You might think that there's nothing inherently political about writing an encyclopedia. You'd be wrong as several of this month's stories in the media show. There are regimes, political parties – or the people that these parties represent – businesses, and just ordinary people who would like to control the information that Wikipedians intend to be available to every single person on the planet. This month's stories range from the international and national to U.S. state and local politics.
Wikipedia v. China, Turkey, and the NSA
- China blocks all language versions of Wikipedia:
- The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) first reported that all language versions of Wikipedia were being blocked on May 4, 2019. The Chinese-language version has been blocked since 2015, but blocking all versions is a major escalation.
- The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) confirmed the block to the BBC on May 14, saying that the block began in April. The WMF followed up three days later on its blog, stating that the blocking impacts "more than 1.3 billion readers, students, professionals, researchers, and more who can no longer access this resource or share their knowledge and achievements with the world. We have not received notice or any indication as to why this current block is occurring and why now."
- Steven Harrison in Slate tells us "Why China Blocked Wikipedia in All Languages Hint: There’s a big anniversary coming up." The 30th anniversary of the violent end of the Tiananmen Square protests will be marked on June 4. Harrison notes a long history of censoring encyclopedias, starting with religious opposition to Denis Diderot's 18th-century Encyclopédie and the French government's 1752 order to stop its distribution. Previous censorship of Wikipedia by China, Turkey, Iran and Venezuela was also noted. One reason for China blocking all language versions, according to Harrison, is that online translation tools have improved, making it easier for Chinese-speakers to comprehend other language versions.
- WMF takes Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights:
- The Wikimedia Foundation announced it is petitioning the ECHR to stop Turkey from blocking Wikipedia. (See our republication of the Wikimedia blog here). Turkey began blocking the Turkish-language version of Wikipedia in April 2017. The WMF has previously challenged the block through discussion with the Turkish authorities, legal action in Turkish courts, and a publicity campaign aimed at the general public. Both the Financial Times and the BBC have reported the story, following the facts in the WMF blog and expressing doubt that Turkey would comply with any ruling against it.
- Wikipedia and the NSA case
- The Washington Examiner, a hard-right news-site in the U.S. capital, reports that the Wikipedia case against NSA internet snooping returns to court. The case began in 2015 after Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency was recording a large amount of internet traffic. Previous Signpost coverage includes WMF to NSA: "stop spying on Wikipedia users" and Wikimedia lawsuit against NSA dismissed.
State and local politics
- City & State New York reports that the Wikipedia article on New York State Assemblyman Michael Blake was edited by a paid staffer during Blake's campaign for the office of New York City Public Advocate. The staffer, identified by City & State as the campaign's co-director of communications (hint: he looks like a duck) received $3,000 for his campaign work as a "content creator". The campaign reportedly confirmed the identification and responded in part "the campaign member who made the edits complied with their understanding of the Wikipedia editing rules and provided the expected level of transparency in updating the Assemblyman’s page." Apparently Wikipedians need to inform political campaigns that paid promotional editing is against our rules. Assemblyman Blake did not win the Public Advocate office but is now running for a seat in the U.S. Congress.
- Lancaster Online reports that the Wikipedia article on Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro was edited by one of his staff who is paid $65,526 annually by taxpayers. Paid staff for Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman were also reported to have edited articles on their bosses.
Do you have ideas on how Wikipedians can deal with the political pressures shown above? We'd love to see those ideas in the comments section below.
- What Do Bankers Do Online? Edit Wikipedia in The Wall Street Journal reports on the Banker bot on Twitter. The bot tweets the edits of unregistered editors that originate from the IP addresses of major banks. Punters looking for inside information on stocks may have to wade through a flood of information before finding what they are looking for. The Signpost's unscientific sampling of the edits reveals that bankers write about movie stars, video games, playwrights, and historical figures, as well as an occasional small company or entrepreneur.
- Fox News reports that the article on Doris Day was defaced with a graphic image soon after her death was announced. The image was removed several times, the final time within ten minutes of first being posted, the offending editor blocked within six minutes of the first posting of the image, and the article protected within 18 minutes. Our apologies to Miss Day's family and fans.
- Wikipedia has a Google Translate problem in The Verge describes the difficulties of using Wikipedia's translation software. One of the interesting aspects of this article is that it is written by a Wikipedia administrator. It's good that the media now has another reporter who really knows how Wikipedia works.
- The Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia gives a history of Wikipedia's article on the History of the Jews in Philadelphia. is credited as a Wikipedian-in-residence for her role in running a Wiki-Salon, a series of low-key edit-a-thons.
- Wikipedia edit-a-thon wants to fill in the gaps in Asian American literature on NBC's website reports on an edit-a-thon in New York.
- Do we still need a Collections Online? asks Adam Moriarty of the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand. The article is a transcript of a video now included on Commons, so you might guess the answer to his question.
- Differing opinions on how to use Wikipedia in education
- Times Higher Education Teaching intelligence: putting Wikipedia at the heart of a class encourages critical reading and using Wikipedia in a university class.
- KQED concentrates on teaching middle school students the skills they need to evaluate Wikipedia articles.
- Using Wikipedia for assignments? Expect a zero grade in Oman. According to the Times of Oman, professors can be pretty tough there.
- According to WNEP an Ohio student used Wikipedia to research an important topic for her high school graduation.
Gobbler of the month
In a May 3 tweet starting "Someone update his Wikipedia page" the Detroit Tigers said that their relief pitcher Shane Greene "owned the 9th (inning)" – a nonsense claim that only a PR hack could think was funny. Six minutes later the vandalism appeared on the page, as duly reported by another Tigers' tweet and by Detroit Sports Nation. The vandalism was soon removed. Perhaps the sports blog can be excused for reporting irrelevant vandalism as if it were news. Otherwise, they might need to work hard enough to report a real story. The Detroit Tigers, however, cannot be so easily excused. As a legitimate business that represents the city of Detroit to baseball fans throughout the world, they should not be trying to get cheap publicity by encouraging vandalism on Wikipedia.
There are legitimate ways that sports teams can increase their visibility on Wikipedia. For example, where they own the copyrights, they could donate photos of current players or of historical plays and players to improve the quality of our coverage of their teams. Or they might even post on their own website biographies of new players. If they really wanted to make it easy for Wikipedia editors to cover the team. They could even state on each of those pages "Material on this page is licensed CC-BY-SA 4.0". The quality of sports team coverage on Wikipedia can be increased by making it easy for our editors to cover the team. But the quality will never be increased by encouraging vandalism.
The Tigers have not responded to an e-mail requesting clarification or comment.