Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2023-05-22/In the media

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History, propaganda and censorship: Opposing scholars on ArbCom case
In the media

History, propaganda and censorship

Wikipedia's World War II controversy attracts comments from opposing scholars

Line drawing of balanced weighing scales (the symbol of Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee)
Scholars question Wikipedia's neutrality and the effectiveness of its arbitration process

Scholars from both sides of the scholarly debate around World War II and the history of Jews in Poland are expressing their dissatisfaction with Wikipedia this week.

Shira Klein, co-author of the paper with Jan Grabowski that triggered the arbitration case on this topic area, criticized the Arbitration Committee's decision even before the case officially concluded. In a press release by Chapman University, she stated that the "Ruling on Wikipedia's Distortion of Holocaust History Lacks Depth". While the release acknowledges that the ruling includes a topic ban of "two distortionist editors" (appealable in 12 months), Klein argues that these "remedies lack depth and consequence" and that "[b]y ignoring the egregiously false content our article flagged for them and focusing only on editors' conduct (e.g. uncivil language), Wikipedia has once again failed, and miserably so." Fundamentally, she holds the view that ArbCom was ill-equipped to deal with the problem: "[Arbitrators] have zero content expertise, so they have no idea when an editor is spinning lies. More than that: They are bound by Wiki policy to steer clear of content. ArbCom was simply the wrong solution to begin with. What they should have done, which some editors suggested, was to ask historians for help."

Meanwhile, Richard C. Lukas, one of the scholars criticized in Grabowski and Klein's essay, published an editorial in the May–June issue of the Polish American Journal, titled "Is it History or Propaganda?" Lukas relates that after he had been "informed by interested friendly sources of the changes in my Wikipedia biography" that were prompted by the essay, "[m]y belief that the editors of Wikipedia genuinely tried to be fair and balanced in their presentations has been seriously shaken." However, he argues that "The larger issue is not Wikipedia but the hijacking of Polish wartime history by a group of Jewish historians who, in this post-fact world, seem more interested in exaggeration and hyperbole than in facts and analysis."

Whatever the merits and demerits of their respective arguments, it is clear that Wikipedia will never be able to satisfy everyone. – AK, H

Janeen Uzzell profile

Janeen Uzzell wearing red glasses looking towards the camera.
Janeen Uzzell, the former chief operating officer of the Wikimedia Foundation, is also featured in this issue's "News and notes" section. has a celebratory profile of former Wikimedia COO Janeen Uzzell, titled: "How Janeen Uzzell rose through corporate ranks to manage a Wikipedia Foundation fund worth $4.5M". The piece describes her early decision to study engineering and her subsequent work for women in STEM at General Electric, for the Wikimedia Foundation and today as Chief Executive Officer at the United States' National Society of Black Engineers.

The 4.5M fund referred to in the headline is the controversial Knowledge Equity Fund held by Tides Advocacy (see previous Signpost coverage). Wikimedia CEO Maryana Iskander announced in January 2023 that the remainder of the fund would be moved back to the Wikimedia Foundation (see previous Signpost coverage). Janeen Uzzell was with the Wikimedia Foundation for just under two-and-a-half years; her executive compensation and very substantial severance, as disclosed by the Wikimedia Foundation in its recently published Form 990, are discussed in this issue's News and notes. – AK

In brief

  • Legal maneuvers against Indian censorship: Further developments have emerged in the Indian court case concerning the documentary India: The Modi Question (refer to previous Signpost coverage): In response to a May 3 summons by an Indian court, the Wikimedia Foundation and BBC stated they had not been properly served according to the Hague Service Convention. As a result, they refused to accept service at the court, as they were appearing "under protest". The third foreign organization summoned, the Internet Archive, informed the court that it had already removed links to the BBC documentary. This action was taken in January following DMCA takedown requests from the BBC itself. Reports by ANI News and Times of India.
  • Twitter censorship: Elon Musk, the Twitter boss, finds himself in hot water over censoring tweets in Turkey. Facing criticism, Musk defended his decision by saying that it was a choice between partial censorship or a complete Twitter blackout in Turkey. Meanwhile, Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales chimed in, proudly boasting how we fought Turkey all the way to the Supreme Court and emerged victorious. It seems even in the battle of censorship, Musk and Wales are tweeting from different playbooks! Reports by Fortune and Billings Gazette.
  • How Kiwi comic got banned: On the the Australian TV show The Project, New Zealand comedian Melanie Bracewell confirmed that she and her sister had once been banned from Wikipedia for re-writing the articles of minor celebrities in the first person, so as to make them appear to be autobiographies (Video time code 3:51.)
  • Techdirt on Chatbots: Techdirt reports that "Wikipedia Grapples With Chatbots: Should It Allow Their Use For Articles? Should It Allow Them To Train On Wikipedia?"

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