Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2023-05-08/In the media

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Vivek's smelly socks, online safety, and politics: Fake fines, false alarms and faux headlines!
In the media

Vivek's smelly socks, online safety, and politics

A presidential candidate and undeclared paid editing

Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ramaswamy – a long-shot Republican candidate for the 2024 United States presidential electionpaid a Wikipedian to edit the article about himself, according to Mediaite (see also The New Republic, Forbes, and Yahoo!). The paid editor, Jhofferman, had earlier declared that he was paid, and even summarized two edits as "at subject's request." Jhofferman is the most active editor of the article, having made 97 (38.5%) of the edits. His most controversial edits removed Ramaswamy's role in Ohio’s COVID-19 Response Team, and Ramaswamy's receipt of the The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. Paul Soros was the older brother of George Soros, a perceived enemy of the MAGA crowd.

Ramaswamy's campaign, according to HuffPost, stated that the edits simply corrected "factual distortions" on "a number of topics, including family members’ names." Of Jhofferman's 97 edits to the article, The Signpost could only find 3 that "corrected" family member's names: two added "Ramaswamy" as his wife's family name, and one abbreviated his father's given name "Vivek Ganapathy" to V.G.

Even though Jhofferman is not an undeclared paid editor, he was reported at an administrators' noticeboard anyway. Commenters there seemed to be leaning toward an editing restriction for violating our rules, perhaps neutral point of view.

The Signpost can add that Ramaswamy appears to have repeatedly used undeclared paid editors on his biography article, and articles on two of his businesses, Axovant Sciences and Roivant Sciences. These 16 editors who have since been blocked as sock puppets include two members of the well-known Yoodaba sockfarm. One of those socks edited all three articles, the other only two articles. In total seven editors who were later blocked for socking edited the Axovant Sciences article; ten edited the Roivant Sciences article, and seven edited the Vivek Ramaswamy article. The biography article and the Roivant Sciences article were both created by now banned sock puppets from the Jbuffkin sockfarm. The Axovant Sciences article was edited by an anonymous account who declared a conflict of interest for the article and also edited the other two articles.

We remind our readers that the identities of an editor or their employer can not be definitively proven even with Wikipedia's near-complete record of edits, for example an editor may be intentionally trying to embarrass an article subject with a Joe job.

Political candidates who are considering editing articles about themselves through undeclared paid editors or sock puppets should consider themselves notified that these editors are fairly easy to track on Wikipedia. We expect to further report on paid editing and socking by presidential candidates as the campaign progresses. – S

Encyclopaedia exemption to online safety bill?

The BBC reports that Wikipedia will not perform Online Safety Bill age checks which will likely be required under a proposed UK online safety bill meant to protect children. See also [1], [2], [3], [4]

The two methods of protecting children on the surface are contradictory. The online safety bill could require children to register accounts with their names and age and store this data. According to Rebecca MacKinnon of the WMF, Wikipedia has a "commitment to collect minimal data about readers and contributors" which is a method of protecting all Wkipedia editors. Fortunately, the House of Lords has debated an amendment that would exempt encyclopaedias and other websites "provided for the public benefit". – S

Compromise with paid editors?

Wikipedia's influence grows in Axios discusses how companies can help write encyclopedia articles, showing the viewpoints of a reputation management company as well as from several unnamed Wikipedians. This is a couple of steps above how Entrepreneur used to write similar articles which didn't have input from Wikipedians.

Summarizing some of Axios's main points, they tell companies

  • If a client or company is in the news, communication and PR teams should make sure that the Wiki page is up to date, because it'll inevitably see a surge in views.
  • "You must have a presence on Wikipedia, and you must be able to correct or update your presence there — which is easier said than done," quoting the CEO of the reputation management firm.
  • Flowery brand language or spin, ... makes editors skeptical of PR professionals and corporate communicators.

And they say that Wikipedians say

  • Create a Wikipedia account, do not attempt to edit anonymously
  • Always disclose conflicts of interest
  • Sourcing is a must. Every edit must be cited by a secondary source — and no, your company website or personal records don't count.

There's some obvious tension in the two viewpoints. What would happen if a company maintained a presence on Wikipedia and tried to keep the article about their company up to date, while avoiding anonymous edits, disclosing their conflicts of interest, and adequately sourcing every edit?

It would be a great advance from the current conditions, of course. But what's going to happen when Wikipedians and the company representatives disagree? Wikipedians almost always disagree about major edits, even among ourselves. Some Wikipedians will want it one way and won't be shy about telling the company employees. The employees generally won't disagree among themselves. They will be thinking about their paychecks and what their bosses want. Who will win?

Axios seems to suggest that a compromise can be reached. The Signpost is skeptical. Would the companies really want to work this way? Would Wikipedians really be willing to compromise so easily? Perhaps more importantly, if everybody could agree on what not to include, we would end up having some really boring articles.

The "Wikipedia's influence grows" claim in the title rests on a recent report by the Washington Post, titled "Inside the secret list of websites that make AI chatbots sound smart". Axios summarizes it as saying that "these tools focused on three key websites — ' No. 1, which contains text from patents issued around the world; No. 2, the free online encyclopedia; and No. 3, a subscription-only digital library.'" However, it is worth noting that according to the WaPo's numbers this top position corresponded to Wikipedia contributing only 0.19% of the tokens in the text corpus in question - much less than e.g. the 3% of the training data for OpenAI's GPT-3 model that are said to have come from Wikipedia.

Axios also states that "According to Wikistats, the data gathering function within the Wikimedia organization, Wikipedia saw 26 billion total page views in March alone. In the last year, the site received 279 billion unique views [sic], which is a 22% increase year over year." However, as cautioned in the small print of Wikistats, "this data shows page views from automated traffic as well as human traffic." When switched to display "human user page views", the same site instead indicates a 4.5% drop from 2021 to 2022 (although for more recent months, the WMF's more detailed "Movement Metrics" analysis indicates a modest year-over-year growth again).

S, H

African Journalism Award: Open the Knowledge

Map showing Francophone Africa
Francophone Africa – too diverse for inclusion?

A number of African media outlets, among them the Nigerian Guardian, are reporting on the WMF's "Open the Knowledge" African Journalism Awards announced on 3 May 2023 in a WMF press release:

Africawide – The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that operates Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, is today launching the inaugural Open the Knowledge Journalism Awards. Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, this year’s awards celebrate the contributions of journalists in Africa who prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in their reporting.

African journalists living on the continent (including active Wikimedians, but excluding Wikimedia staff) can submit their articles from May 3 to June 30, 2023. Articles must have been published online between January 1, 2022 and June 23, 2023. Admissible topics are:

  • Arts, Culture, Heritage, and Sports
  • Health, Climate Change, and Environment
  • Women and Youth
  • Digital and Human Rights

In what is surely a blow to diversity and inclusion, however, only English-language articles may be submitted. The WMF will not even accept translations of articles published in any other language.

This seems like an unfortunate exclusion, given that close to half of Africa by area is Francophone and there is a significant amount of African journalism in Arabic, Swahili, Portuguese, Afrikaans and many other languages. – AK

Wikipedia too powerful?

Former Arabic Wikipedia administrators Osama Khalid (left) and Ziyad Alsufyani (right), both in prison in Saudi Arabia (see previous Signpost coverage).

The UK Telegraph published a 3000-word article (archive copy) titled "How Wikipedia became too powerful". Featuring interviews with Wikipedians like Rich Farmbrough, WMF CEO Maryana Iskander, Wikimedia UK CEO Lucy Crompton-Reid and Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger among others, the article starts out by reminding readers of the two Wikimedians imprisoned in Saudi Arabia:

What is the price of information? For Osama Khalid, one of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who edit Wikipedia, the tariff was 32 years in jail – his punishment for 'violating public morals' by posting news 'deemed to be critical' of the Saudi regime. Ziyad al-Sofiani, his fellow 'admin' (as senior Wikipedia editors are known) was handed eight years. Their jail terms were reported by activist groups around the same time that Wikimedia, the online encyclopaedia's parent foundation, revealed that it had banned 16 users in the Middle East and North Africa region for 'editing the platform in a coordinated fashion to advance the aim of [external] parties'. Alleged spies for the Saudi government, in other words, trying to manipulate the truth. And these days, if you want to control 'the truth', you want to control Wikipedia.

The article goes on to say that Wikipedia gets almost as many visits as Twitter, about half as many as Facebook – and about ten times as many as the BBC. Wikimedia Foundation CEO Maryana Iskander however feels this level of influence is in good hands:

'There are enough checks and balances in the system,' she says. Chief among them, she notes, are the 'human army of truth tellers out there trying to ensure that information remains accurate and reliable and neutral'. And that means the volunteers like Osama Khalid.

The article goes on to provide a well-researched overview of Wikipedia topics such as edit wars, volunteer motivation, Wikipedia's gender imbalance and Wikipedia bureaucracy and ends with a summary of plans for the future growth of Wikipedia:

Iskander says that in future she wants to focus on Wikipedia becoming as comprehensive in its hundreds of other language versions as it is in English. The danger then might not be the danger of regulatory extinction, but of Wikipedia becoming too powerful – a ubiquitous single source of truth. It has already become, for example, the go-to source for smart speakers and voice assistants dishing out information on demand. And Wikimedia is keen to go further by vacuuming up the archives and data at specialist institutions. Iskander thinks it’s a good deal for such institutions, because the size of Wiki's audience brings such huge exposure. 'More eyeballs on your content is going to increase interest.'

It sounds like the take-it-or-leave it power play of information’s market leader. Iskander insists it's all for the greater good. But she does admit that the rapid growth, influence and reach achieved by Wikipedia's decentralised structure means it is a model that is being closely followed. 'I think more governments, corporations, organisations are heading in this direction,' she says. 'Wikipedia stands for a way of human engagement and a way of human interaction that the world would benefit from in other spheres, too.'


In brief

One Montgomery Tower
  • Russian fines: A Russian court fined the Wikimedia Foundation two million roubles ($24,510), according to Reuters, for publishing a well documented story on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It was the seventh such fine of the WMF this year, totaling 8.4 million roubles ($103,000). While there is no indication that the WMF is willing to pay the fine, or could even if they wanted to, Digital Affairs Minister Maksut Shadaev said "We are not blocking Wikipedia yet, there are no such plans for now."
    Relatedly, a school teacher from Orsk was sentenced to a fine of 30,000 roubles ($387) for "discrediting the army", after she had printed out and displayed a Wikipedia article about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As reported by SOTA project (translated into English by the widely read @ChrisO_wiki Twitter account), the teacher "was supposed to prepare materials for an information stand on a 'special military operation' and without reading it she asked her colleague to print out the first text on the subject she found on the Internet", which turned out to be the Wikipedia article. @ChrisO_wiki commented that "as far as I'm aware this is the first time that Wikipedia *users* have been fined for using its content - a concerning precedent given that Wikipedia is one of the few uncensored sources of information still available to Russians."
  • False alarm: The San Francisco Standard reported a bomb threat targeting One Montgomery Tower on April 27. Though the report did not name any specific tenant, the building's 16th floor houses the Wikimedia Foundation headquarters. A KRON-TV followup stated that no device was found.
  • RIP or rip?: AI is tearing Wikipedia apart, according to the alarmist Vice headline. The body of the story is much calmer, often quoting Amy Bruckman, a professor at Georgia Tech. She says that AI should only be used for first drafts of articles and must be checked by real people, but that "I would put the genie back in the bottle, if you let me. But given that that's not possible, all we can do is to check it."
  • WikiConference India: Nearly 200 Wikipedians from India and its neighbors attended the conference in Hyderabad, 27–30 April. [5] [6] See this issue's special report for further coverage.
  • Retraction, or else: The BBC's two-part documentary India: The Modi Question about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is banned in India but easily viewed in the UK. Livemint and Newslaundry report that an Indian court has summoned the BBC, the Wikimedia Foundation, and the Internet Archive about the documentary. The connection of the WMF to the legal action is unclear as there is no copy of the video on Wikipedia or at Wikimedia Commons, though at the end of the English-language article there are links to each part of the documentary. The Internet Archive confirmed that it had removed links to the BBC documentary after the suit was filed but told BoingBoing this was due to a DMCA takedown request filed by the BBC itself. Tweets about the programme had previously been removed from Twitter.
  • Fante Wikipedia: News outlet Modern Ghana reports that Wikipedia is now also available in Fante, a language dialect spoken by an estimated two million people in Ghana. It was the mother tongue of Kofi Annan, the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations. The Fante Wikipedia can be accessed on

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