Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2022-06-26/In the media

Editor given three-year sentence, big RfA makes news, Guy Standing takes it sitting down: Belarusian Mark Bernstein to serve 36 months of "home chemistry" for unapproved posting, Slate covers historically large adminship bid, UBI economist with goofy infobox caption thinks it's funny.


Belarusian Wikipedian Mark Bernstein sentenced to 3 years of "home chemistry"

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Bernstein in 2013

As first reported Friday in Mediazona, a Belarusian court sentenced Wikipedian Mark Bernstein (User:Pessimist2006, of no relation to User:MarkBernstein) to three years of a type of house arrest for "gross violation of public order". He'd been in custody since March 11, previously sentenced to 15 days in jail for disobeying an official. After his release he wrote on social media, "I am free. Healthy physically and mentally. Thank you all for your support," according to Zerkalo.

The charges arose because Bernstein edited the Russian Wikipedia, giving information that appeared to violate a new law of the Russian Federation which limited how news on Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine could be reported. His type of punishment is informally known under the odd name "home chemistry". ("Chemistry" is an informal term originated in the Soviet Union, where it originally meant incarceration combined with work at a place with health hazard, such as a chemical plant. In the current context, "home chemistry" means that the person lives at home with restrictions in freedom, and continues to work, with part of their salary withheld by the state.)

On June 6, Reuters (and many others) reported that the WMF was appealing a fine imposed by Russia on the foundation for similar alleged violations of the Russian law. See this issue's News and notes. – Sb

Slate reports on Tamzin's Request for Adminship

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Tamzin in 2022

Stephen Harrison published a well-researched and circumspect summary of Tamzin's Request for Adminship in Slate: "Inside Wikipedia's Historic, Fiercely Contested 'Election'". Tamzin's RfA had been remarkable for having attracted 340 supports, 112 opposes and 16 neutrals – the highest-participation RfA in the project's history – and for its focus on the role administrator candidates' political views should (or should not) play in assessing their eligibility for the role.

Harrison commented on the fact that of Wikipedia's 1,034 administrators, only about 500 (465 at the time of writing) are considered active. Moreover, the number of successful Requests for Adminship per year is far lower than the number of administrators who die, leave the project, or otherwise lose the tools (voluntarily or otherwise). In part, this is a reflection of the fact that candidacies for Adminship have become a gruelling process:

Because it's a lifetime appointment, some Wikipedians have taken to treating RfA with all the seriousness and showmanship of the SCOTUS confirmation hearings—except that the Wikipedia version is all in written form, taking place on a dedicated wiki page.

Harrison concludes that something has to give:

Although there have been several calls over the years for RfA reform and proposals to make the process less corrosive, Wikipedia editors told me there has not yet been substantial progress in this area. According to a 2021 RfA inquiry hosted on Wikipedia, "Because RfA carries with it lifetime tenure, granting any given editor sysop feels incredibly important. This creates a risk-adverse and high-stakes atmosphere."

Then again, the notion that Wikipedia admins must have their powers for the rest of their days is certainly not an immutable law of the universe. With enough buy-in, that rule is just as editable as any wiki page. In Wikipedia as in life, we must pursue options for dialing down the heat.

For prior Signpost coverage on the 2021 RfA Reform initiative, see last October's Discussion report or the wrap-up at December's News and notes. – AK

Entrepreneur changes tune on paid editing

Entrepreneur, which has often published articles promoting paid editing on Wikipedia, puts forward a more moderate view in Do Entrepreneurs Need a Wikipedia Page? The article dutifully explains that, to get a Wikipedia entry:

you need coverage in numerous reliable secondary sources, independent of the subject ... On the other hand, Wikipedia retains a reputation as being filled with a plethora of niche and un-noteworthy pages, or pages that contain incorrect claims based on dubious sources or no sources at all ... With a Wikipedia page, you may become a target of random trolls, ex-spouses, former business associates or disgruntled employees. Just because you could, doesn't mean you should.

It sounds like they've read the essay "An article about yourself isn't necessarily a good thing". They raise the specter of outing yourself as a phony – "Smart audiences can spot thinly disguised sponsored content" – and add:

Some (and perhaps many) Wikipedia editors are not just selfless nerds, but rather cold-blooded paid mercenaries. I have witnessed their work firsthand and was surprised at the audacity that editors-turned-paid-media-consultants exhibited in protecting their clients and dismantling substantiated, empirically factual information to maintain an entirely false narrative that their clients paid for. Once you have a Wikipedia page, make sure you allocate a budget to defend it from paid attacks or random vandals.

Despite covering most of the major points of why an entrepreneur should not hire a paid editor, they miss the main point. Whether there should be an article on a particular businessperson or company is for Wikipedians to decide, not entrepreneurs with conflicts of interest, or their paid flunkies.

In How to Edit your Law Firm’s Wikipedia Page: 3 Golden Rules on JDSupra, a newsletter for law firms, the founder of a legal PR firm says it all very simply:

  • "The first rule of editing a Wikipedia page is NOT to edit a Wikipedia page," restating Jimbo's bright-line rule of only editing talk pages.
  • "Be transparent", i.e. declare your COI.
  • "Provide verifiable, third-party sources."

That should work just fine, unless too many Wikilawyers get involved. – Sb

Wish we could say more

The Australian identified a Wikipedia editor as a campaign staffer for an MP candidate prior to the last national election. The newspaper accused the Wikipedia editor of inserting disinformation into articles about candidates of opposing parties and removing damaging information about favored candidates. The main MP candidate involved won the election and said that the Wikipedia editor worked on their election campaign and edited Wikipedia, but the two activities were entirely separate.

When contacted by The Signpost through their user page email, the Wikipedia editor requested that they not be identified. They said, "there are currently defamation proceedings around" the article in The Australian. "It's "a pure piece of slander from beginning to end."

An investigation by The Signpost revealed that the editor admitted on-wiki to using multiple accounts, but said that he was unfamiliar with Wikipedia rules on sockpuppeting. An apparent autobiography of the editor has been nominated for deletion. – Sb

Raju Narisetti interview in the Indian Express

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Wikimedia Foundation board member Raju Narisetti.

On May 28, timed to coincide with the start of this year's fundraising season in India (emails May 23 – June 20, banners May 31 – June 28), the Indian Express published a piece titled: "Raju Narisetti interview: 'Wikipedia is building trust with transparency'". The interview with Wikimedia Foundation board member Narisetti focused in particular on efforts to expand Wikipedia content in Indian languages and on the contributions of Indian editors to Wikipedia. Moving on to the topic of the Foundation's fundraising, the write-up of the interview continued as follows:

"More than 75% of the money we raise globally goes to two things. One is to give money back to the volunteer community so they can launch a new language. Two is about half of it goes to the infrastructure. You need to have databases and put it on the cloud and make sure it's reliable," he said. Although a lot of the money is raised in the more developed Western markets, most of it is actually flowing into the global south, where the growth will come in languages and users.

The statement that "most of" the money raised is flowing into the global south was queried by this reporter on the Wikimedia-l mailing list. In response, Megan Hernandez explained on Meta on June 2 that –

Raju was unfortunately misquoted, per a direct transcript of the interview. He more generally said "a lot of it is actually flowing into the global south" not "most of it." This is in line with our regional grantmaking in the "Global South" as well as other investments, including our technology support, which, as you know, ensures that Wikipedia is available in more than 300 languages globally. We have requested a correction to his quote.

A disclaimer was duly added to the article on June 3, and the passage now reads:

"Although a lot of the money is raised in the more developed Western markets, a lot of it is actually flowing into the global south, where the growth will come in languages and users."

For an analysis of WMF regional spending see this issue's News and notes. – AK

Sit-down with Guy Standing for pod guys' last stand

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Standing, sitting, stood up for humor on Wikipedia.

Reply All, the venerated podcast about the internet and society, used Annie Rauwerda's Depths of Wikipedia account as the hook for its second-to-last episode ever. They dove into three pages she's featured – cute aggression, the Pittsburgh toilet, and economist Guy Standing.

The last segment is perhaps of most interest to Wikipedians, as reporter Kim Nederveen-Pieterse sat down with (well, called) Standing himself. Shockingly, he claimed to be entirely unaware of his internet renown. But after Nederveen-Pieterse explained the legendary edit war over his photo and caption, he was asked to take a stand.

Standing wasn't too thrilled with the edit warring. "My goodness. What a waste of people's time, I'd have thought," he said. "It's sad." (We know.)

But he took no issue with the joke itself. "If it's a little aside that draws people to smile, that's great. Because we need a little humor in our lives, especially at this horrible time," he said. "But I hope that it draws people's attention to the serious messages that I've been trying to convey through my work" highlighting the feasibility of a universal basic income.

The Signpost has previously published an opinion piece which expressed appreciation for the Guy Standing joke and argued for the value of humor on Wikipedia. – S

In brief

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Wikimedia Enterprise, the premium gas of Wikipedias?
  • The journal Nature shows us A cross-verified database of notable people, 3500BC – 2018AD combining biographies from several Wikipedias and Wikidata and comes up with "a cross-verified database of 2.29 million individuals (an elite of 1/43,000 of human being having ever lived), including a third who are not present in the English edition of Wikipedia." This may show us the way to increasing the number and diversity of bios on enWiki, but it is likely more important in its analysis of gender, cultural, economic and other real and potential biases.



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