Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2023-08-01/Disinformation report

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Disinformation report

Hot climate, hot hit, hot money, hot news hot off the presses!

Yes, it's hot out there. Be careful – even the news is hot this month.

A hot climate fixer

Two weeks ago, CNN took a new look at a two-month-old controversy involving Sultan Al Jaber – the presiding officer of this year's United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP28 – and COP28-related paid editing on Wikipedia. In fact, this coverage was just a warmed-over retelling of an outstanding article, Cop28 president's team accused of Wikipedia "greenwashing", jointly published by The Guardian and the Centre for Climate Reporting on May 30. The Signpost reported in brief on the joint article, though we really didn't have much to add to it. But as the weather keeps getting hotter, the story just seems to get hotter with it. This story, just like climate change itself, is unlikely to go away soon.

Sultan Al Jaber has several obvious conflicts of interest. As the presiding officer of the UN sponsored conference, Al Jaber sets the agenda for a possible agreement among governments on how to deal with climate change and he – like the representative of any government – can veto any agreement. He is also the CEO of a major oil producer, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, and the chairman of ADNOC's alternative-energy company Masdar. Adding even more to his many responsibilities, he is the United Arab Emirates' minister of industry and advanced technology and the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), which claims to be the world's first university specializing in artificial intelligence.

Green activists worry that Al Jaber, the oil executive, is not willing to set a cutoff date for burning fossil fuels – a step they think Al Jaber, the COP28 organizer, must take.

Like many people with a conflict of interest, Al Jaber seems to be addressing the problem more as communication difficulty than as a problem of split loyalties. The May 30 joint article identified three paid editors working for Al Jaber.

  • CB at ADNOC declared his paid editing status on his user page with his first edit in March 2022, and began editing the talk page at Al Jaber's biography immediately, and later progressed to "uncontroversial" edits on the actual article.
  • Junktuner, who was later confirmed by COP28 as being the head of COP28's marketing team, also declared his paid-editing status on his user page with his first edit in February 2023. He admitted that he had edited earlier as an anonymous editor,, where he'd made 17 edits, 16 of which were to the Al Jaber article. Nine of these edits were revision-deleted as copyright violations.
  • Zkhan2023 declared that they were paid by Masdar on their first edit in January 2023, but made all their edits to the Al Jaber bio.

The Signpost can add that GreenDrake28 declared that they were paid by Masdar on their first edit in April 2023 and made only five more edits, all to the Masdar article or talk pages.

In short, it looks like COP28 is at least making an attempt to appear that they are trying to comply with Wikipedia rules. But do they actually understand and agree with our rules? We will see going forward.

There is one worrying report, that followed the jointly-published article by just a few days. The Climate Disinfo Project published a summary of a Twitter campaign that appeared to be coordinated in the UAE, and encouraged climate change policies in line with Al Jaber's priorities. Many of the accounts were "seemingly artificial or astroturfed". Check out the section on "The 'Five American Blondes'". Somebody is certainly pushing something there.

Try that on a small wiki

An old courthouse
Maury County (Tennessee) Courthouse, site of the lynching of Henry Choate and Jason Aldean's new video

Jason Aldean has a hot hit song about small towns, but some folks might not think the joys of small town life necessarily involve brandishing guns or stomping on people who desecrate the American flag. There are many good songs about small towns that don't mention these things, for example John Mellencamp's Small Town [1] and John Prine's environmentalist view of Paradise [2]. Even Merle Haggard's conservative anthem Okie From Muskogee [3], famous for taking a dim view of hippies, doesn't suggest kicking their asses.

But the Try That in a Small Town video has gotten Aldean in hot water. It's not so much the guns in the video, but the focus on how cities are cesspits full of crime and protests; when the video does get back to a small town, it has the guy singing in front of a courthouse, which is the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee. A hundred years ago, an 18-year-old Black man, Henry Choate, was lynched there, hanged to death out of one of its windows. Six years later, the lynching of Cordie Cheek occurred just outside of town. Cheek was castrated just before he was hanged to death. The town is also remembered for the Columbia race riot of 1946. Well, maybe he didn't know. Maybe he didn't care. Go figure.

Has Aldean been spreading his propaganda on Wikipedia? Unless somebody is trying to embarrass Aldean with a Joe job, it appears likely. Perhaps he hasn't been paying for his extensive exposure on Wikipedia, but simply has many fans who go to extremes in coordinated editing of the article about Aldean.

All told, there are at least 23 banned socks (including some given checkuser blocks) who have edited the Jason Aldean article. They almost all appear to promote Aldean's career. Most of the socks seem to edit this article solo, except for the Cherry Benji sockfarm. Cherry Benji, CHYTT, COUNTRYNOW and XxxMr.Cherryxxx were all blocked as part of this sockfarm, and all of them edited the Jason Aldean article. The reason this group of accounts was blocked is because they all concentrated on articles related to Aldean and created new, non-notable, low-quality articles related to him. Cherry Benji alone made 35 edits to the Jason Aldean article.

Considering the recent creation of the Try That in a Small Town article, you might not expect to already see blocked socks in its history. You'd be wrong: Red Slapper edited the page three days after the new article replaced a redirect. Their last edit (not including their talk page) was about requesting page protection for the article. The sockfarm that the account worked for was NoCal100, which started its long-term abuse way back in 2008, and was best known for spreading anti-Muslim hate.

Hotspurs, hot deals with hot money for romantic partners?

Joe Lewis, age 86, is a businessman and owner of the London-based soccer team Tottenham Hotspur F.C.. His net worth is about $6.1 billion, according to Forbes. He made this money running pubs, speculating in currencies, and in private equity; at least until recently, he has served on many corporate boards of directors, both in the UK and the US. The SEC accused him this week of engaging in insider trading, a very lucrative form of fraud, based on information he learned about (and misappropriated) while serving as a corporate director. According to a statement by Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York:

My Office, the Southern District of New York, has indicted Joe Lewis, the British billionaire, for orchestrating a brazen insider trading scheme and his co-conspirators and personal pilots, Patrick O'Connor and Bryan ‘Marty' Waugh. We allege that, for years, Joe Lewis abused his access to corporate boardrooms and repeatedly provided inside information to his romantic partners, his personal assistants, his friends, and his pilots. Those folks then traded on that inside information – and made millions of dollars in the stock market – because, thanks to Lewis, those bets were a sure thing... [A]s we allege, he used inside information as a way to compensate his employees or to shower gifts on his friends and lovers. That's classic corporate corruption. It's cheating. And it's against the law – laws that apply to everyone, no matter who you are.

According to the indictment, Lewis gave his two private aircraft pilots inside information on an unannounced drug trial – and two loans of $500,000 each. The pilots then traded on the stock, each profiting by more than $500,000. They also texted detailed information on the potential trade to their friends, citing Lewis as its source. Yowza!

The indictment does not specifically name the "romantic partners" or "lovers", but refers 20 times to at least one "girlfriend" or "ex-girlfriend" who made trades similar to those of the pilots. As the SEC has said, indictments are not convictions, and Lewis (and others mentioned in the indictments) should be considered innocent unless and until they are convicted in a court of law.

The Hotspurs motto in Latin is audere est facere ('to dare is to do'). Would Lewis dare to try to pull off such a series of crimes? And would he dare to violate Wikipedia's rules on paid editing?

With the usual caveat about possible Joe jobs, it appears that Lewis (or someone trying very hard to look like Lewis) has hired a series of sophisticated paid editors. At least 13 blocked socks (including checkuser blocks, and one editor blocked for undeclared paid editing) edited the Joe Lewis (British businessman) article. Several of these editors were part of farms that also edited articles on Russian oligarchs. These include users Alfaweiss and DeltaGr, from the Mikenew1953 sockfarm; users CoffeeStation95, Equity2019, Platanias25 and Softmusic16, from the Antony1821 sockfarm; as well as users Pharaoh's jaws bites, Poor billionaire, Shalom Shabat Woggly and Mohel's knife cuts, from the Pionier sockfarm.

ScepticalChymist, who did not edit articles on oligarchs, was blocked for UPE, for running a reputation management firm and editing the articles about his clients.

999bottles also edited the article, and was a member of a fairly new sockfarm, LucyAyoubFan, which includes at least 210 confirmed socks. The first blocks of this sockfarm occurred in 2022, and it was also very active on the Hebrew Wikipedia. Among its specialties was a focus on editing soccer club-related articles.

Correctional officer charged with taking bribes

This week William S. Tidwell, a correctional counselor at the Federal Medical Center, Devens prison hospital, was charged with taking bribes and lying to a bank about a loan he received from a prisoner. Allegedly the bribes total up to $90,000, and the loan was for $50,000, coming from a "high-net-worth inmate" identified only as "Individual 1" in the charging document. Reuters reported that "a person familiar with the matter" identified Individual 1 as Raj Rajaratnam; his lawyer said that he was unfamiliar with the matter, but that his client "would cooperate appropriately" with prosecutors if asked.

Rajaratnam was a hedge fund manager born in Sri Lanka, who founded the now-defunct Galleon Group, and was convicted in 2011 having profited up to $63.8 million from insider trading. His combined fines from civil and criminal cases was $150 million. He served less than eight years of his eleven year sentence, having been released from FMC Devens to his Upper East Side Manhattan apartment.

Editors of the Raj Rajaratnam article included at least 9 later-blocked sockpuppets (including checkuser blocks and an undeclared paid editor). I did not examine the multiple other articles about Rajaratnam's trading, legal cases, or books.

One especially disturbing sock was Belomorkanal. This user name is Russian for "White Sea Canal" — which was Stalin's first major show project, dug by hand by prisoners from the Gulag. Belomorkanal was part of the Bobmack89x sock farm, which specialized in editing articles on crime, gangs, gangsters (especially Russian gangsters) and U.S. federal agencies. The total effect of his three edits at the article was to link then-President Barack Obama to Rajaratnam.

Two socks, Hillcountries and HudsonBreeze, were both from the Sudar123 sock farm which specialized in editing about Sri Lankans.

OnceaMetro was an undeclared paid editor who was blocked following a 2015 Signpost story detailing their edits for Sony, hedge fund managers and other financiers.

Tying it all together

What do all of these dastardly schemes have in common? Not much — apart from that they were all foiled by diligent volunteers with nothing but computers and brains. And if you have both of those things (frankly, you can get by with just one) your help is appreciated in the fight against socks.