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Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2019-01-31/News and notes

WMF staff turntable continues to spin; Endowment gets more cash; RfA continues to be a pit of steely knives

Wikipedia blocked in Venezuela

In Venezuela, the country with the largest oil reserves in the world and where the population is starving and forced to eat garbage, access to Wikipedia has been blocked. The 2018 Venezuelan presidential election result was denounced as fraudulent by most neighboring countries. Both the Wikipedia articles on Nicolas Maduro, who won the election, and the article on Juan Guaidó who was declared interim president by Venezuela's National Assembly, have been protected, following edit-warring by users supporting both factions.

In January 2019, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved a resolution to not recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s new term as of 10 January 2019, and, on 12 January, following political unrest surrounding President Nicolás Maduro and the National Assembly President Guaidó, Wikipedia was rendered inaccessible for most Venezuelans. According to one tweet:

Según los conspiranoicos chavistas: CANTV no bloqueó Wikipedia. Es al contrario Wikipedia bloqueó a CANTV.

"Wikipedia censura a Venezuela", es el mensaje desinformativo chavista. #InternetVE #Desinformacion#InfoDisordersVE

(Translation: According to Chavez conspiracy theorists: CANTV did not block Wikipedia. On the contrary Wikipedia blocked CANTV.

"Wikipedia censors Venezuela" is the Chavista disinformation message. #InternetVE #Disinformation #InfoDisordersVE — Iria Puyosa (@NSC) January 13, 2019

The following statement was issued by the Wikimedia Venezuela chapter (translation):

About blocking Wikipedia - Official release

During the last 72 hours volunteers of the non-profit civil association, Wikimedia Venezuela, and users of Wikipedia, have told us their inability to access the free encyclopedia through the most important Internet service provider in Venezuela, the state-run company CANTV. These allegations have been supported by the NetBlocks Internet Observatory.

As a civil association, we do not establish an editorial policy for Wikipedia or for any other Wikimedia project. We respect and support the editorial decisions made by the editors community. While we support local users of these projects, our association operates independently of the project and the international association that operates them.

Currently Wikipedia is the most important information query site in the country. Blocking access to this page leaves more than 30 million people without one of the most used educational tools by students and teachers at different levels of the academic sphere, resulting in the most affected sector composed of young people who do not have the power Purchase to acquire a school text.

Wikipedia is a neutral information source and operates independently to any government entity, news chain or for-profit entity. Its purpose is to globally distribute the knowledge generated through consensus, based on reliable sources that anyone can edit.

From Wikimedia Venezuela we urge the authorities with competence in this area to take the necessary actions to restore at the national level the free access to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. We hope that this inability to access Wikipedia has been a technical error, since no official information has yet been provided by the State.

Board of Directors Wikimedia Venezuela Caracas, January 16, 2019

Writing in GlobalVoices on the crisis on 15 January, Ellery Roberts Biddle and Laura Vidal state: 'This triggered sharp responses in public and online, and a bitter "editing war" between Venezuelan Wikipedia contributors, who were at odds over the same question: Who is (or should be) the legitimate leader of the country?' ... 'For now, the President of the National Assembly is free, and as of January 14, Wikipedia appears to be accessible once again in most parts of the country. But the episode sends a message about how authorities can react when the legitimacy of the presidency is called into a question.'

James Alexander quits WMF

Photograph of James Alexander smiling during Wikimania 2015 in Mexico City
James Alexander Photo: Joe Sutherland
Photograph of Jann Eissfeldt
Jann Eissfeldt Photo: Melanie Brown

James Alexander, former Manager of Trust and Safety and long-time employee since August 2010, has quietly quit the Wikimedia Foundation. Amid much speculation on Wikipedia criticism forum Wikipediocracy, and nary a word on Wikimedia's WordPress website, Alexander has apparently made his exit from the San Francisco office using the back stairs. All mention of Alexander on the WordPress site has been carefully removed.

GorillaWarfare, an arbitrator on the English Wikipedia, appears to be best informed, and explains in one of her posts on Wikipediocracy: "Before some folks here get their conspiracy theories out, there wasn't a coup or anything. I really wish the WMF would announce these kinds of changes on the mailing lists before removing the userrights, it would save a lot of wild speculation." On 15 December, James Alexander's WMF account user page on Meta was tagged as historical by steward MarcoAurelio, while his personal Wikipedia user page, personal website, and LinkedIn entry continue to list him (as of 5 January) in his WMF capacity.

On Twitter, Alexander informed his followers that he is currently enjoying a well-earned break in Hawaii, before starting his new job as Safety Operation Manager at Twitter, working with the Periscope team.

Alexander came to the forefront for two issues during the 2018 Wikimania in South Africa when, while exercising his authority, he forbade one volunteer event helper from continuing his work as reported in our August 2018 Special Report, and withdrew the registration of a South African newsman and anti-apartheid activist from the conference, having the activist ejected from the venue. Alexander's reasons for withdrawing the registration were later confirmed to be partly incorrect, as documented on YouTube (from 26:51).

The Signpost has been informed by a senior WMF officer that Alexander's 'transition' was well prepared with German contractor Jan Eissfeldt, the lead manager of Trust & Safety, to whom Alexander's position reported, and that Eissfeldt has been working with the Trust & Safety team to figure out the best alignment to meet the team's future goals. As to the circumstances surrounding Alexander's departure or why it was not even mentioned, other than: "The Foundation doesn't discuss general personnel changes, to respect the right to privacy of our staff", the WMF has declined to comment further. Eissfeldt did not respond to The Signpost's invitation to comment.

The reasons for Alexander's departure, and why he was not publicly thanked for his eight years' work remain unknown.

Chief Technology Officer departs

Victoria Coleman 2 - Wikimedia Dev Summit 2018.png
Victoria Coleman at Wikimedia Developer Summit 2018

Announcing her departure on the Wikitech mailing list of 11 January Chief Technology Officer Victoria Coleman is to become CEO of an artificial intelligence startup "striving for improvements in human well being through data driven insights". Coleman, a native of Greece, was employed by the WMF for two years. Her previous illustrious professional career (catch it before it is removed from the web site) started in 1998 already after 10 years as a tenured professor at the University of London, with a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Manchester, Following the announcement of her appointment in the WMF blog of 16 November 2016, she brought more than 20 years of experience in consumer and enterprise technology to the Wikimedia movement. She now moves on to an opportunity for her "...to exercise the full spectrum of my skills as the CEO of an early stage mission oriented startup."

The position of interim CTO will be filled by Erika Bjune, after Coleman's last day on 1 February.

New Chief of Community Engagement arrives

[[|center|300px|alt=Photograph of Valerie D'Costa]]

Valerie D'Costa

Valerie D'Costa, a native of Singapore, joins the 300+ strong staff of the Wikimedia Foundation as the new Chief of Community Engagement, while Maggie Dennis moves on (or up?) by 'transitioning' to the post of Vice President of Support & Services. D'Costa received a Bachelor of Laws from the National University of Singapore and a Master of Laws from University College London. She received an executive MBA certification from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and is also certified as an executive leadership coach by Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. Among her previous engagements, D'Costa spent 15 years working with the government of Singapore on issues of international information and communications technology (ICT) policy and trade. According to Executive Director Katherine Maher: "We were looking for someone with a global perspective, international experience, fluency in technology, and a deep empathy for community." D'Costa lives in Washington DC.

Brief notes

  • Wikimedia gets another big(ish) donation: With a $1,000,000 gift to the Wikimedia Endowment fund, Facebook joins the list of major web sites to offer their support to free knowledge. "We launched the Endowment in 2016 as an unwavering commitment to the lasting power and promise of Wikipedia," says Wikipedia co-founder Jimbo Wales on the Wikimedia web site "We are grateful to Facebook for this support, and hope this marks the beginning of a long-term collaboration to support Wikipedia’s future," The Wikimedia Endowment list of benefactors carries no mention of the social media site's gesture.
  • Military History, with 879 active members, one of Wikipedia's largest topic projects, announced on 31 December the results of its annual awards for 2018:
  • The Guild of Copy Editors coordinator election results were announced on 1 January. Coords remain unchanged with the current incumbents remaining in office: Baffle gab1978, Jonesey95, Reidgreg, and Tdslk. Miniapolis changes places with Reidgreg to become lead coord.
  • New user-groups: The Affiliations Committee announced the approval of this month's newest Wikimedia movement affiliates, the Wikimedians of Peru User Group and the Black Lunch Table Wikimedians.
  • New administrators: The Signpost welcomes two new administrators to the English Wikipedia.
    • The RfA taking place over the holiday period did not daunt editors from turning out to elect JJMC89, a statistical programmer from San Francisco, as the first new admin for 2019. Since starting to edit in 2015 as a vandal fighter, he has made over 160,000 edits, specialising in account creation with around 10,000 accounts created, operating a bot, and serving the communities as an OTRS agent. Not without the multiple comments beginning to set the trend for a new RfA feature, and a flurry of opposing votes arriving after the first 73 supports, the successful RfA closed at 183/42/16 (81%).
    • Enterprisey, who has written a number of scripts and tools that the rest of us use hundreds of times a day, joined Wikipedia in 2012 and has a global edit count of around 29,000. The RfA closed with near unanimous support at 253/2/2 but not without the usual – and this time significant – polemic being raised over the three votes in opposition. One with the rationale 'Oppose: 232 Supports and 1 Oppose. That is a >99% Support rate. There must be something wrong with this guy' was struck by a bureaucrat.
    • Three administrators were desysopped under the inactivity policy.
  • New deletion criteria: new or changed speedy deletion criteria, each previously part of WP:CSD#G6:
    • G14 (new): Disambiguation pages that disambiguate only zero or one existing pages are now covered under the new G14 criterion . This is {{db-disambig}}; the text is unchanged and candidates may be found in Category:Candidates for speedy deletion as unnecessary disambiguation pages.
    • R4 (new): Redirects in the file namespace (and no file links) that have the same name as a file or redirect at Commons are now covered under the new R4 criterion This is {{db-redircom}}; the text is unchanged.
    • G13 (expanded): Userspace drafts containing only the default Article Wizard text are now covered under G13 along with other drafts. Such blank drafts are now eligible after six months rather than one year, and taggers continue to use {{db-blankdraft}}.