization founded in 2013 by Matt Rhoades, campaign manager for US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and Joe Pounder and Tim Miller, media strategists for the Republican National Committee. It is split into two related organizations, a limited liability company (LLC) that coordinates with Republican candidates, and a political action committee (PAC) dedicated to spreading negative stories about Democratic candidates online and in the news media. Its webpage brags of "cataloguing every Democrat [sic] utterance" and it has become known for its "trackers" which follow and record video of the public comments of candidates in hopes of preserving evidence of an embarrassing misstep.
BuzzFeed reported (September 28) on three Wikipedia accounts that self-identified as belonging to America Rising staffers. Two of them, including one belonging to Miller, only made non-political edits. The third, User:Sprinkler Court, made 34 edits, openly identifying his or her conflict of interest in the edit summaries of his or her major edits. These edits were mostly to insert or advocate the insertion of material unflattering or potentially damaging to ten current Democratic candidates for the United States Senate. The 2014 midterm elections may result in Republicans gaining majority control over the Senate.
Following the publication of the Buzzfeed article, Miller posted on Twitter "America Rising does wiki editing the right, honest way. Fact based edits. 100% transparent about our interest."
On October 5, Sprinkler Court was blocked for disruptive editing by User:Jehochman, who wrote on the account's talk page:
||This goes beyond uncomfortable. Wikipedia is not a political website. Thank you for disclosing your conflict of interest. You stated that you are editing where you have a conflict of interest, and where you have a vested interest. Since you recognized both situations but continued editing (a wrong decision), I have blocked your account.
BuzzFeed reported (October 6) that Miller vowed to challenge the blocking through unspecified means:
||We've consulted long-time editors, don't believe the blocking will stand, and are going to appeal. Nobody has produced an example of a disruptive edit and we are not being paid to edit. Every edit our researcher made was accurate, relevant, and met the Wikipedia standards.
The blocking was also reported on by The Hill. (G)
Bushfire in Lithgow, New South Wales, October 2013
In October 2013, in the wake of the devastating 2013 New South Wales bushfires, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, warned of the increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves in Australia due to climate change. Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott, who famously called climate change "absolute crap" in 2009, dismissed the link between bushfires and climate change and said Figueres was "talking through her hat". In an interview that October with BBC NewsHour, Environment Minister Greg Hunt defended Abbott's comments, saying
||Australia has since European settlement and obviously well before that, had a history of recurrent bushfires. I looked up what Wikipedia says, for example, just to see what the rest of the world thought, and it opens up with the fact that bushfires in Australia are frequently occurring events during the hotter months of the year. Large areas of land are ravaged every year by bushfires. That's the Australian experience.
At the time, Hunt's comments, especially his invocation of Wikipedia, were widely criticized (see previous Signpost coverage).
A year later, a report from the Sydney Morning Herald (October 7) widely circulating through Australian media reveals that Hunt had been briefed by the Bureau of Meteorology on climate change and bushfires three weeks prior to the Newshour interview where he indicated he had consulted Wikipedia on the topic. Contrary to his assertion in the interview that the Bureau was careful not to link the two, the confidential briefings indicate the Bureau's director informed Hunt "A number of more recent studies are drawing probabilistic links between more extreme seasonal heat records and climate change, including the Australian summer of 2012-13." (G)
Wikipedia sculpture model
- Good news and bad news for Kannada Wiki projects: There are about 40 million speakers of the Kannada language, but unfortunately very few of them are editing the Kannada Wikipedia. The Deccan Herald reports (October 7) that as of June, it contained only 17,878 articles, tens of thousands behind the Wikipedias for other Dravidian languages, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu. It has only 22 active editors and lacks articles in many subject areas like history and science, and even in areas that might attract readers and editors like articles on the cinema of Karnataka. The Kannada Wiktionary is doing much better, however. With 250,167 articles, it has far more articles than the Malayalam and Telugu Wikitonaries and not many fewer than the Tamil Wikitionary. The Bangalore Mirror (September 29) credits Dr. U. B. Pavanaja (User:Pavanaja) with the release of a "treasure trove" of Kannada language books into the Creative Commons. The Department of Kannada and Culture donated 105 books that it held the copyright to, including modern publications of classics such as the Karnata Bharata Kathamanjari, Jaimini Bharata, Mohanatarangini, and Nalacharitre. They will all eventually be uploaded to Wikisource. (G)
- EFF organizes a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon for the Zone 9 Bloggers: April Glasere writes (October 3) at the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation about their organization of an edit-a-thon to improve Wikipedia coverage of the Zone 9 bloggers and related topics. The Zone 9 bloggers are an Ethiopian bloggers group that, according to their Wikipedia article, are "a collective focusing on human rights, good governance, education, social justice, corruption and non-violence social transformation." Glasere noted that last July, the Ethiopian government arrested six Zone 9 bloggers, as well as three other journalists. The edit-a-thon took place as a Wikipedia meetup on Sunday, August 24. As for the results, Glasare reported:
||...roughly a dozen people met at the Wikimedia HQ in San Francisco to get to work. After about four hours of writing and researching, we had not only tripled the size of the Zone 9 Bloggers article, but we had also added three sections to the Human Rights in Ethiopia entry: Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Association, and Electronic Communications.
Editors also greatly expanded the Internet in Ethiopia article to include sections on censorship and surveillance, updated the Ethio Telecom article about the country's only ISP (which happens to be owned by the government), and updated the article on spyware manufacturer FinFisher to include Ethiopia's use of the spyware. Editors also created a new page for Befeqadu Hailu, one of the more famous Zone 9 Bloggers currently in prison.
- The article was also republished by Geneva-based Cyber Ethiopia. (P)
- Brooke Magnanti accused of plagarising from Wikipedia: Milo Yiannopoulos wrote about Jeremy Duns' compilation of alleged plagarisms by Brooke Magnanti on Breitbart.com (September 30). Dr. Magnanti, also known under the pen name of Belle de Jour, apparently paraphrased material from Wikipedia but failed to attribute it as her source. Yiannopoulos includes passages from Wikipedia and other sources along with the corresponding portions from Magnanti's columns containing what appear to be paraphrases with no acknowledgement of the source. Readers of the 2014-10-01 Signpost article "Let's get serious about plagiarism" will know that while Magnanti did not copy article passages directly, and while it is arguable whether she paraphrased too closely, "failing to acknowledge the source of quotations and borrowed ideas" would definitely make her a plagiarist. (P)
- Unreliable sources: Craccum, the student magazine of the University of Auckland, writes about its attempts at "Vandalizing Wikipedia" (September 29). Conclusion: it's hard. (G)
Check back for the next Signpost on August 31.