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Wales enters extradition battle; Wikipedia's political bias

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By Oddbodz and The ed17

Wales slams content industry's role in copyright-related extradition

Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales has called on the United Kingdom's Home Secretary, Theresa May, to stop the extradition of Richard O'Dwyer to the United States for his alleged breach of American copyright law.

O'Dwyer is being charged by the American federal government with criminal copyright infringement related to his former websites and The prosecutors allege that he was "involved in the illegal distribution of copyrighted movies and television programs over the Internet". As O'Dwyer resides in the United Kingdom, the United States' Justice Department asked for his extradition in May 2011 under the UK's Extradition Act 2003. The case resides in murky legal ground, however; O'Dwyer's defense team argues that American laws should not apply to a website hosted in the UK. They also argued that his TVShack websites "simply provided a link" to the content, rather than actually hosting and curating the offending material—essentially, they believe that the site functioned as an online service provider as envisioned under the American 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Describing O'Dwyer as a "clean-cut, geeky kid" and "precisely the kind of person one can imagine launching the next big thing on the internet", Wales sees O'Dwyer's fight against extradition as another battle between the large television/film industry (Wales' "content industry") and the wider public. Previous battles included the popular movement against two proposed American laws, the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act, also known as PIPA and SOPA, respectively. Actions taken to protest the bills included the blackout of several major websites, including Wikipedia, on 18 January 2012 (see previous Signpost coverage: 16 January, 23 January). Wales called O'Dwyer the "human face" of this war, and warned that "if he's extradited and convicted, he will bear the human cost." (more information in the Guardian; Wales' petition)

Is Wikipedia politically biased?

On 18 June, the Washington Post reported on a study by Northwestern University's Shane Greenstein and the University of Southern California's Feng Zhu, "Collective Intelligence and Neutral Point of View: The Case of Wikipedia", which examined the viability of Linus' Law ("Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow") through the case study of Wikipedia articles on American federal politics. They chose the topic because it would be an area "where Linus' Law would face challenges due to the presence of controversial topics and lack of verified and/or lack of objective information."

The Post claimed that the results showed that "only a handful of [Wikipedia articles] were politically neutral," though the study was positive in their belief that "Wikipedia's entries lack much slant and contain less bias than observed earlier." The pair came to this conclusion by analyzing a decade's worth of Wikipedia articles on American politics. It noted that while a large number of users sought to remove bias from the articles, most articles receive little attention from most users and, more often than not, they retain their political bias, which will often be that of the original contributor. (See also the review of an earlier version of the paper in the Signpost's "Recent research" section: "Given enough eyeballs, do articles become neutral?") Whatever the reason, if these accusations are true then Wikipedia is breaking its own commitment to a neutral point-of-view.

The pair used a technical index to determine the political slant of articles which measure how often one thousand phrases were used. These were taken from all of the remarks made by both Democrats and Republicans, the two main American political parties, in 2005. Essentially, the index uses the logic that an article written from a Democrat's point of view will include phrases like 'civil rights' and 'trade deficit' more often, as opposed to an article with a Republican bias, which would have 'economic growth' and 'illegal immigration'. However, the Post notes that "the vocabulary of partisans has doubtlessly shifted somewhat since 2005."

It is not just recently that accusations have been made of Wikipedia being politically biased. Early versions of Wikipedia were seen as very liberal, while in 2006, the American PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) ran an article stating that, according to conservative blogger Robert Cox of the National Debate, Wikipedia had 'a liberal bias in many hot-button topic entries'. Jimmy Wales replied that this was thanks to Wikipedia's global community, and this tendency was natural when the "international community of English speakers is slightly more liberal than the U.S. population." When asked if he felt this affected the site's goal, he said that "the idea that neutrality can only be achieved if we have some exact demographic matchup to United States of America is preposterous" and that Wikipedia should have a view that would be interpreted as neutral worldwide, not just in the US. (see previous Signpost coverage; more information from PBS)

It should be noted that many of these posts originate from American sources regarding articles on American politics—yet the US political system is much more conservative than that of other English-speaking countries. For example, the national health service supported by all major parties in countries such as the UK and Canada has faced vociferous opposition in the US. Therefore, what may seem neutral in some countries could seem left-wing in the US.

In brief

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Extradition battle discussion

  • Re: the large television/film industry (Wales' "content industry"). More like "fee content industry" vs. "free content industry", with Wikipedia, libraries, etc. being part of the free content industry. Another battle worth taking up is Disney's inline stranglehold on US Copyright Term, at least in regards to photographs, which now has works made in 1923 or afterwards that were still protected by copyright in 1998 will not enter the public domain until at least 2019. So we got seven years to get things moving. There's lots of post 1923 photos that would improve many Wikipedia article. -- Uzma Gamal (talk) 11:42, 27 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Just a few weeks ago, The Signpost was self-righteously castigating the firm of Julius Springer for using Wikimedia Foundation material without proper attribution. I pointed out that Wikipedia regularly violates copyright. Ah, several replied, Wikipedia violates copyright, but it does not violate copyright for profit.
Now Jimbo Wales is acting as the attack dog for pirates, who steal from artists, for profit, and The Signpost does not even address whether Wales has any conflicts of interest, comprising his ability to be a spokesperson for WMF/Wikipedia.
Again, The Signpost cannot be bothered to get even one quote from the other side (U.S. prosecutors, artists, etc.), but just rolls over for Jimbo. Kiefer.Wolfowitz 15:53, 2 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]
I tend to be charitable here and think first that Signpost coverage problems are due initially to lack of writers. Perhaps you could ask to do some coverage of this sort of topic, or maybe an Op-Ed? (I have no connection, this is just a suggestion). -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 22:29, 2 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Aggregators of pirates are not stealing. They are making lists of locations of stolen property which can be copied. In fact, O'Dwyer was making it easier for the police to do their work, but they went after him instead. Perhaps you should check Jimbo's talk page history for more information on this. (talk) 22:32, 12 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]

Wikipedia's political bias discussion

  • I definitely agree with Jimbo is regards to whether WIkipedia is liberal or not. We're meant to represent the English-speaking world as a whole and it is a well-known fact that the English-speaking world outside of the US is definitely more liberal. We have no reason to and shouldn't conform to what the middle line would be in the US, but what the middle line is for the world. And that line is definitely going to be further left than the one in the US and that's fine. SilverserenC 07:08, 26 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • "For example, the national health service supported by all major parties in countries such as the UK and Canada would face vociferous opposition in the US". That's a biased statement right there. It would face "vociferous opposition" from special interest groups in the US, not from the American public. You might try reading our own article on public opinion on health care reform in the United States which says "65–86 percent of U.S. respondents support a government guarantee of health care for everyone who needs it." Now, where is that "vociferous opposition"? Follow the money... Viriditas (talk) 08:06, 26 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • Many members of the Republican Party have vowed to repeal the Obama-championed heath care law if they take the Senate and Presidency in 2012, and that law is a far cry from a British or Canadian health care system. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 03:18, 27 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • You mean many members of the Tea Party, a special interest-funded fake grassroots movement that in no way represents the American people no matter how many times Faux News says they do. The fact of the matter is, the majority of American people support health care reform, including physicians, nurses, and even the insurance companies. The opposition to health care reform is just another manufactured controversy promoted by PR organizations who depend on convincing the gullible 20% to drown out the voices of the 80%. Huxley was talking about this kind of tactic in the late 1950s. Every respected analyst on both sides of the aisle agrees that health care reform is necessary in the US. Viriditas (talk) 05:34, 27 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Perhaps "has faced" would be superior to "would face" -- because now, it's looking like more than three times the savings for all of the preventative care. (talk) 22:34, 12 July 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • Using an index of words to check for bias seems like a poor methodology. It is ridiculous to suggest that if an article talks about civil rights or economic growth etc then it has a bias purely on the basis of using the words. IRWolfie- (talk) 09:37, 26 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • Indeed, especially if the index is calibrated to American political norms, which are much to the right of that of any other English-speaking country. An article on the British Conservative Party could well show up as being 'liberal' on such a measure! Nick-D (talk) 10:30, 26 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • I don't think this research on bias in our articles should be dismissed outright. It would not be surprising if an article on a 'conservative topic' was written with a slight conservative slant, and an article on a 'liberal topic' was written from a slight liberal slant, simply because people tend to write articles on subjects they're interested in. That's something we should always be aware of and try to correct. Robofish (talk) 10:48, 26 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • Well, some people like to write bad things about their opponents. :) I wonder which group is stronger. Anyway, it's great that bias is assessed, it's the only way we can fix it. --NaBUru38 (talk) 00:21, 29 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • We don't know if it's an actual issue because the methodology for checking was not rigorous:
1. the content just might have to use some of these "slant" words, how can you explain involvement in civil rights without using the word.
2. It doesn't cover usage of the key words in a negative way (bias the other way)
3. The paper has undergone no peer review, and no internal review (per disclaimer on the paper)
4. Does not take into account non-american editors who have not been exposed to the same media.
5. The "report" is actually a blog post on the new york post.
We shouldn't assume it to be true as the evidence is very poor, and so speculating on the reasons for a slant is essentially pointless. We don't know if there actually is a slant. It's a bad idea to base decisions off conclusions in studies like this. IRWolfie- (talk) 11:00, 26 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • It seems that those attempting to study our so called bias are forgetting that neutrality lies in the eyes of the reader. It is not just the articles that have bias, it is our preconceived notions of what we will find on a page that helps skewer our perspective on the matter(s) discussed in the article(s) in question as being conservative or liberal in our opinion. It would do well of people to remember that unless Vulcans are designated as the sole editors of the encyclopedia there is going to be some bias in an article, and until we learn to gravitate away from the edges of the political spectrum and move more toward its center we will find bias in an article regardless of whether it is there or not. TomStar81 (Talk) 10:50, 26 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • Fascinating, but let us not forget that our fictional Vulcans are biased against emotions, and much of our content involves generating emotional reactions from the reader, such as portraying political and social disputes between liberals and conservative. The only reason the audience connected with Spock was because he was half-human, even if he tried to fool us into believing he was fully Vulcan. Viriditas (talk) 11:08, 26 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • The bias study isn't worth the paper it's printed on — it starts from the fundamentally flawed premise that by identifying 1000 buzzwords as "liberal" or "conservative" and tracking the evolution of their use over time, one can somehow objectively measure the change in an article's "neutrality." There is no such objective measure, this has to be a subjective process. And subjectively, from my perspective, NPOV works. Carrite (talk) 23:46, 26 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • Wikipedia's job isn't to fix political bias in the media. Wikipedia articles are to be a representative survey of the relevant literature. If the relevant literature is politically biased, then a Wikipedia article's prose survey reflecting that political biased would meet Wikipedia's own commitment to a neutral point-of-view. The "international community of English speakers" should be irrelevant to Wikipedia's content. It is the "international community of English writers" that affect Wikipedia's content (and yes, the international community of English writers is slightly more liberal than the liberal U.S. media, even though the international and U.S. populations are conservative). -- Uzma Gamal (talk) 12:11, 27 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]

Both stories discussion

  • Interesting juxtaposition of these two stories. While a study trying to assess bias solely upon how often certain topics are mentioned in any context is clearly bogus, I do think it gets more and more difficult each day to deny that Wikipedia is biased against copyrights and other intellectual property laws. DreamGuy (talk) 01:57, 27 June 2012 (UTC)[reply]


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