German Wikipedia

Wikipedia dragged into German politics over Nazi images

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.

Trial by media

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 After further discussions, Schubert backed down somewhat, asking for the complaint to be withdrawn, although she reiterated her concern that Wikipedia and other sites might be susceptible to neo-Nazi influence.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.

Comparison with Brockhaus

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.

Also this week:

German Wikipedia — Citing Wikipedia — WikiWorld — News and notes — In the news — WikiProject report — Features and admins — Technology report — Arbitration report

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Excellent reporting, as always. A few comments:

  • ...Die Linke, the primary socialist party 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) - this might help non-German readers to get a quick idea, and it is of course a nice jab at the irony that this attempt to get Wikipedia punished for alleged extremist propaganda came from a member of a party which is itself near one of the borders of the political spectrum. But please be aware that the majority of readers in Germany will find this comparison a bit offensive. There are important differences - for example the NPD has never been in a state (or federal) government, there have been no serious attempts to ban Die Linke, to prohibit its demonstrations or to regularly stage counter-demonstrations like with those of the NPD, etc.
  • As Klempert pointed out, Schubert failed to contact anyone involved in the Wikimedia Foundation about the matter prior to seeking legal action - it might be worth adding: Schubert stated that her aides had been unable to find a contact adress of Wikipedia. ("Auf Anfrage von heise online gab Schubert an, dass ihre Mitarbeiter keine Adresse der Wikipedia gefunden hätten." [1]. She received much ridicule for this in the blogosphere, where it was pointed out that the contact info was just one click away from the article in question, as from any Wikipedia page.)
  • Two points which are probably not relevant enough to be included in the Signpost article: Some pointed out that it was actually legally impossible to withdraw this kind of criminal complaint (it seems that your wording already reflects this), so the prosecutor will still have to process it. And on Monday it was reported (in English: ars technia) that Günter Freiherr von Gravenreuth (a German lawyer known for his controversial cease-and-desist letters in software piracy and trademark issues) filed a criminal complaint against Schubert herself for abusing the legal system by knowingly filing an invalid criminal complaint (de:Falsche Verdächtigung- §164 StGB). Benutzer:Gravenreuth is an active (if controversial) Wikipedian on de, but his action seems to have been a completely independent one, and it has to be mentioned that he himself had publicly pondered the question of Wikipedia's legal responsibilities in the past (especially with regard to the article about himself).
  • It might be worth noting that the press release about her complaint was issued just one day after the press release announcing the results of the Stern magazine test, which lead many to accuse her of a publicity stunt. (In other words, the chronological order of the two events described in the article would be the other way around.)
  • It would be nice to mention the number of articles which were assessed (50) and to give a link to the detailed test results as they were published in the magazine.

Regards, High on a tree (talk) 02:11, 12 December 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Thanks for the feedback. The story did actually already mention how many articles the Stern tested, but I appreciate you pointing out that chart with the test results, I hadn't seen the full details in one place.
I had gathered that withdrawal of the complaint might not be up to her alone, and tried to account for that in the language I used. Without an expert in the niceties of German legal procedure, I didn't want to be too definitive. As a former prosecutor, though, I understand the principle that in most jurisdictions, the wishes of private parties (including the complaining witness) may be considered, but aren't normally allowed to overrule the state's interest in respect for the law.
Gravenreuth I heard about as I was working on this. His history with Wikipedia is an interesting sidelight in a way, but I agree that a publicity stunt reacting to a publicity stunt probably didn't warrant coverage in this context.
Finally, I'll elaborate on what I meant by contrasting Die Linke with NPD. It's not meant to suggest that they are equals, nor was it particularly to emphasize Die Linke as being extreme either (the irony you note is possible, but sometimes people overplay the notion that extremes on the political spectrum supposedly have a lot in common with each other). To me the point actually suggests how logical it is that a Left politician would go after possible neo-Nazi influence, because they're the most ideologically opposed you can be to it. Publicity stunt or not, I would be a lot more surprised if the issue had been raised by someone in the CDU, for example (which is not to suggest that the CDU are Nazi sympathizers, just that their level of concern wouldn't be as high). --Michael Snow (talk) 07:55, 12 December 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

The description of Die Linke seems wrong another count, though. Describing it as the "main socialist party" rather strongly implies that the SPD is not a socialist party. The SPD is a member of the Socialist International and the Party of European Socialists. Although in many other ways they've departed from socialism, it seems problematic to essentially say they're not socialists. Why not call it the main party of the far left, or something like that? john k (talk) 06:48, 17 December 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

The SPD, as of course its name indicates, would be described as a social democratic party. To identify it as socialist would require far too much elaboration about how broadly the label is being applied, and the whole point here is simply to provide a brief identifier for those not familiar with German political parties. I find "socialist" a much more informative term about a party's political philosophy than "far left"; for that matter, as indicated above, I was conscious of not unduly painting Die Linke as extreme.
Also, I'm not inclined to rely on membership in umbrella organizations as particularly informative when they include a hodgepodge of social democratic and labor parties along with established socialists. By that interpretation, I'd be justified in describing Tony Blair or Gordon Brown as socialists, which strikes me as silly. --Michael Snow (talk) 19:01, 17 December 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]


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