Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2022-09-30/In the media

A few complaints and mild disagreements: Was Katherine Maher a former encyclopedia salesperson?
In the media

A few complaints and mild disagreements


In some months, the weather can just be disagreeable. In other months maybe it's people who seem to be disagreeable. This month it seems like the media all found something to disagree with, either about Wikipedia's coverage or with our policies. Or maybe we disagree with them. It was that kind of month.

Fox in the outhouse

In Wikipedia’s Fox News Problem (Slate), author Samuel Breslow – who is listed as a long time Wikipedia editor – explains how a novel-length reliable sources debate decided to allow Fox News to be used for non-controversial facts. "If outlets like Fox News are permitted, Wikipedia’s view of the world will look more like Fox's" was part of Slate's distillation of the importance of reliable source determination on Wikipedia content. Major debates (community Requests for Comment) took place in 2010, 2020 and the most recent debate closed this month. The article's author interviewed Wikipedia administrator and member of the Arbitration Committee Kevin Li, who closed the September Request for Comment, for his interpretation of the process, and the article quotes him extensively. – B

A new Wiki-villain?

Placeholder alt text
A new villain or just the same old Snidely Whiplash?

YouTuber and Washington Post columnist J. J. McCullough – a retired Wikipedian who long ago drew the image shown here on the right – has released a 22-minute YouTube video titled "Why I hate Wikipedia (and you should too!)". He criticizes Wikipedia's de facto information monopoly, which he says crowds out other sites and reduces information diversity, and its writing style, complaining about the length and disorganized detail in articles. He really dislikes the anonymity and unaccountability of Wiki-editors – especially of admins and other hard-core editors. He likens Wikipedia to McDonalds: a place to go to get fast, cheap fare when you are hungry but don't really care about quality. There might be some truth in his lengthy and detailed list of complaints, though his description of the editor who has contributed nearly half a percent of all edits to Wikipedia as having written a third of it does seem wildly out.

Indeed, McCullough says that he doesn't read Wikipedia. In the first 30 seconds of the video, he states that in his seven years of creating videos he has never consulted the august online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; that for over a decade he has blocked the site from his browser; and that he uses Google's hide search feature to ensure that he does not see Wikipedia in search results. So how does he know so much about Wikipedia?

In 2008 two articles related to McCullough were deleted: Filibuster Cartoons (his website) and J.J. McCullough. Four further attempts were made to recreate the article about him, either as J.J. McCullough or J. J. McCullough (note the extra space). After the last of these was deleted in 2020, the creation of new articles by those titles was blocked.

The video has attracted detailed comment at the Village Pump, with allegations that McCullough is angry that the biographies of him have been deleted. Others there have speculated that he is a former admin. We reached out to McCullough for further comment, but he has not replied. S

Accurate and reliable, fair and balanced, just and proper

In Evidence suggests Wikipedia is accurate and reliable. When are we going to start taking it seriously? science writer Liam Mannix in The Sydney Morning Herald uses the case of Queen Elizabeth II's death to demonstrate how fast and accurate Wikipedia is.

this is ... not something we should expect. Wikipedia is free. Its editors are volunteers. There is no expertise or academic qualifications required. We are told again and again that we can’t trust it because anyone could be writing it. It should be the worst place on the internet.

Yet published evidence suggests it is reasonably reliable – at least as reliable as its competitor the Encyclopedia Britannica.

He links to academic studies on six specific subject areas – mostly medical but also one on general political coverage. All of these studies confirm Wikipedia's accuracy. He links to two broader (and older) studies that give Wikipedia better than passing marks. And a linked 2014 meta-analysis of 110 studies concludes '"Wikipedia is generally a reliable source of information" across almost all domains studied.' – S

"Deaditors"

The term "deaditors"—Wikipedia editors who memorialize the pages of notables who have recently died—was previously mentioned on this page in The Signpost in 2018. As Annie Rauwerda explains in Input, the term started with an article written by a Dutch Wikipedian, which was then reported on in Slate. The term has also been used recently in a few foreign-language reports (Italian, Spanish, Czech).

Other media covering the phenomenon this month include Gizmodo, Metro UK, Yahoo! (which says deaditors are also known as "WikiJackals"), The Sydney Morning Herald, NPR, Kim Komando [1] and The Wall Street Journal.

Most of the reports reflect a sense of wonder, or even awe, at how well Wikipedians perform this task.

Was ex-CEO Maher a Monty Python encyclopedia salesman?

Simon Garfield in The death of the door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman in inews recalls a 2020 email from Katherine Maher asking for a £20 donation for Wikipedia. In 2017 he had donated £2, and then he got the email asking for more. At that point Garfield took at least one amazing action. He compared Maher's position to that of an encyclopedia salesman in a 1967 Monty Python comedy sketch.

Of course the self-identified thief later turns out to be an encyclopedia salesman, who would rather people think him a thief.

Garfield is a professional writer who uses Wikipedia extensively. He's written a history of encyclopedias, All The Knowledge in the World: The Extraordinary History of the Encyclopaedia. He thinks that "Wikipedia is one of the greatest things on the internet".

After talking with Maher, he donated £12.

Maher is now a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. She was recently appointed a member of the US Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board, an advisory panel established a decade ago by Hillary Clinton.

Runiversalis is back

Vitoria - Graffiti & Murals 0580.JPG
Will the real anti-Nazis please stand up? Still striving for that Nazi-free vibe on Runiversalis.
Euronews reports that Runiversalis, Russia's Wikipedia alternative, is now back online, having weathered cyberattacks. While "search engines are now forced to inform online users in Russia that Wikipedia violates the country’s legislation", Runiversalis "repeats the Kremlin's narrative that Russia wants to 'denazify' and 'demilitarise' Ukraine. The website also states that its authors will only promote 'traditional values' on subjects such as gender and sexuality, raising concerns from the LGBTQ community."

The Atlantic Council's abovementioned Digital Forensic Research Lab also reported on Runiversalis. Its article, published on Medium, described the new site as "an attempt to spread Russian propaganda and disinformation in the guise of a wiki. Beyond using the underlying software architecture employed by Wikipedia, it’s a wiki in name only." Runiversalis, meanwhile, has apparently repurposed Wikipedia's "Did You Know?" section into an "I Knew It!" section with trivia such as "American politicians, political scientists, and journalists admit that United States turned into empire of lies". The Medium article also states that Runiversalis, unlike Wikipedia, "does not provide editing options for the general public; when the site still allowed user registration, a message would appear after registration, informing the user, 'You do not have permission to create this page.' It openly acknowledges it operates under Russia's restrictive media laws."

The overarching pattern here, bearing in mind China's own huge internet encyclopedias, Baike.com and Baidu Baike, is that governments everywhere – unsurprisingly, perhaps – take a keen interest in having user-generated encyclopedias that propagate their respective views of the world. Thank God the United States government has never done anything to mess around with Wikipedia... AK

Banned in Texas, or unregulated, or something

Placeholder alt text
Did judge Andy Oldham rule that WP can't monitor its content?

Wait, shit! Speaking of user-generated encyclopedias that propagate their respective views of the world, Judge Andy Oldham of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Texas House Bill 20 in mid-September. The law restricts some content providers' ability to moderate (or censor, depending on your point of view) public speech hosted on their sites based on viewpoint, with some exceptions for public safety and compliance with federal laws. Sites that are covered under the law operate in Texas, have "an Internet website or application that is open to the public, allows a user to create an account, and enables users to communicate with other users for the primary purpose of posting information, comments, messages, or images" and over 50 million active U.S. users a month.

The Techdirt analysis "Did The 5th Circuit Just Make It So That Wikipedia Can No Longer Be Edited In Texas?" questions whether Twitter – one of the three companies the state testified was targeted by the law – qualifies, with its many bot accounts. But then Techdirt speculates that Wikipedia might qualify. If so, according to the analysis, the site's owners – Wikimedia Foundation – may not be able to regulate some of the encyclopedia's content without violation of the Texas law.

Given that WMF so rarely directly interacts with site content it's not clear to this editor what the net effect of the ruling would be – assuming they don't block Texas editors to avoid running afoul of HB 20. It's also completely speculative that any judge would view the creation of a fact-based encyclopedia as protected viewpoint speech. – B

In brief

Placeholder alt text
Is the dissemination of free information "catnip for the Supreme Court"?



Do you want to contribute to "In the media" by writing a story or even just an "in brief" item? Edit next month's edition in the Newsroom or leave a tip on the suggestions page.