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FBI requests takedown of seal, Public Policy advisors and ambassadors, Cary Bass leaving, new Research Committee

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By Wackywace and Tilman Bayer

Hands up. Put our seal on the floor. Now!

The image of the Seal of the FBI at the center of the dispute

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has written to the Wikimedia Foundation requesting that their seal be removed from Wikipedia, threatening that "failure to comply may result in further legal action. We appreciate your timely attention to this matter ... Whoever possesses any insignia ... or any colourable imitation thereof ... shall be fined ... or imprisoned ... or both", the BBC reported on Tuesday. The New York Times reports "those at Wikipedia" as saying the problem with these demands is that the law cited in the FBI's letter (Section 701 of 18. U.S.C.) "is largely about keeping people from flashing fake badges or profiting from the use of the seal, and not about posting images on noncommercial Web sites. Many sites, including the online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, display the seal." (In the following days, the image seems to have been removed from the page on The letter stated that the FBI finds the issue "particularly problematic, because it facilitates both deliberate and unwitting violations of restrictions by Wikipedia users."

"Other organizations might simply back down", says the newspaper, "but Wikipedia sent back a politely feisty response, stating that the bureau’s lawyers are misquoting the law." The response, by the Foundation's general counsel, Michael Godwin, read: “while we appreciate your desire to revise the statute to reflect your expansive vision of it,... we must work with the actual language of the statute, not the aspirational version [you provided].... "the enactment of [these laws] was intended to protect the public against the use of a recognisable assertion of authority with intent to deceive. [The seal] is in no way evidence of any 'intent to deceive', nor is it an 'assertion of authority', recognizable or otherwise.... we are prepared to argue our view in court." Godwin signed off his letter "with all appropriate respect."

An FBI spokesperson told the newspaper that by law, its seal cannot be used without "the permission of the [FBI] director”. The BBC questioned why the FBI "singled out Wikipedia, when the FBI seal is published on numerous other websites." Asked by The New York Times to comment, Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the FBI "has better things to do than this."

Earlier this year, Wikimedia and the FBI had already appeared in headlines together, in news reports about Larry Sanger's announcement that he had reported the WMF to the FBI for "knowingly distributing child pornography" (see Signpost coverage). Although Foundation staff stated several weeks later that they had not received any notice from the FBI that the images in question would violate federal laws, and there have been no media reports about actions of the FBI in this matter, Larry Sanger appeared to interpret the letter about the seal as the FBI's indirect reaction to his complaint: "The FBI finally got back to Wikimedia, but not about its child porn holdings"[1], "this action from the FBI is a not-too-subtle hint [to the WMF] to get its house in order"[2], "hubris, meet your nemesis. The FBI" [3]. Sanger and other Wikipedia critics later noted a passage at Wikipedia:Logos#U.S. government agencies that read: "U.S. law prohibits the reproduction of designated logos of U.S. government agencies without permission. Use restrictions of such logos must be followed and permission obtained before use, if required. However, this does not affect the copyright status ..."

Soon after the story broke on Tuesday, a DYK nomination of the article Seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was submitted, which would presumably entail displaying the image on the Main page. So far, it does not seem to have gained consensus, first for failing the DYK criterion of having "been created, or expanded fivefold or more, within the last 5 days", but also because several users found it would be unwise in the current situation (Jimbo Wales opined that "It is clearly politically provocative, and it's just not appropriate for Wikipedia to behave that way").

Public policy initiative announces advisory board, starts training campus ambassadors

Some staff and advisory board members of the Public Policy Initiative

The Wikimedia Foundation's Public Policy Initiative posted two announcements on the Foundation blog last week, introducing the members of its advisory board and describing its first "Wikipedia Campus Ambassador training". (The initiative, announced in May and funded by the Stanton Foundation, is a project to improve Wikipedia's coverage of public policy topics in the United States of America by collaborating with educational institutions. See also the initiative's WikiProject United States Public Policy and earlier Signpost coverage: Introducing the Public Policy Initiative.)

The advisory board consists of "eight experts from the academic, nonprofit, and wiki communities": Barry Bozeman, professor of Public Policy at the University of Georgia, Michael Carroll, professor of Law at the Washington College of Law and founding board member of Creative Commons, Robert Cummings, assistant professor of English at the University of Mississippi and author of "Lazy Virtues: Teaching Writing in the Age of Wikipedia" (see also Signpost reviews and Wikivoices episode), Charles Cushman, associate dean of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, Mary Graham, co-director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard University, Wayne Mackintosh, founding director of the International Centre for Open Education based at Otago Polytechnic/New Zealand (and also member of the WMF's advisory board), Barry Rubin, professor at Indiana University, and Rob Schneider from the nonprofit Consumers Union.

"Campus Ambassadors" is the initiative's term for volunteers that work with professors and go into participating institutions to train and support the students in person that are supposed to edit Wikipedia as part of their coursework. In the other blog post last week ("Welcome Wikipedia Ambassadors"), Frank Schulenburg, the WMF's Head of Public Outreach, described the idea behind the Campus Ambassadors, and said that a three day training session for them would take place this week at George Washington University, with "20 Wikipedians, students, teaching assistants, librarians and professors" participating. There are also "Online Ambassadors", "experienced Wikipedians [who] will support newcomers through their first 100 edits", on the wiki, by email, on IRC and via other media, a position for which applications are still invited.

Cary Bass (in 2008)

Volunteer Coordinator Cary Bass to leave Foundation staff

Cary Bass (User:Bastique), the Volunteer Coordinator of the Wikimedia Foundation, has announced he will leave the staff at the end of December. He will "continue to be involved with the Wikimedia movement as a volunteer, both as a contributor and in the organization of the annual Wikimania conference", and has decided to enroll in graduate theological studies. Bass was hired in March 2007 (see Signpost coverage: Community manager hired). The Foundation has recently formed a new Community Department following the hiring of Chief Community Officer (CCO) Zack Exley (see Signpost coverage: Foundation hires two new chief officers, New Community Department to hire community members). Bass says the Foundation "is not planning to hire another volunteer coordinator to look after the specific range of work I've been doing", and that users who are unsure which staff member will take over a specific responsibility should contact him over the next months.

Foundation to set up new "Wikimedia Research Committee"

The Wikimedia Foundation is calling for volunteers for a new "Wikimedia Research Committee", to "support the management of relationships between Wikimedia communities and the broader communities of researchers who study Wikimedia projects". Among the tasks outlined in the announcement by Deputy Director Erik Möller are the formulation of a policy governing the access of non-public data by researchers, reviewing research projects in cases of a conflict of interest, and "helping to formulate small tactical experiments related to Wikimedia's strategic goals". Historically, the WMF used to designate a "Chief Research Coordinator" (until 2007 "Chief Research Officer"), a volunteer with some similar responsibilities, guiding the "Wikimedia Research Network", which appears to have been inactive for years. Recently, the Foundation added a new user rights group named "Researcher" to the English Wikipedia and suggested the community should develop processes for granting this permission (see Signpost coverage). In March, a page on the English Wikiversity about researching Wikipedia by "Ethical Breaching experiments", which contained some suggestions to vandalize it on purpose, generated controversy (see Signpost coverage.)

In other news, four WMF employees that comprise "most of the current staff at the Wikimedia Foundation currently engaging in research" introduced themselves on the Wiki-Research-l mailing list on Monday: User:Nimish_Gautam, Howie Fung, Amy Roth and Parul Vora.


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FBI article

When did the FBI start making disclaimers inspired by Major League Baseball? --Moni3 (talk) 18:06, 3 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]

I agree with Godwin's letter to the FBI, which you call "politely feisty", but he used a couple of snarky words that were unnecessary ("entertainingly", "estimable", "ironic", etc.). It would be stronger by just making the argument without trying to be funny or coy. -- Ssilvers (talk) 19:00, 10 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]

This signpost hails from the future.. (talk) 00:01, 4 August 2010 (UTC) Lee[reply]

That note about the bot is very strange. [4] shows TXiKiBoT to be ahead of SieBot by almost 800,000 edits. Also, the Wiktionary interwiki bot Interwicket has about 2 million edits more than Thijs!bot, contradictory to what is said in this article. --Yair rand (talk) 03:43, 10 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]

The note clearly stated that this is "According to Wikimedia's Bot activity statistics ...", which currently read as follows in the overall ("Σ") column:
  • SieBot 9.0 M
  • TXiKiBoT 7.2 M
  • Thijs!bot 5.3 M
  • ...
I have clarified in the article that the Wikimedia statistics refer to Wikipedias. The difference between the official Wikimedia statistics and the VVV SULutil that you are citing could also be partly due to the fact that the former counts "Only bot edits for articles" (i.e. apparently not other namespaces). But bots that feel they have been unfairly treated in Wikimedia's ranking should complain to Erik Zachte, not to the Signpost ;)
Regards, HaeB (talk) 04:23, 10 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]
After wikipedia, the FBI will still hvae to talk to all these people: [5]. (talk) 07:01, 10 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]
  • The Streisand effect may be happening with the FBI thing. I started to create a FPC but got worried that I might be arrested (or Jimboed)...  ono 
Left: Kayau Voting IS evil 14:58, 11 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]

"Their attitude does seem rather illogical, Captain."

Isn't better that the true FBI image should be well known so that a false imitation would be more easily distinguished ?

"As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain."

As this image on WP was (as I understand from the license data) "extracted" from an FBI document, isn't is just as easy for anyone intending fraud or crime to extract such an image in exactly the same way ? Hasn't this publicity given them a whole lot of ideas for new scams ?

By now, after the publicity & fuss, doesn't the image exist in a million more computers than it ever did before ?

The FBI have actually shot themselves in the foot !

Darkman101 (talk) 11:50, 15 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]

clarifcation - plus quesiton about correction / rectraction :-)

Hello all, JWS pointed out to me here the recent post concerning research on wmf - and referring to the previously controversial wikiversity project 'In March, a page on the English Wikiversity about researching Wikipedia by "Ethical Breaching experiments", which contained some suggestions to vandalize it on purpose, generated controversy (see Signpost coverage.)' - I wanted to ask if the author had had the chance to review the content of the project page, or on what basis otherwise it was reported that it 'contained some suggestions to vandalize it on purpose' - here's the page in question for review, and perhaps others might agree with me that the description isn't really apt or appropriate - it's more in line with repeating some misunderstandings and misreadings which spread somewhat like wildfire after the page was deleted, and hence unavailable for review.

As somewhat of a permanent record, does the signpost have any policy on correction or retraction for the sake of accuracy? And if so, could I please ask that someone take a look at applying it here, and perhaps amending the article. I'd happily do so (properly attributed to an involved party, of course!), but don't think that's wise before dropping this note in first :-) cheers, Privatemusings (talk) 01:26, 20 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]

The Wikiversity page contained the following passage:
Suggestions from Gomi (link)
1) Add citations to plausible-sounding but fictitious references to BLPs and/or health/medical articles. Inserting no actual defamation or misinformation, but supporting statements with fake references will show how open to abuse the Wiki model is;
2) Create articles on non-existent people and companies. This will be difficult, but if carefully checked to be non-existent, the harm done here is minimal;
3) Create fake articles on (non-existent) latin-named plants and animals, similar to #2, above;
The guideline Wikipedia:Do not create hoaxes unambiguously states "Hoaxes in Wikipedia are considered vandalism" (and the statement appears to have been there since 2006). It also addresses and dismisses the argument that hoaxes are needed to prove that Wikipedia is freely editable.
Apparently you overlooked that I had alredy answered JWSchmidt's concerns about the same statement here. There was some remaining disagreement because JWSchmidt appears to argue that fake articles on non-existent things (Gomi's words) must not be considered hoaxes, but I fail to see how this argument could be taken seriously.
Thus, the wording in the Signpost article is factually correct, based on the current policies/guidelines/conventions of Wikipedia. If you don't agree with these, you are certainly free to advocate that they should be changed (e.g. that certain kinds of edits which are currently considered vandalism should be allowed). However, the way to do that is not to press the Signpost to adhere to your personal views and definitions instead of referring to the commonly held ones.
The Signpost certainly strives for accuracy and although normally the content of articles should not be changed significantly after publication, in the case of serious mistakes we do sometimes make corrections or post a notice afterwards. This, however, is not such a case.
Considering that you are aware that sometimes "misunderstandings and misreadings" can sometimes "spread somewhat like wildfire", I am rather surprised to see you spreading the baseless insinuation that I "didn't have the chance to review the original material, so sort of went by a bit of word of mouth / chinese whispers".
Regards, HaeB (talk) 04:08, 20 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]
thanks for your prompt and detailed response / reiteration, HaeB - and my apologies if you felt slighted by my uninformed guess that you hadn't had the chance to read the material in question - to my mind that seemed the most simple explanation, and I assumed it could've been the case (and yeah, made a boob of myself).
Please consider 'real world' definitions as well as wiki specific ones (ie. 'vandalism' in this case) when writing, and please be aware of the balance between editorialising and reporting which I feel you may have slipped across here.
fwiw, I asked an independent chap(ess) I was working briefly with today to take a quick look at the page, and your comment, and she was either being nice to me (I did make her tea) or was being honest in saying that she felt it didn't fairly report the content of the page. I'd hope you'd agree with me that the signpost should seek to represent and report truth, not perspective. This is obviously a teeny tiny footnote in the whole grand scheme of things though, I just felt it was worth recording my mild concerns. Good luck with the fantastic work of the Signpost for the future :-) cheers, Privatemusings (talk) 06:44, 20 August 2010 (UTC)[reply]


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