Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2022-06-26/News and notes

WMF inks new rules on government-ordered takedowns, blasts Russian feds' censor demands, spends big bucks: Office actions to secretly delete stuff when told to? Well, at least not if they're Putin's.


Permit government takedown requests on terrorist and violent extremist content

On June 8, a new page was added to the Wikimedia Foundation's official wiki, bearing the weighty title: "Terrorist and violent extremist content procedures and guidelines". The document, first posted by WMF Tech Law Lead Counsel Charles Roslof, laid out procedures through which the Wikimedia Foundation would accept and respond to a "request for Terrorist Content notice of action" via a "Terrorist Content Sub-Group" of the WMF Trust & Safety team: requests are to be followed by an internal review by the WMF legal team to ensure that they were in fact legally required. However, this review process is not guaranteed to be public, and it is unclear whether even the fact of requests having been accepted will be a matter of public record – the policy says that "the Foundation may be limited by applicable law in disclosing the information about these requests".

Initially, the policy specified that requests would be accepted from "relevant law enforcement authorities in the United States of America (USA), European Union (EU), or a member nation of the EU". However, a subsequent revision on June 10 updated the policy and changed some wording, omitting the specific reference to jurisdiction (as of press time, the policy now refers only to "relevant law enforcement authorities"). It also added a passage clarifying removals that the WMF objected to ("Please note that the Foundation may also be in the course of appealing the Legal Order, but prohibited from reinstating the content in question unless and until it has succeeded in its appeal").

This page's only incoming link is from the site's list of policies, and as of press time it has not been mentioned on the WMF's official news page or Twitter account, making it difficult to tell whether this is a simple formalization of existing practice or a new mechanism entirely.

The policy is fairly short, and does not reference active content removal measures being taken on the WMF's part, instead relating only to the WMF's response to reports from government agencies. It remains to be seen what the ultimate implications of such a policy are. The definition of "terrorism" is notoriously inconsistent – our own perpetual topics of furor on international politics can provide good examples of this – and it is unclear precisely what the interplay will be between this policy and takedown requests from jurisdictions such as, for example, the Russian Roskomnadzor. — J

Wikimedia Foundation appeals ruling by Russian court

The Wikimedia Foundation is appealing a ₽5,000,000 (77234.75 USD or 60441.37 Euros) fine issued by a Russian court relating to the decision not to remove information verboten in Russia from several Russian Wikipedia articles. The fine came after the court found that the Wikimedia Foundation operated within the Russian Federation and that the content in question (largely related to the Russo-Ukrainian War) was illegal under Russian law. The Signpost has previously reported that publishers in Russia must only use government-approved facts and terminology when covering military operations.

The appeal was made on June 6; the WMF put out a statement (Russian-language version) outlining their rationale for the appeal on June 13, saying that the decision to fine the Wikimedia Foundation was based on from erroneous claims that the Wikimedia Foundation operated within the territory of the Russian Federation, and that the fine itself violated rights to free expression and access to knowledge. The Wikimedia Foundation also objected to allegations of "disinformation", writing in the statement:

Russian-language Wikipedia is a crucial second draft of history, written by and for Russian speakers around the world who volunteer their time to make reliable, fact-checked information available to all. Blocking access to Wikipedia in Russia would deny more than 145 million people access to this vital information resource. Further, the articles flagged for removal uphold Wikipedia’s standards of neutrality, verifiability, and reliable secondary sources to ensure articles are based in fact. They are well-sourced, including citations to a variety of established news sources. The articles continue to be improved by Wikipedia volunteer editors from all over the world with more sources and up-to-date information.

Russia's telecommunications regulator, Roskomnadzor, previously sought to restrict access to certain articles on the Russian Wikipedia within the Russian Federation, taking umbrage to the characterization of Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine as an "invasion", "aggression", or "war". On March 31, the regulator threatened the WMF with a ₽4,000,000 fine for publishing what it called "unreliable socially significant materials, as well as other prohibited information".

A list of Wikipedia pages banned in Russia is available on the Russian Wikipedia. As of press time, the list of articles restricted by the Russian Federation has expanded beyond the Russian language articles, and now includes some articles from the English Wikipedia. — M

Where does the Wikimedia Foundation spend its money?

The WMF's 2020 Form 990, released last month, enables some interesting insight into where the Wikimedia Foundation has been spending its money, especially in light of claims by the Foundation that "a lot" of the money raised through donations is flowing into the Global South (see this issue's In the media section). Firstly, page 1 of the Form 990 shows that the WMF reported:

  • Total revenue of $158,987,065 (Increase up from $120,919,258).
  • Total expenses of $111,669,959 (Decrease down from $112,162,122).

According to the Form 990, $92 million of the total expenditure – that is, all but $20 million of it – was spent in the United States. This includes $5.5 million that the Wikimedia Foundation did not actually spend, but added to its own endowment at the Tides Foundation.

As for expenditure in the rest of the world, the Form 990 divides this into expenses for "Program Services" (mainly technical and legal support for Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia websites) and "Grantmaking" (to grow global reach and increase contributor diversity). Of the $20 million spent on "Program Services" and "Grantmaking" outside the United States, most of it – around $15 million (9% of total WMF revenue) – went to Europe and North America outside the US (i.e. Canada and Mexico). This left a little over $5 million – or about 3% of total revenue – for the entire rest of the world. The two main regions in the rest of the world that saw funding for Program Services and Grantmaking in 2020 were Africa and East Asia/Pacific. The regional breakdown was as follows:

World regions (excl. North America and Europe) Spending (US$) % of revenue
Sub-Saharan Africa 2.0 million 1.3%
East Asia and the Pacific (Australia, Korea, Taiwan, etc.) 1.3 million 0.8%
South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, etc.) 0.6 million 0.4%
Middle East and North Africa 0.6 million 0.4%
South America 0.5 million 0.3%
Russia and neighbouring states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, etc.) 0.1 million 0.06%
Central America and the Caribbean 0.1 million 0.06%

Total spending in the Global South (understood to comprise the Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, South America, Central America and the Caribbean), therefore, amounted to just $3.8 million. That is 2.4% of total revenue – or 3.4% of global expenditure.

The Form 990 also gives a detailed breakdown for "Grantmaking" alone, without the expenses classed as "Program Services". According to this breakdown, grants given outside the United States totaled $3.5 million, of which $1.2 million went to Europe ($666,875 to organizations and $496,615 to 32 individuals). As for grants given to organizations (page 32–33 of the Form 990) and individuals (page 34) in the Global South, these were mainly focused on Sub-Saharan Africa and South America, with the amounts going to South Asia – home to almost 2 billion people – looking particularly small by comparison:

Global South regions Grants total (US$) % of revenue
Sub-Saharan Africa 1,368,343 0.9%
South America 418,934 0.3%
Middle East and North Africa 84,969 0.05
South Asia 78,537 0.05%
Central America and Caribbean 2,925 0.002%

Overall, the "Grantmaking" amounts reported in the Form 990 for the above regions of the Global South totaled $1,953,708, or 1.2% of WMF revenue in 2020 – a very minor part of the WMF budget, especially bearing in mind that the Foundation enjoyed an effective surplus of more than $50 million. It will be interesting to see how these figures will develop in the years to come. See also the Foundation's own 2020–2021 grantmaking report on Meta. – AK

Brief notes

Selena Deckelmann @ Mozilla All-Hands 2018 Orlando (31242525517).jpg
Selena Deckelmann, the WMF's new Chief Product and Technology Officer
  • WMF CPTO selected: The Wikimedia Foundation has selected Selena Deckelmann as its new Chief Product and Technology Officer. Deckelmann comes to the WMF from Mozilla Corporation, where she is currently still serving as the Senior Vice President responsible for Firefox. She will officially join the WMF on August 1, 2022.
  • Google employees to join Abstract Wikipedia team: The WMF has signed a deal with Google.org in which seven experienced Google employees (five engineers, a technical PM, and a designer) are to join the Abstract Wikipedia team as "Google Fellows" for six months. The focus of the Fellows will be to support the backend of Wikifunctions, enabling the team to speed up their schedule. – AK
  • Wikimedia Enterprise will not hit revenue target this year: Wikimedia Enterprise had achieved 30% of its year revenue goal by the end of the third quarter of the WMF's 2021/2022 financial year (i.e. by the end of March, unchanged from the second quarter). The Advancement department reports: "We have been unable to close additional customers as quickly as we projected due to unanticipated legal and product requirements, and will not hit the revenue target for FY21/22." More can be found on this subject in this month's News from the WMF. – AK
  • Fundraising: The WMF had already exceeded its annual revenue goal for 2021/2022 by the end of March 2022, reporting a third-quarter revenue status of $153.6 million (year goal: $150 million) for the Foundation and $13.4 million (year goal: $10 million) for the Wikimedia Endowment. Combined with an underspend, this resulted in net assets increasing by $51.9 million in the first three quarters. The Foundation has been fundraising this month in India, Latin America and South Africa, with banner campaigns in Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Spain to follow next month. The WMF projects that it will once again exceed the previous year's revenue record. – AK
  • Endowment update: The WMF has published an update on the status of the Wikimedia Endowment (see the opinion piece in last month's Signpost) saying an Application for Recognition of Exemption under Section 501(c)(3) was filed with the IRS in late 2021. As the IRS is currently experiencing delays, the WMF has no expected date by which processing of the application will be completed. The update also states that bylaws and policies governing the Endowment will be posted on Meta after minutes are approved at the July 2022 Board meeting; however, it says nothing about how much money the Endowment now holds. The last update in this regard was that the Endowment had passed the $100 million mark in June 2021, five years sooner than originally expected. – AK
  • New bureaucrats: The Signpost welcomes the English Wikipedia's newest bureaucrat, Lee Vilenski.
  • Articles for Improvement: This week's Article for Improvement is Liquor. Please be bold in helping improve this article!
  • ARBCOM gives non-binding advice to those wishing to talk about Wikipedia to other Wikipedians while not being on Wikipedia: Basically, just be open and sensible about it.