Pro-Israeli group's lobbying gets press, arbitration case

An attempt by a pro-Israeli group to influence articles within Wikipedia has been subject of prolonged media attention and Wikipedia arbitration over the past several weeks.

On April 21, the pro-Palestinian media non-profit Electronic Intifada reported the existence of an email group associated with the pro-Israel Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Electronic Intifada also released a set of emails claimed to be from the CAMERA group. The stated purpose of the CAMERA group was to recruit new Wikipedia editors to ensure that Israel-related content is "free of bias and error, and include necessary facts and context." According to Electronic Intifada, the group's emails show that "that the group not only wanted to keep the effort secret from the media, the public, and Wikipedia administrators, but that the material they intended to introduce included discredited claims that could smear Palestinians and Muslims and conceal Israel's true history" and wanted to "take over Wikipedia administrative structures to ensure these changes go either undetected or unchallenged."

Within hours of the Electronic Intifada story's publication, Wikipedians were engaged in an in-depth discussion of CAMERA's "WikiLobbying campaign", now archived. Editors linked 6 Wikipedia user accounts to the group. As three administrators explained in a joint statement, the users participating in the CAMERA group were all blocked and/or banned from contributing to Israeli–Palestinian-conflict-related articles. Even without specific evidence that all of these users had violated Wikipedia policies through their edits, most discussants agreed that off-wiki groups focused on specific political or ideological agendas are incompatible with the spirit of the project. Since the prolonged conflicts of 2005 and 2006 over acceptable userboxes and user categories, there has been a general consensus that categories or transcluded userboxes that could be used to identify or organize editors with a specific common point of view are not allowed; Wikipedia's policy on sock puppetry strongly discourages any similar off-wiki activity.

Information about the CAMERA group's existence also quickly appeared in the CAMERA Wikipedia article. As Wikinews reported on April 28, IP addresses from the United States Department of Justice were blocked for twice removing information on the CAMERA Wikipedia campaign from that article (among other edits deemed vandalism). For a separate story on the Department of Justice incident, The Register contacted Gilead Ini, CAMERA's Senior Research Analyst, and confirmed the existence of the email group. Ini did not confirm (but did not deny) the authenticity of the emails released by Electronic Intifada, and claimed that the campaign was meant to operate within Wikipedia's rules. On May 3, Ini published an article on CAMERA's website called "How and Why to Edit Wikipedia", urging "fair-minded editors to work toward improving Wikipedia" and lamenting the ill-treatment of those "who try to re-establish objectivity".

In the weeks since Electronic Intifada revealed the CAMERA group's existence, there has been a steady stream of outside coverage. Reports in mainstream newspapers (e.g. "War of the virtual Wiki-worlds" by Alex Beam, a widely syndicated piece that first appeared in The Boston Globe) have been framed mostly in terms of the Electronic Intifada characterization of the group and its plans and motives, with CAMERA's side of the story as an alternative viewpoint. A number of other stories, particularly in the Jewish press, have instead presented Wikipedia's reaction to the CAMERA group as evidence of the very anti-Israel bias CAMERA was trying to curb. An article from HonestReporting last week argues "that it was [Electronic Intifada], not CAMERA, that manipulated Wikipedia to achieve its ideological goals".

In terms of media coverage, the CAMERA story has revived discussions of the potential pitfalls of an encyclopedia that anyone can edit. However, Wikipedians who regularly deal with conflicts of interest and attempts to reshape Wikipedia for political and ideological reasons seem to agree that the CAMERA group had little impact on content and that more serious problems appear on a regular basis. In that sense, the CAMERA group's actions have been a small splash in a very big pond. Partisan editing has been a perennial and severe issue with Israeli–Palestinian-conflict content, with both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian editors causing problems. An arbitration case earlier this year resulted in general sanctions that allow administrators to "impose any sanctions which they believe are reasonably necessary to ensure the smooth functioning of the project" for editors causing disruption in Israel–Palestine articles.

The ongoing arbitration case for the CAMERA campaign seeks clarification about how the community ought to deal with similar cases and whether the sanctions imposed by administrators in this case were fair.

Also this week:
  • Wikilobbying
  • Board elections
  • Wikibooks interview
  • WikiWorld
  • News and notes
  • In the news
  • Dispatches
  • Features and admins
  • Technology report
  • Arbitration report

  • Signpost archives

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