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Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2024-04-25/In the media

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New York World-Telegram and Sun
In the media

Censorship and wikiwashing looming over RuWiki, edit wars over San Francisco politics and another wikirace on live TV

Putin's Wiki-censor

Former Wikimedia RU director and Ruviki founder Vladimir Medeyko in 2021

How does censorship work? In Russia, you can start with intentionally sowing confusion about the name of your brand new website, by calling it essentially the same name as the website you are trying to censor. In this case, "Рувики" in Cyrillic characters, or "Ruviki" in Latin characters.

So let's call a spade a spade. We'll call the legitimate Russian Wikipedia (ru.wiki.x.io) by its common on-Wiki name, Ruwiki. It is being forked with the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime by an imposter website (ru.ruwiki.ru) that we'll call Ruviki.

Novaya Gazeta reports how Ruviki has been operating since its official January 15 launch. Almost all of Ruwiki's 1.9 million pages have been copied and pasted onto the fork, and then edited to "delete everything that raises even the slightest doubt" about compliance with Russian media law – at least in the words of Vladimir Medeyko. In general, the censor mostly edits politically sensitive topics involving the Russian government’s policies on free speech, human rights and, most notably, the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Medeyko was the long time director of Wikimedia RU (aka Wikimedia Russia), a Wikimedia Foundation affiliate intended to support WMF projects in Russia. He launched Ruviki's beta version back in May 2023 and was soon stripped of his position at Wikimedia RU by the organization's members, before being also banned indefinitely from editing all Wikimedia sites by the WMF.

Medeyko's post at Wikimedia RU was taken by Stas Kozlovsky, who in turn announced the dissolution of the organization in December 2023, after being forced to resign from his job as associate professor at Moscow State University, and then included in the Russian government’s foreign agent blacklist.

According to Novaya Gazeta, about 110 Wikipedia pages about the war in Ukraine have been cut entirely from Ruviki, while graphic designer Konstantin Konovalov, who tabulated the number of characters changed for every major category of Ruviki articles following their copying from Ruwiki, compared the extensive censorship process to "something out of [...] 1984". Ironically, Ruviki's version of the article about George Orwell's dystopian novel is missing the whole section about the Ministry of Truth, which the Ruwiki page describes as "continuously falsifying various pieces of information (statistics, historical facts)". Other examples of altered pages include the 2022 documentary film about the murdered dissident Alexei Navalny, both the Wagner Group's co-founders, Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, GRU colonel Anatoliy Chepiga – who was reportedly involved in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in 2018 – and Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov.

Moreover, Ruviki users have attempted to minimize the influence of sources from Russian independent media, by removing most of the links to Novaya Gazeta itself – even deleting references to articles penned by the assassinated journalist Anna Politkovskaya – as well as Meduza and Dozhd. While Wikipedia is still alive in Russia, despite repeated struggles with the national government, Ruviki's effective censorship process might cast doubt on the future of Ruwiki, the truly free Russian encyclopedia, and more generally, the freedom of information within the country. – S and O

The way we were, or the way we are?

Barbra Streisand knows that it's not always the best strategy to hide the past

Meanwhile, a group of Russian billionaires are trying to hide their ties with the Kremlin by editing pages both on the Russian and English Wikipedia, according to the Kyiv Post, who in turn covered an article in Important Stories reported with Wikiganda. In an attempt to keep traveling, running their businesses, or accessing their money freely in the West, the billionaires are minimizing, or even eliminating, mentions of Russia and Putin in the Wikipedia articles about themselves. According to these sources, they just wikiwash the inconvenient facts away (or more poetically, they stay тише воды, ниже травы, "quieter than water, lower than grass"). Billionaires Arkady Volozh, Dmitry Pumpyansky, Alexander Mamut and Igor Altushkin, as well as Nikolai Choles – the son of Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov –, all seem to have tried this tactic. Vladimir Putin's daughters, Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova, may have also tried it, but perhaps only to mask the activities of their large groups of bodyguards. – S and B

Two musical interludes

San Francisco's heated political debate overflows into Wikipedia

Nate Thurmond (left) and Wilt Chamberlain demonstrate how to throw knees and elbows in "The City"

In a year full of key elections, including one in the U.S. and another one over in Europe, the city of San Francisco is no exception: in November, its citizens will line up to vote for the new Mayor, District Attorney, and members of the local Board of Supervisors. As reported by the San Francisco Examiner, though, the local political debate has become so heated that it has spilled into Wikipedia articles on several prominent candidates: "The City" is where the Wikimedia Foundation has its headquarters.

The Examiner report focuses on edit wars involving local supervisors and their views on the housing shortage affecting San Francisco – a problem the city's administration tried to tackle directly last year, by announcing a plan to build more than 80,000 new housing units by 2031. According to the data collected by the newspaper, the total number of edits made to the Board members' pages has increased significantly from 2022 to 2023, and 2024 could soon set a new record, since 164 revisions have been made in this year's first quarter alone. Four supervisors who have gained the most attention are Dean Preston and Connie Chan, who are seeking re-election, and Ahsha Safaí and Aaron Peskin, who have both switched to the mayoral race.

Preston has become the subject of the fiercest virtual battle. The Democratic Socialist supervisor's page has been edited at least 177 times over the last year, almost as much as the article for Governor of California Gavin Newsom, with its size more than doubling in the process. Most of these edits involved Preston's political career, the perceived contrast between his political views and his controversial record on housing, as well as the extent of his wealth – reportedly including a house worth $2.5 million, a detail that has now been removed from the page. Two users, Coffeeandcrumbs and Thenightaway, have been noted for their frequent contributions to the page, with the former even diving in lengthy and fiery discussions with other editors. – O

Taylor Tomlinson hosts a wikirace on live TV – again !

The CBS show's love for this platform and wikiraces is definitely real

In a recent episode of the CBS comedy panel show After Midnight, aired on April Fool's Day, host Taylor Tomlinson brought back the mini-game Wikipedia Link for another edition – see previous Signpost coverage about its first instance – as her fellow comedians Jourdain Fisher, Zach Zimmerman and Arden Myrin competed in a wikirace to guess how many clicks it takes to go from Jacob Elordi to the Dutch West India Company on the English Wikipedia.

Once the three panelists submitted their final guesses to Tomlinson, who reminded the show's audience of how Wikipedia is "the most educational way to waste your time", she finally revealed the solution to the enigma: we have to click four times to go from the actor last seen in Priscilla and Saltburn, to Vin Diesel, to Greenwich Village, to Wouter van Twiller, to the infamous Dutch chartered company. Obviously, there are likely unlimited combinations of pages hiding behind wikiraces like this one, but as for Tomlinson's own disclaimer: "This is a comedy show, not an accuracy show!"

Something we can all agree on, though, is that Taylor and the After Midnight staff have seemingly fallen in love with our encyclopedia and its comedic potential, quite like that English baby who grew really fond of his brother's finger back in the day. Well, the respect is mutual! – O

In brief

  • Baltimore bridge hoax: PolitiFact has recently disproved a statement on X claiming that Wikipedia's article on the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse blamed Israel for the disaster. It was one of several conspiracy theories around the incident, according to CNN, including one rebuttal asking sarcastically if Jewish space lasers might have been deployed.
  • Netanyahu's son asks for biography to be deleted: Avner Netanyahu has asked for his biography to be deleted from the Hebrew Wikipedia. "I am the subject of an entry, and I do not see any public importance for it. The entry is sparse in any case," Netanyahu jr. said, according to a report in Haaretz. On Tuesday the article was deleted.
  • Commander of clandestine spy agency edited Wikipedia under his full name: Israeli general Yossi Sariel recently was exposed as the formerly anonymous commander of the country's military intelligence agency Unit 8200, due to what The Guardian called a "surprising lapse in security" concerning an anonymous contact email address in a book he had published pseudonymously. The paper reports that, among numerous other online activities that had already compromised his identity (considered a state secret in Israel) for years, e.g. on Facebook and LinkedIn, "Sariel even left traces of his activity on the Hebrew-language Wikipedia, where he used his real name and edited pages ranging from Louis XIV of France to an entry titled 'the problem of Palestinian refugees'." The Guardian notes that "In a post from 2006, a fellow Wikipedia user noticed the intelligence official's activity on the website was 'very public' and warned: 'It's possible that your personal details will be misused.' In a statement, the IDF said Sariel had created the Wikipedia [user] page 'as part of an academic group project' while a student", it has since been deleted. (All of the user's surviving content edits date from 2006, the year of the account's creation – presumably long before Sariel took his current position.)
For sale, cheap
  • 149 New Montgomery Street default: The new owners of the former Wikimedia Foundation Headquarters building went into default, amid a crash in San Francisco office space rental rates – the building's value is down 40% since the 2010s, according to The Real Deal.
  • Baidu Baike app to close: The South China Morning Post reports that Chinese company Baidu is set to shut down their standalone mobile client for their semi-regulated, Wikipedia-like website, Baidu Baike, on June 30, reportedly in order to re-invest the resources in AI initiatives such as Ernie Bot.
  • Blind faith: Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) reports on a study by University of Tartu researchers showing that Estonian schoolchildren frequently use Wikipedia for school assignments and to find information quickly, although teachers often tend to consider the platform "a nuisance", fearing that their students might "place blind faith" on the encyclopedia's content. See this issue's Recent research column for more details.
A recreation of the sort of photoshop mashup of Jonathan Gullis and seagulls that has become a meme online
Some say he is the King of Wikipedia...
...but maybe he really is?

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