The German Wikipedia briefly became embroiled in a political controversy last week, with a politician seeking to have criminal charges brought over the presence of swastikas and other Nazi images. After getting widespread publicity, the request was dropped the next day amid criticism that the allegations were unjustified.
The incident came about when Katina Schubert (who did not have an article in the English Wikipedia prior to this incident) filed a criminal complaint with Berlin police, alleging that the German Wikipedia contains too much Nazi imagery, and citing in particular the article on the Hitler Youth (German version prior to the report; current German version). Schubert is a member of the party leadership for Die Linke, the primary party of the far left in Germany (roughly the opposite, on the political spectrum, of the National Democratic Party, which is considered the closest thing in Germany to a neo-Nazi party).
It is generally illegal to display Nazi symbols in Germany, although an exception is allowed for educational purposes, which appropriate Wikipedia uses would undoubtedly rely on. The article version immediately prior to the complaint's filing included eleven assorted image files, including an organization chart and three files incorporating many different rank insignia used by the Hitler Youth. At the top was also a template, from the German equivalent of the History WikiProject, flagging the article as in need of improvement.
Arne Klempert, CEO of the German chapter of Wikimedia, defended the Wikipedia editing process and its ability to deal with subjects of this nature, noting that other reference works in Germany include Nazi symbols when they document the period. Several party colleagues also criticized Schubert's move, saying it did not reflect their views and was not the appropriate way to combat right-wing extremists on the internet. As Klempert pointed out, Schubert failed to contact anyone involved in the Wikimedia Foundation about the matter prior to seeking legal action (she told heise online that her aides had been unable to find contact information for Wikipedia). After further discussions, Schubert backed down somewhat, asking for the complaint to be withdrawn, although she reiterated her concern that Wikipedia and other sites might be susceptible to neo-Nazi influence.
Some changes were also brought about on the German Wikipedia in response to the complaint. The first reaction was that somebody requested deletion of the Hitler Youth article, although unsurprisingly this went nowhere. Since then, most of the images have been removed from the article, leaving only the Hitler Youth flag. The article has been protected for the next week due to edit wars, and the template tag now more specifically requests historical background and sources.
Meanwhile, a major weekly German magazine, Stern, ran a cover story last week asking the question, "How good is Wikipedia?" It pitted the German Wikipedia against Brockhaus, the leading commercial encyclopedia in Germany, in a comparison test across fifty subjects. The results were a victory for Wikipedia, whose entries got an average grade of 1.7 when compared with Brockhaus's 2.7 (low scores are better, 1 is the best possible).
Criteria for the grades included whether the articles were correct, comprehensive, up-to-date, and understandable. As the Stern noted to its surprise, Wikipedia came out ahead even in terms of correctness. The one category where Wikipedia fell short was on readability. A Brockhaus spokesman complained that the test was unfair, arguing that it used the online edition of Brockhaus, which has only half as many entries as the full published version.