Advocacy groups

Outside groups targeting Wikipedia spur fears about bias

Last week, new signs appeared of organized efforts to edit Wikipedia to promote a particular agenda. While these efforts were not particularly successful, they did have an impact on Wikipedia and reignited longstanding fears that such groups could undermine the neutral point of view policy.

Yahoo vs. Google on Wikipedia?

Angela reported on her blog last Friday that a dispute had developed over the Google article. She indicated that one of the participants, Alterego, had "accused two Wikipedians of being Yahoo employees out to discredit Google by editing Wikipedia" on his own blog. (Both blog posts have been changed significantly since they were first posted.)

The controversy over the article's content focused on two points: a delay in adding Abu Ghraib photographs to Google's image index, and the fact that one of Google's employees apparently worked for the National Security Agency before being hired. These two items were placed into a section together, apparently suggesting a possible connection. In reality, the google-watch item about the former NSA employee was asking the question, "Can you trust Google with a database of all the search terms you've ever used?" while the Slashdot story about the Abu Ghraib pictures did not mention the NSA at all. Google has also offered the explanation that its image index "is not updated as frequently as it should be."

Only one of the two users originally identified as Yahoo employees actually was one, however. This was Sundar, who works for Yahoo's software development group in India, and has posted this openly on his user page ever since it was created last March. He said that he admired Google, but thought the article was insufficiently neutral and wanted "to tone down the heaps of appreciation on Google (but only based on facts)". And while he participated in the debate on the talk page, Sundar was not involved in making any of the disputed edits.

Nevertheless, while the scenario of corporations manipulating Wikipedia content proved unfounded in this case, many people remain concerned about the possibility. As Jonathan Zittrain pointed out at the Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility conference (see archived story), a glance at the Wal-Mart article can make it fairly obvious that nobody representing Wal-Mart has attempted to edit the article.

Another storm builds

A different situation also came up last week, with the more familiar touch of a small advocacy group guiding members toward Wikipedia to advance its particular cause. On the English Wikipedia mailing list, AndyL pointed out a bulletin board discussion on Stormfront where its Neo-Nazi members debated what to do about a supposed "Jewish bias" on Wikipedia, particularly with respect to Holocaust denial issues.

The bulletin board thread, which started back in December, started by criticizing Wikipedia's article on revisionism, and slowly gathered steam over several weeks. The discussion went back and forth between urging members to mobilize and edit Wikipedia, and considering an alternative of setting up their own wiki or otherwise forking Wikipedia content.

VfD mobilization

Then last Thursday another Stormfront discussion urged members to go to Wikipedia and vote to keep an article called "Jewish ethnocentrism." Participants in the deletion debate noticed a significant increase in votes from newly registered users after this point. The same issue was brought up in the original Stormfront thread on Sunday, this time offering advice on accumulating edits so that votes to keep would not be disregarded.

However, by then the debate had been on Votes for deletion for more than the minimum five days and had already run its course. Based on the strong support expressed for deletion, AndyL deleted the article before any organized countereffort could sway the outcome.

While Wikipedia has absorbed the impact of outside mobilization efforts so far, the mailing list discussion raised concerns about whether it could handle better-organized groups. Still, Jimbo Wales expressed confidence that the community would be able to develop new solutions for this as necessary.

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