I assisted a prison inmate in placing a request for Wikipedia edits (see this week's In the media). I want to explain what I did, what context this action has in Wikipedia culture, who made the edits, and my own motivation for being involved.
In the context of Wikipedia, nothing extraordinary happened with this, and the matter does not merit special attention. If this matter gets extra attention, then that is because someone chose to make it special among their other options. If anyone outside of Wikipedia wishes to look into Wikipedia culture, then the surprise in this incident might be that Wikipedia seeks to avoid discriminating against any person who follows Wikimedia community rules. I would not have thought to write about it except that a few people have contacted me about this, and I thought that it would be helpful to deconstruct the story to its basics if that would help anyone understand Wikipedia better and participate in constructive conversation.
When I processed the request, I did so casually without much thought and without expecting attention to the action. Any case can be made into a case study, and any case study can be generalized to its essential points. If there is an issue to discuss here, then I wish that it could be discussed outside the context of this particular inmate making the request, and outside the context of my responding to it. In summary, I performed the routine action of posting an editing request on Wikipedia on behalf of a person who asked that any Wikipedia volunteer assist them with this.
The request was in a volunteer queue that could have been answered by anyone, and mostly by chance that I was looking, I pulled the ticket for this request and managed it with some minutes of thought and labor. It is unusual or perhaps unprecedented on Wikipedia for an incarcerated person to request edits in Wikipedia, but I treated this request in the same way that I would treat any of the hundreds of other requests that come to Wikipedia in this task queue every week. In the narrative of Wikipedia, I hope that I did not do anything remarkable or surprising here except perhaps be standing for Wikipedia duty. Another person taking this ticket might have negotiated it to the same end, or any person with a conviction in their background and access to a computer might have posted their own request. In either of those cases, would we be asking the same question: should prison inmates be permitted to edit Wikipedia?
I reiterate that what actually happened here is quite ordinary: A person made a request on Wikipedia for article changes.
There is a process by means of which anyone may request edits to Wikipedia outside the website. This process is managed by the “Volunteer Response Team“, commonly called the OTRS team because of the "online ticket response system" software that the team uses to manage tasks. I volunteer for the OTRS team. There is nothing prestigious about managing OTRS tickets, but people who are granted the userright to do this are expected to know their way around the wikis and I fit that description. The major right granted is that whenever anyone emails “email@example.com”, those emails go to this volunteer team and not – as many people imagine – to paid staff of the Wikimedia Foundation or any other organization.
All sorts of people write to OTRS. People commonly request that someone edit Wikipedia on their behalf. While OTRS volunteers typically do not do Wikipedia editing on request, they might relay the request by posting in on Wikipedia’s boards and talk pages and asking if any other volunteer might like to fulfill it. In this way, the OTRS role means transcribing a request from email into Wikipedia somehow, so that people who are not engaging with the Wikipedia website can still have a presence on-wiki via email. This is rarely ideal. The standing request from the Wikipedia community is that people just go to Wikipedia and make their request directly, without a mediator.
There are cases when there is no alternative. Perhaps for whatever reason, a person cannot access Wikipedia, or they have an urgent request and are unable to learn Wikipedia well enough to do a task in a timely manner, or maybe they just felt like emailing despite Wikipedia telling them in every way that the normal and expected behavior is to engage within the website. It is not possible to email Facebook and ask any team to assist making a routine Facebook post, and not possible to email Twitter and ask them to publish a tweet in some general Twitter account, but just as a catch-all in Wikipedia if someone needs to communicate something they can take the extraordinary step of emailing and talking by email with whatever volunteer they get. No volunteer gets any customer service training and the entire team presents the face of the Wikimedia community however they feel like doing it, with the major restriction being that the OTRS team manages itself to an amorphous standard of quality.
In this context, I as an OTRS agent logged into the private queue for the volunteer response team and saw an OTRS ticket making a routine request. The request was for someone to edit the Wikipedia article which featured the requester as the subject. There were a few odd things about this request. The editing request would be mailed to me on paper. The request was from a public figure whose name I recognized. The most unusual thing was that the person making the request behaved as if they had read Wikipedia’s rules and had made an effort to follow them. I doubt that I see 1 in 100 of these requests from a person who even acknowledges the nature of Wikipedia, which is “Wikipedia is a summary of published sources. Information not backed by a reference can be removed. Information added to Wikipedia should be backed with a citation to the source from which it came.” I feel that the person making the request in this case made a properly formatted request.
I processed the request as I would any other and as I have many before. I posted the request to the appropriate discussion queue in Wikipedia, which is the talk page for the article on this person. By the procedures, this was a straightforward process. But should prison inmates be permitted to edit Wikipedia? Should there be a special rule which keeps certain people out of Wikipedia based on their off-wiki behavior? Perhaps, but in this case, I pass no judgement on the person making the request. They are incarcerated, which is where their society wants them to be, and they are free to write letters. I treated them as I would treat anyone else making a request.
Context in Wikimedia culture
As a Wikipedia reviewer, here are the concerns that came to my mind when I saw the ticket:
Is the request formatted in the manner that Wikipedia’s bureaucracy can accept?
This person is requesting edits to an article where they have a conflict of interest, which in this case is the article about themselves. The common view of conflict of interest editors in Wikipedia is that they are deranged. Is this request being made in a reasonable way?
Is this a libel issue, or can this request be treated routinely?
This person is a prison inmate. Does that mean that there is a safety concern to the Wikipedia community?
My answers to these questions are as follows:
Yes, the request is good and in line with the bureaucracy.
The request seemed neutral. It was clear enough and was formatted as a typical request. Most attempts by companies and individuals to edit articles about themselves are quite wild and rude, and many people avoid looking to those items because often there is no way to resolve them amiably.
No, there is no libel complaint here, so this request can be treated as any other editing suggestion.
I made the subjective judgement that there is no safety concern here.
Questions that did not come to my mind at the time are “Is this person who they say that they are?”, because Wikipedia editors do not typically take identity or credentials into account, or “Should I treat this person differently because they are a public figure?” because if identity is uncertain by default then it follows that individuals do not get treated differently when they use Wikipedia services.
The issue about safety concerns is that some people imagine that Wikipedia has a code of conduct that prohibits certain kinds of people from editing Wikipedia based on their conduct off-wiki. Wikipedia does not currently have a code of conduct. It will eventually. I have participated in the development of Wikimedia safety policies since 2012. Meta-Wiki is the place where the most abstract rules for the Wikimedia community are curated, and on the Meta-Wiki page “Code of conduct” I noted that there is no project-wide code of conduct and still none has been adopted. As with everything in wiki-world, rules are written by the community, but because no one in the world has been able to write constructive community rules (including big players with money like Facebook and Twitter), the Wikipedia community has not adopted any particular community expectations for morality and ethics. This is not to say that Wikipedia is without social expectations, or miscellaneous rules, because those things are there. The rules that exist just have not been codified into a manifesto that the community can use. I used the placeholder “codes of conduct” page to link to every other online community that I could find, and eventually, when there is a Wikipedia code of conduct, it will be at that page. I have proposed just copying all the existing draft codes one after the other in one mega-document, then parsing down, and calling that version 1.0. The lack of a code of conduct has not been a pressing issue yet, so since 2013 or so, we have just talked about adopting a code of conduct guide eventually.
I bring this up to say that there is no rule on Wikipedia which says, “If you have been convicted of a serious crime, then you are not allowed to participate in the Wikipedia community.” People ask whether that might be a rule someday, and there is no clear answer yet. If there were such a rule, then its intent would be to create barriers for safety between the Wikimedia community and certain people associated with risk or negativity. My thought is that such a rule is unlikely to be accepted in Wikipedia. One reason for in-wiki opposition to this idea is that there is a Wikipedia community value that contributors to Wikipedia should be judged by the quality of their editorial contributions, and not by their off-wiki life, to the extent that this is possible. There is a Wikipedia cultural value that there should be no hierarchy in the community and that there should be a culture of equality. There is no special rank or privilege awarded in Wikipedia to people with advanced education or experience, except to the extent that if they are talented and follow Wikipedia’s rules, then they might have more editorial effectiveness with the same effort as compared to someone with less talent and less willingness to follow Wikipedia’s rules. In the same way that there is no pressure in Wikipedia to assign ranks of privilege, the community avoids devising markers of humility to indicate lower classes like for example incarceration status. There is lore in the community of reference work developers that it is best to accept good contributions from any source. The Oxford English Dictionary is perhaps the world’s most respected English language dictionary, and popular narratives have recounted that convicted murderer W. C. Minor made essential contributions to the work while an inmate in prison and a sanitarium. To Wikipedians, this story teaches some openness to accepting ideas even from people at the bottom of society.
Right now, in April 2016, there is another cultural context to consider. Presently there is a discussion on Jimmy Wales' talk page about the weight that ought to be given to people with academic credentials. This is a discussion ongoing since 2006 with the Essjay controversy or even since 2001 at Wikipedia’s founding or before. The status quo is that the Wikipedia community does not check credentials or identity in any way, because the quality control process in Wikipedia requires that reviewers check the reliability of sources cited and the quality of research without regard for who submitted it. This is relevant to the inmate situation, because just as credentials do not grant favor, so would a negative record not by default be cause for in-community discrimination. Two weeks ago in the Signpost, there was a profile of a case in which a convicted sex offender was blocked from using Wikipedia. In that case, the context I read in the reporting is the Wikipedia community is safer with this person being prevented from engaging socially in the Wikimedia projects on the argument that the person is at high risk to offend again based on the past conviction. I do not know the facts of that case and I have hardly read the story, but I understand the sentiment. To the extent that the Wikimedia community defines any class of person as “dangerous”, I also want such people to be blocked from Wikipedia. If the Wikimedia community draws a line and says, “These sorts of people are not allowed”, then I would follow that rule.
As ongoing projects, Kiwix is an offline version of Wikipedia. Wikimedia Switzerland was able to provide this in some jails, as in that country, there is a philosophy that jails should encourage the reform of inmates to help with their rehabilitation back into society as people who ought to contribute constructively. There is a “Wikitherapy” project, and while it only targets people who are bound to their homes or hospitals, it could target any sort of incarcerated person. Wikitherapy’s team has stated no interest in convicted populations but I have watched the program and thought it was interesting for all kinds of people.
I know of the editor, Charles Watson. He has been in prison since 1969, so 47 years, and since age 24. He is remembered for his role in a high-profile murder case that is still popularly discussed in the United States and beyond. I studied this case in the context of my own spirituality and my sexuality.
Regarding sexuality – there was a time not long ago when the LGBT public figures were fewer. Director John Waters in 1981 wrote a book called Shock Value, and in the “All my trials” chapter he talks about being in the audience of the late 1960s Manson trial and about visiting Watson in prison regularly thereafter. Waters talked about Watson’s conversion to Christianity and acceptance of his crime and conviction. Waters’ presentation of Watson is that he is a quite ordinary person, except that he did a horrific crime, but in prison everyone is the same. I was moved at the time to think that anyone could care about what happens to strangers in prison. Because Waters cared, I felt like maybe I should care too, because Waters was an LGBT icon. I did not solicit this sort of case from anyone, but when I saw the ticket in the task queue, I did recognize the name. I never expected anyone to make anything of the processing of that ticket.
I am not sure what my motivation is or what my philosophical positions are, but I have worked and volunteered in criminal justice and have experience with the systems.
When I was 19 I was arrested. The charge was one thing, but I was in rural Texas, and I feel that the best explanation of my arrest was that I appeared gay. Until 2003 it was illegal to be gay in the United States, and even in the LGBT community there used to be more negativity and fear of discrimination. When I was younger I sometimes felt like a criminal, and met other people who felt the same way. Now I think that even though there are different and serious pressures on LGBT people, feeling illegal is not among them for people in the Western world. I have had friends who were gay bashed by police. When gay bashing happens now, it is only because of discrimination, and not because of vigilante justice, so that is better. Homosexuality is still illegal in India for example, and my gay friends there tell stories like relics from my past.
I have a relative who is in prison for gay bashing.
I did clinical research with a demographic including many people in community sentencing after conviction
I have a long history of involvement with HIV research, which includes not passing judgement about any medically significant behavior that anyone might do, regardless of legality.
In college I lived in a ten bedroom house with all rooms individually rented. One new housemate was on parole. He had to ask everyone in the house – all strangers and mostly college age like him – for permission to move in. When his parole officer dropped in for visits, I was comfortable talking with her. This is what happens to people on parole – they go somewhere to live in the community, and either they are accepted or else they go elsewhere. I hardly interacted with this person, but it was still an experience of making a decision about whether to treat a convicted person in a different way.
I present these experiences to establish that I am a person who has some credibility for being thoughtful in making a decision about judging the safety of a request from an incarcerated person. None of these experiences are qualifications, but most people have no interaction with concepts of law and justice and I have had some. At different parts of my life I have wondered what it means to be an outcast, and to be outside the law. It is my own personal bias that I associate compassion for LGBT people with compassion generally. I cannot make an argument that compassion for one group of outcasts ought to be generalized to everyone, but for me personally, having some outsider experiences has made me try to be more sensitive to issues of fairness in the criminal justice system.
I want peace, justice, fairness, and compassion. If people are convicted of crimes then they do a service to society with their incarceration. Some people say that a prison sentence meets a debt to society, and some people say that even after prison convicted persons should experience additional consequences. I have no opinion except that somehow in the end I wish that everyone involved in a crime could get whatever acceptance and resolution is possible.
When I had the letters from Watson at home on my desk my boyfriend Fabian saw the envelopes and he thought they looked strange, and he asked me about them. I told him that I posted a message on Wikipedia from a prison inmate. He became upset, and asked why I would do a favor for a convicted person and empower them. I told him that I felt that people in prison, especially people in prison for decades, had low social status and that most people would consider incarceration to be among the most wretched and lowest sorts of lives. He had a close friend, Angel Melendez, with whom he spent a lot of time and who among many other adventures had officiated his marriage to his boyfriend of the time at an NYC Pride March. Angel was murdered, and the people convicted of the murder were released from prison after what some would call a short amount of time. Fabian was asking why I was helping bring comfort into the life of someone like the person who killed his friend.
I have no answer. I do not wish for any pass for anyone’s conviction, or softer sentencing or any particular criminal justice reform. I want fairness, even though I do not always know what that means. When I processed the Watson request, I wished for it to be taken for what it was – a Wikipedia request in a community that tries to treat everyone equally – and not for anyone to consider this case specifically any more deeply.
I find myself tied and limited in my actions and projects. In order to avoid the perception or potential for Conflict of Interests I have to act extremely carefully in far too many parts of my life. Instead of being able to pursue my projects or some projects at work—which I think would align very well with our mission—I found myself trapped between too many constraints. I feel like I cannot offer my thoughts and my considerations openly, since they might easily be perceived as expressions of interests—regarding my previous work, regarding my friends, regarding my current employment.
This hit home strongly during the FDC deliberations, where I had to deal with the situation of people deliberating a proposal written by my Best Man, around a project that has consumed the best part of the previous decade of my life. Obviously, I explained the conflicts in this case, and refrained from participating in the discussion, as agreed with the FDC.
This hit home every time there was a topic that might be perceived as a potential conflict of interest between Wikimedia and my employer, and even though I might have been in a unique position to provide insight, I had to refrain from doing so in order not to exert influence.
There were constant and continuous attacks against me, as being merely Google’s mole on the Board, even of the election being bought by Google. I would not have minded these attacks so much—if I would have had the feeling that my input to the Board, based on my skills and experiences, would have been particularly valuable, or if I would have had the feeling of getting anything done while being on the Board. As it is, neither was the case.
I discussed with Jan-Bart [de Vreede], then chair, what is and what is not appropriate to pursue as a member of the Board. I understood and followed his advice, but it was frustrating. It was infuriatingly limiting.
As some of you might know, Wikidata was for me just one step towards my actual goal, a fully multilingual Wikipedia. I hoped that as a Trustee I could pursue that goal, but when even writing a comment on a bug in Phabricator has to be considered under the aspect that it will be read as "it is a Board-member writing that comment" and/or “It’s a Googler writing that comment”, I don’t see how I could effectively pursue such a goal.
It was at Wikimania 2006 in Boston, when Markus Krötzsch and I had lunch with Dan Connolly, a co-editor of the early HTML specs. Dan gave me an advise that still rings with me—to do the things worth doing that only you can do. This set me, back then, on a path that eventually lead to the creation of Wikidata—which, before then, wasn't something I wanted to do myself. I used to think that merely suggesting it would be enough—someone will eventually do it, I don’t have to. There’s plenty of committed and smart people at the Foundation, they’ll make it happen. Heck, Erik was back then a supporter of the plan (he was the one to secure the domain wikidata.org), and he was deputy director. Things were bound to happen anyway. But that is not what happened. I eventually, half a decade later, realized that if I do not do it, it simply won't happen, at least not in a reasonable timeframe.
And as said, Wikidata was just one step on the way. But right now I cannot take the next steps. Anything that I would do or propose or suggest will be regarded through the lense of my current positions. To be fair, I do see that I should not be both the one suggesting changes, and the one deciding on them. I understand now that I could not have suggested Wikidata as a member of the Board. It takes an independent Board to evaluate such proposal and its virtues and decide on them.
I want to send a few thank yous, in particular to the teams at the Wikimedia Foundation and at Google who helped me steer clear of actual conflicts of interests. They were wonderful, and extremely helpful. It bears a certain irony that both organizations had strong measures against exactly the kind of things that I have been regularly accused of.
I only see three ways to stay clear from a perceived or potential Conflict of Interest: to lay still and do nothing, to remove the source of the Conflict, or to step away from the position of power. Since the first option is unsatisfying, the second option unavailable, only the third option remains.
So I have decided to resign from the Board of Trustees.
It was not an easy decision, and certainly not a step made any easier by the events in the last few months. I understand that I will disappoint many of the people who voted for me, and I want to apologize: I am sorry, honestly sorry, but I don’t see that it is me the Board needs now, or that the movement needs me in that position. What I learned is that the profile that allows someone to win an election is not the profile that makes an effective Trustee.
But be warned that you will continue to hear from me, after a wikibreak. Expect crazy ideas, project proposals, and requests to fund and implement them. I will return to a more active role within the movement. I will be, again, free to work on things that are worth doing and that only I can do. I think that in that role I can be more effective and more valuable to the movement, the Foundation, and for our mission.
In a post to the Wikimedia Announcements mailing list made three minutes later, Wikimedia Foundation board chairman Patricio Lorentesaid,
As many of you already know, Denny Vrandečić has announced his resignation from the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, effective today, April 8th. On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank Denny for his service to the movement and to the Wikimedia Foundation. We wish him the best during his wikibreak, and look forward to seeing him on the projects and around the movement.
When Denny informed the Board that he was stepping down, we began to consider how we would move forward. We recognize the importance of filling the two vacancies on the Board, and would like to proceed in a way that respects the will of the community and responds to existing Board needs. The Board will be meeting in Berlin during the Wikimedia Conference on April 22nd and 23rd—during this time we will discuss how we should fill the open community-nominated and appointed Trustee seats.
I look forward to sharing more information with you in late April.
Denny, who has been a Wikipedian since 2003, is the co-developer of Semantic MediaWiki and was the first administrator of the Croatian Wikipedia. In 2010, he worked with various Wikimedia stakeholders to develop the first proposal and secure funding for the structured data project Wikidata. In 2012, he became the founding project director for Wikidata, recruiting and leading the first Wikidata team out of Wikimedia Deutschland. He joined the WMF board in July 2015, as one of three community-recommended members accepted on the board that year. His departure, along with that of Arnnon Geshuri in January 2016, means that two of the ten WMF board seats are currently unfilled.
The Visual Copyright Society in Sweden (BUS), which represents painters, photographers, illustrators and designers among others, had sued Wikimedia Sweden for making photographs of their artwork displayed in public places available in its database, without their consent.
The Supreme Court found in favour of BUS, arguing that while individuals were permitted to photograph artwork on display in public spaces, it was "an entirely different matter" to make the photographs available in a database for free and unlimited use.
As reported by the BBC (April 5), the court took the view that—
Such a database can be assumed to have a commercial value that is not insignificant. ... The court finds that the artists are entitled to that value.
We respectfully disagree with the Supreme Court's decision to erode the freedom of panorama that is a fundamental part of freedom of expression, freedom of information, and artistic expression. As we read it, the Swedish copyright law in question only limits the production of three-dimensional copies of sculptures, and cannot be interpreted as placing limits on pictures of public art being published on the internet. The fact that the copyright law allows images of public art on postcards, even for profit and without the artist's consent, demonstrates this intent and, in our opinion, is inconsistent with the Supreme Court's interpretation of the law.
The Wikimedia Foundation respects artists' rights to control their works, but artists who wish to control all images of their art have the option to place their works in private places. The public should be free to enjoy and share views of public monuments and landscapes. The European Parliament agrees, as shown by its recent rejection of attempts to stifle freedom of panorama. This Swedish Supreme Court decision disregards this point. Sharing images of public art online does more than allow others to experience that art—it helps the world share in knowledge and have a dialogue about public spaces that surround us. Sites like Offentligkonst.se help provide that information in a structured and accessible way. Diminishing the ability to show these images restricts our ability to discuss our own surroundings.
The decision sparked much discussion in social media, with people worried whether, as private individuals, they were still at liberty to upload images of statues for example to Facebook or Instagram. Supreme Court Justice Lars Edlund toldSVT, Sweden's national public TV broadcaster, that the court's decision only applied to this specific case, i.e. a large-scale open database of artwork photographs; the legality of individuals posting such photographs to Facebook or Instagram was not considered in this case.
The judgment was welcomed by BUS, who said it had been important in establishing "who decides over the artists' works; the artists themselves or the big players on the internet." BUS lawyer Erik Forslund toldNy Teknik (April 4) that the decision finally confirmed artists' exclusive rights to publication online, adding that BUS presently has agreements with local governments who pay a fee to show their art on the web. According to Forslund, these fees amount to "a few hundred dollars" per municipality, depending on how large the municipality is and how many works are involved.
Forslund said his organisation was not interested in what individuals did online—and indeed that it would be inappropriate to go after individuals—but expressed the view that this ruling opened up new opportunities for BUS to sign contracts with large commercial players publishing images of public art such as Swedish search engine Hitta.se, Facebook and Google, as well as Wikimedia.
Wikimedia Sweden's Anna Troberg remained unconvinced, saying she did not believe BUS might not be willing to seek compensation from private individuals in the future. She toldThe Local, an English-language website focused on Swedish news:
We are naturally very disappointed. We view this as an anachronistic and restrictive interpretation of copyright laws. It also runs counter to recommendations from the European Court of Human Rights.
Troberg said that Wikimedia Sweden would consult with its lawyer and the Wikimedia Foundation to decide their next steps: "Our priority now will be to re-shape the debate, because clearly this is an outdated judgement."
BUS, on the other hand, recalled that Wikimedia had—
refused to sign a licensing agreement with Bildupphovsrätt for artists' rights—an agreement that would cost just a few hundred euros a year. Rather than negotiating on payments to artists, Wikimedia has instead chosen to spend tens of thousands of euros on lawyers to avoid it.
We hope that this declaration from the Supreme Court means that both parties can now move on from these disputes and come to a mutually constructive solution. Bildupphovsrätt is constantly signing this kind of agreement for using visual artworks, and discussions are best held at the negotiating table rather than in a courtroom.
The amount of damages Wikimedia Sweden will have to pay BUS will be established at a later date by a Stockholm district court.
Charles Watson, convicted of seven first-degree murders in 1971, does not dispute that he stabbed, shot and mutilated several people to death. Nor does he deny being “the right-hand man” of the cult leader and killer Charles Manson.
But Watson, still serving a life term in Ione, Calif., does reportedly want to set the record straight on a couple of scores: Last week, someone claiming to be the 70-year-old convict submitted a list of meticulous corrections to Wikipedia.
Among other things, the person claiming to be Watson disputes that he took $70 from one of his victim’s purses, or that he ever went by the nickname "Mad Charlie." He also wants the world to know he attended Cal State, not the University of California—and that, four years after his infamous killing spree, he converted to Christianity.
When the Signpost asked for further details about how the letter found its way to the Wikimedia Foundation, its communications department would only say:
As you know, given that we (the Foundation) generally don't write, edit, or curate Wikipedia content, editors are almost always better suited to evaluate and support requests to make changes to Wikipedia content, often through the OTRS system, as was done in this case. For additional context, the request came in directly through OTRS rather than to the Foundation or another channel. We do refer many content-related inquiries that come in through our channels to the OTRS system where editors are able to evaluate and look into any requests to edit, add, or remove content on the sites, as well as help explain community policies to newcomers.
We can't reasonably confirm or deny the person's identity who made this request for the en.WP article for Tex Watson, just as you can't fully 'know' who the person is behind any form of online communications. As I'm sure you know though, editors are actively discussing and evaluating the proposed edits to the article.
It's important to recognize that editors are evaluating the proposed edits to the article for Tex Watson (regardless of who they might have come from), but ultimately are relying on neutral, third party sources to back up any new information or changes to the article. While it will never be perfect, this is a good example of English Wikipedia policies and editors working to keep content on the site neutral, reliable, and well-sourced.
This is a topic that has been discussed in recent Signpost stories exploring the relationship between Wikipedia, Wikidata and the various commercial answer engines now coming onto the market, which at some level compete with Wikipedia, even as they're basing their responses on Wikimedia content (see "Whither Wikidata?" and "So, what's a knowledge engine anyway?").
As Oremus notes, after communicating with "Alexa, the voice assistant whose digital spirit animates the Amazon Echo",
... voice assistants tend to answer your question by drawing from a single source of their own choosing. Alexa's confident response to my kinkajou question, I later discovered, came directly from Wikipedia, which Amazon has apparently chosen as the default source for Alexa's answers to factual questions. The reasons seem fairly obvious: It's the world's most comprehensive encyclopedia, its information is free and public, and it's already digitized. What it's not, of course, is infallible. Yet Alexa's response to my question didn't begin with the words, "Well, according to Wikipedia ...". She—it—just launched into the answer, as if she (it) knew it off the top of her (its) head. If a human did that, we might call it plagiarism.
The sin here is not merely academic. By not consistently citing the sources of its answers, Alexa makes it difficult to evaluate their credibility. It also implicitly turns Alexa into an information source in its own right, rather than a guide to information sources, because the only entity in which we can place our trust or distrust is Alexa itself. That's a problem if its information source turns out to be wrong. ...
Amazon’s response is that Alexa does give you options and cite its sources—in the Alexa app, which keeps a record of your queries and its responses. When the Echo tells you what a kinkajou is, you can open the app on your phone and see a link to the Wikipedia article, as well as an option to search Bing.
Oremus also looks at the way certain vendors could and indeed do receive preferential treatment from voice assistants like Amazon Echo, affecting consumers' choices—whether they're ordering a pizza or buying music. He envisages—
problems of transparency, privacy, objectivity, and trust—questions that are not new to the world of personal technology and the Internet but are resurfacing in fresh and urgent forms. A world of conversational machines is one in which we treat software like humans, letting them deeper into our lives and confiding in them more than ever. It's one in which the world's largest corporations know more about us, hold greater influence over our choices, and make more decisions for us than ever before. And it all starts with a friendly "Hello."
Congressman's campaign removes "unflattering information" from his Wikipedia article, blames other Wikipedia editors for "opposition research messaging"
Republican Congressman David Jolly discovered the Streisand effect first-hand when Buzzfeedreported on April 5 that his campaign admitted to editing his Wikipedia article to remove "unflattering information". Jolly represents Florida's 13th congressional district in the US House of Representatives and is running for the US Senate to replace Senator and former US Presidential candidate Marco Rubio. Jolly spokesperson Sarah Bascom, president of the political firm Bascom Communications & Consulting, told Buzzfeed: "We were notified a few months ago that a consultant who works for one of our us senate [sic] opponents has been intentionally editing the David Jolly Wikipedia page to follow their opposition research messaging so they can use it in a mail or digital campaign. Once we found about it, we went in and attempted to correct his page to be consistent with all of his public bios."
Twoedits were made in March and April by an account that at the time was named "Bascomcomm". They added promotional material and language to the article and removed references to Jolly's career as a lobbyist, his divorce, his support for same-sex marriage, and his relationship with Scientology. The latter detail was prominently mentioned in subsequent news reports, including Techdirt and Gawker. The "worldwide spiritual headquarters" of the Church of Scientology is in Jolly's Congressional district and his connections to the Church, including donations and appearances at fundraisers and events, have been previously highlighted by the media. After each edit, the information was restored by other editors.
Bascom accused two editors by name of working on behalf of Jolly's political opponents: Champaign Supernova and CFredkin, editors since 2012 and 2013, respectively. Both edit articles on a range of US politicians from both major political parties. Bascom refused to tell Buzzfeed who those editors were allegedly working for and offered no proof of their alleged affiliations. Bascom claimed "I have been told by numerous people who is behind it, but I can't use that. That would be unethical."
On April 6, the Tampa Bay Times reported Jolly's response. Jolly told the Times "It was a careless staff mistake that I first learned about from the Times" and said that an unidentified campaign aide edited Wikipedia at their own initiative. Buzzfeed too had a follow-up article on April 6, including a response from Champaign Supernova, who called the allegations "absurd". G
Canadian government edits: Global Newsreports that an IP address belonging to the Correctional Service of Canada edited the article Political positions of Donald Trump to include inaccurate information regarding the sexuality and gender identity of the current US Presidential candidate. Homophobic edits from the very same IP address prompted an investigation in January. Motherboard also looks into this kind of editing from Canadian government employees: "There's no better way to peer into the seamy underbelly of bureaucracy than by looking at how people in power waste their time. It's in this spirit that I present to you a curated list at all the ways employees of the Canadian federal government, from the military to tech support, have edited Wikipedia in 2016. It's quite the collection—from one person arguing that Donald Trump is a self-proclaimed [redacted] to another claiming that Ghanaian Jollof rice tastes like 'pupu' compared to the Nigerian variety." The collection is based on a Twitterbot logging edits from Canadian government IP addresses. (Apr. 6–7) AK, G
Stumped: AskMennotes the deletion of the Wikipedia article on the "Stump" drinking game, "Wikipedia's reason being that the game's not notable enough. But Jimmy Fallon and Elijah Wood played it on Late Night in 2010, so here's hoping more attention will raise its profile enough to keep the page alive." (Apr. 6) AK
Revolution: Newsweekhighlights a Quora answer by Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim, which likens the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 to the social processes underlying Wikipedia: "The decentralized nature of the protest, and the shared commitment among everyone who took part of the movement, reminded me of how Wikipedia operates." (Apr. 6) AK
Emertainment Shemertainment: Emertainment Monthly (the "official entertainment magazine" of Emerson College, get it?) believes that the graphic novel Out There: The Evil Within is "Deserving of a Wikipedia Page". Why haven't you acceded to this completely reasonable request, Wikipedia? The series by Brian Augustyn and Humberto Ramos was originally published in 2001, back when Wikipedia was being created, so we were a little busy at the time. Emertainment Monthly writes, "This will hopefully inspire someone, somewhere to finally write something about the Out There universe on Wikipedia", but they can't do it themselves because they are busy creating the official entertainment magazine of Emerson College. (April 3) G
Persona(nominated by ProtoDrake) is a series of role-playing video games developed and primarily published by Atlus. The series is a spin-off from Atlus' Megami Tensei franchise, and was originally based on the high school setting of Shin Megami Tensei if.... The first entry in the series, Revelations: Persona, was released in 1996. There have since been eight further console titles, with another in development. The series takes its title from the beings used by characters in battle, manifested from a character's personality.
Margaret Murray(nominated by Midnightblueowl) (1863–1963) was an Anglo-Indian Egyptologist, archaeologist, anthropologist, historian, and folklorist. The first female to be appointed as a lecturer in archaeology in the United Kingdom, she worked at University College London from 1898 to 1935. She served as president of the Folklore Society from 1953 to 1955, and published widely over the course of her career.
Heterodontosaurus(nominated by FunkMonk and Jens Lallensack) is a genus of heterodontosaurid dinosaur that lived during the Early Jurassic period. Its only known member species, Heterodontosaurus tucki, was named in 1962 based on a skull discovered in South Africa. The genus name means "different toothed lizard", in reference to its unusual, heterodont dentition. The specific name honors G. C. Tuck, who supported the discoverers. Further specimens have since been found, including an almost complete skeleton in 1966.
"Rejoined"(nominated by David Fuchs and Miyagawa) is the 78th episode of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The plot of "Rejoined" expands on the Trill species, of which Jadzia Dax is a member. They are formed of a host and a symbiont, with the symbiont passed from host to host as the previous one dies. In the episode, Dax is reunited with Lenara Kahn, the ex-wife of one of its former hosts. The two struggle with their feelings for one another because of the taboo in their species against reuniting with loved ones of former hosts. It received a Nielsen rating of seven percent on the first broadcast in syndication. Reviews have been mostly positive towards the episode because of its message, but there was criticism that the plot was not exciting enough and there was a negative reaction from some viewers.
Typhoon Nabi(nominated by Hurricanehink) was a powerful typhoon that struck southwestern Japan in September 2005. The 14th named storm of the 2005 Pacific typhoon season, Nabi formed on August 29 to the east of the Northern Mariana Islands. Three days latter, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center upgraded the storm to super typhoon status, with winds equivalent to that of a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Nabi weakened while curving to the north, striking the Japanese island of Kyushu. After brushing South Korea, the storm turned to the northeast, passing over Hokkaido before becoming extratropical on September 8.
Nelson's Pillar(nominated by Brianboulton and Carcharoth) was a large granite column capped by a statue of Horatio Nelson, in the centre of O'Connell Street in Dublin, Ireland. Completed in 1809 when Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, it survived until March 1966, when it was severely damaged by explosives planted by Irish republicans. Its remnants were later destroyed by the Irish Army.
Little Mix are a British girl group formed in 2011, consisting of members Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, and Jesy Nelson. They have recorded 56 songs(nominated by Calvin999), including two charity singles.
Gene Roddenberry (1921–1991) was an American screenwriter and producer of several television series, best known for his work in creating the Star Trek franchise. The majority of the awards and nominations received by Roddenberry(nominated by Miyagawa) throughout his career were related to Star Trek. He was credited for Star Trek: The Original Series during the nominations for two Emmy Awards, and won two Hugo Awards. Before his television writing career, he was a pilot during World War II. During his time in the military, he flew the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, and was awarded both the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. In addition to awards, Roddenberry also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame following a campaign by Star Trek fan clubs.
A second week at #1, and only down slightly from last week's 3.1 million views. Warner Bros might have cause to breathe again for the first time in three years, as their tent-pole gamble and hopes for an entire franchise have, it seems, paid off. Maybe. With $682 million earned worldwide through April 3, the official founding stone for DC's cinematic universe has gone down a storm, with the studio's highest ever domestic opening weekend. But, having cost an estimated $400 million to make and market, this movie will have to make $800 million worldwide just to break even.
Duke was a child star of the 1960s, an Oscar-winning actress in her teens, and went on to a long acting career as an adult. She was also a well-known advocate for mental health issues. She died at age 69 on March 29 from sepsis caused by a ruptured intestine.
Trump is essentially a perpetual motion machine of views at this point. The slightest news or latest squabble spreads throughout the internet immediately. But this has now been going on for so long that there is some anecdotal evidence of "Trump fatigue". This week's primary in Wisconsin, where loads of resources are being expended to defeat Trump, will no doubt be heralded as a watershed event though Trump lost to Ted Cruz.
The first day of April, perennial party for practical jokers and pranksters, continues to amuse the cynical and infuriate the gullible. Stories about the best historical pranks tend to proliferate around this date, which randomly led this editor to the Taco Liberty Bell, a prank which just celebrated its 20th anniversary.
The annual list of deaths has always been a fairly consistent visitor to this list, averaging about 500,000 views a week. Since the death of David Bowie, this article's average number of views have jumped.
Up from #18 and 482K views last week. WWE's annual pay-per-view pantomime took place on April 3, 2016, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, featuring Roman Reigns (pictured). Since the actual event took place the day after this week's chart period, it seems likely that this will be on the list for one more week, as Wrestlemania 31 placed for threestraightweeks last year. By the way, if you've never read one of these wrestling-event articles in detail, you should check it out just to see the incredible level of detail and sourcing provided.
It's hard to remember these days, under the onslaught of bunnies, chocolate eggs and marshmallow peeps, that Easter, not Christmas, is the most sacred date of the Christian calendar. But that date moves around -- see computus. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the vernal equinox for most of the Christian world, but a numberof articles appeared this year about trying to fix and consolidate the date.
The finals of the 2016 ICC World Twenty20 (#20, see also #12) cricket championship were held in India on April 3. Kohli was the captain of the Indian squad and the subject of much press attention for his performances.
Up from #21 and 442K views last week. The Israeli actress and former combat instructor has grown in popularity since being announced as DC Cinematic Universe's anointed Wonder Woman (#19), and the first official live-action Wonder Woman since Lynda Carter in the 70s.
Another issue raised in the thread was that Wikicology created seven articles about himself. From Olatunde olalekan isaac, Olatunde isaac, to even Olatunde olalekan. Peter Damian challenged Wikicology's claim to be a biochemist, harking back to the infamous Essjay controversy, where former administrator, bureaucrat, and arbitrator Essjay was found to have falsified his qualifications and experience. Essjay later stepped down from all of his positions and retired from Wikipedia.
A call for Wikicology to be indefinitely banned from the English Wikipedia received two-thirds support (24–12). Mentoring was offered. Consensus was finally reached when it was decided to "Kick it to arbcomm".
With the claims that Wikicology falsified his occupation on Wikipedia, a case request for the Arbitration Committee to accept was started on 3 April 2016 by Jayen466. In the preliminary statements, Jayen466 recapped everything that had happened while Wikicology stood by his claim of being a biochemist. Twelve active members of the Committee voted to accept the case. It is currently in its evidence phase, which is scheduled to close on 25 April.
1798: John Bull, the personification of the UK, offers his opinion of a poster of King George III as an outraged prime minister William Pitt the Younger declares the act treasonous. Caricaturist Richard Newton's brilliant career as a satirist, which began at age 13, was cut short by typhus at the age of 21 that year.
1970: Pulitzer Prize-winner Edmund S. Valtman was known for his caricatures of Cold War-era political leaders, such as Vice President Spiro Agnew, the "hatchet man" of US President Richard Nixon. Agnew, who was famed for his scathing political attacks and employing alliterative epithets like "nattering nabobs of negativism", resigned in disgrace following criminal charges of accepting bribes.
2009: The blistering cartoons of Brazilian artist Carlos Latuff circulate widely on the Internet, though his cartoons about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict have caused him to be accused of antisemitism. Elected promising to end the war in Iraq, President Barack Obama finally withdrew combat troops in 2010, though some 4,400 troops remain in Iraq as "advisors" to this day.