Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Guest Post: Wikipedia's War Against Journalism

As somebody who was chased around the San Diego Public Library by James Alexander's underlings I can agree that the WMF does not want to deal with anybody attempting to do any sort of journalism about Wikipedia at all.

 
Wikipedia's War Against Journalism

by CrowsNest 


Some may remember a prior incident where a Wikipedia Administrator, the rather hapless Dennis Brown (real name), just unilaterally decided one day to reinterpret the Wikimedia Foundation's Terms of Use, specifically their rules on disclosure of conflicts of interest, to mean that journalists seeking to contact Wikipedia users via their Wikipedia talk pages are acting as paid editors, either for their publication or themselves if freelance. Therefore, if they do not provide their full contact details, they can be blocked on sight. This was no theoretical exercise; Dennis, a light bulb salesman with a gambling addict wife, came up with this reinterpretation of the terms to justify his block of a user claiming to be a journalist.

Despite this being a gross and obvious distortion of the meaning of that disclosure requirement, which of course forms part of the legal contract between users and the Foundation, as far as I know, this was not an aberration. Attempts to clarify the situation with the Wikipedia community, in whose name this block was placed, to seek reassurance this really was just a mistake, were rebuffed as essentially a case of 'we don't know what you're saying, but regardless, Dennis is a great guy, and we are sure there is nothing to see here, so now only kindly fuck off'.

The person who made that enquiry, on behalf of the blocked journalist, is of course also now blocked by Wikipedia. That decision was upheld by a Wikipedia Steward, the aptly named There'sNoTime (identity hidden), and it has been suggested elsewhere that this means that act has some legitimacy beyond merely being the act of a private individual. In short, she may have exposed the WMF to liability. I am sceptical, but if that information helps anybody concerned by this and looking to take it further, there it is.

Fast forward to today, and in another spectacular example of over-reach which seems to cast Wikipedia as an enemy of the press, yet another Wikipedia Administrator, C.Fred, another pseudonym, has unilaterally reinterpreted a Wikipedia policy, one that nominally stops users issuing legal threats to each other as a way of chilling discussion, as also encompassing any mention of contacting the media.

Again, this is not an exercise in theory, this Administrator issued the following ultimatum to a blocked user, as part of the appeal process for them to gain an ublock, having been blocked for making legal threats. To get unblocked, as well as promising not to make any more legal threats, they also included this condition, to declare that......

Either that you have not made any statement to the press about conduct on Wikipedia or that you have withdrawn such statement.


https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?ti ... =855241852

The might just be two examples, but given their seriousness, and that it involved different Administrators, and the likelihood neither are seen as mistakes by either other Administrators or the wider editor base who trust these people to enforce their rules for them, I think it is safe to say the Wikipedia community wishes to create a hostile environment for journalists.

They want to make it as difficult as possible for journalists to contact Wikipedians, in particular making investigative journalism almost impossible. You can't feasibly investigate any Wikipedia issue if you are restricted to only contacting people who have enabled email or otherwise posted contact details, which the vast majority do not. And perhaps understandably, being required to announce yourself as a member of the press immediately puts people on guard and potentially denies the public information that Wikipedia editors, be they witnesses or bad actors, might otherwise freely volunteer.

Secondly, they want to ensure Wikipedia editors are frightened of the consequences of speaking to journalists. There's nothing to stop them doing it privately of course, but if they need to get others to talk as well, perhaps to help journalists verify elements of a story prior to publishing, they are in the same bind if those editors don't give any way to privately contact them.

So, why would the Wikipedia community want to be hostile to journalists? Well, it's simple. They got shit to hide. A lot of shit. Read our forum if you doubt this. The thing Wikipedians fear most, is the outside world ever figuring out how it all really works. This ironically leaves the media space free and clear, to be used for the broadcast of the views of Wikipedians who are more than happy to speak to the press. You might get the idea what that entails, when you consider just how closely the Wikipedia community resembles a cult. The ability to redefine your own rules to say whatever you want for the purposes of maintaining internal security and rebuff any protestations from those deemed outsiders or troublemakers, being an obvious and pertinent example.

As far as their external image goes, the Wikipedians would have you believe you can edit Wikipedia without disclosing your identity, as long as you aren't violating the Terms of Use. And they would have you believe editors are never punished for doing something as socially beneficial as explaining to the public how Wikipedia really works.

Try it. Any journalist out there, please try it. If you need story ideas on which to base you enquiries, if you need to know which Wikipedians to contact to ask questions of, or get witness statements from, drop us a private message. We are nothing if not eager to learn of your success. Or failure.

4 comments:

  1. " Dennis, a light bulb salesman with a gambling addict wife"

    You're a special kind of lowlife CrowsNest.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for another illuminating post. Have you considered contributing it to Wikitribune, a new community-based medium devoted to eliminating the scourge of fake news? It would be a helpful addition.

    ReplyDelete