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Wikipedia and Sandy Hook; SOPA blackout reexamined

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By Daniel Mietchen, Piotr Konieczny, Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, Taha Yasseri, Benjamin Mako Hill, Aaron Shaw, Tilman Bayer, Dario Taraborelli and Sage Ross

A monthly overview of recent academic research about Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, also published as the Wikimedia Research Newsletter.

How Wikipedia deals with a mass shooting

Northeastern University researcher Brian Keegan analyzed the gathering of hundreds of Wikipedians to cover the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. The findings are reported in a detailed blog post that was later republished by the Nieman Journalism Lab.[1] Keegan observes that the Sandy Hook shooting article reached a length of 50Kb within 24 hours of its creation, making it the fastest growing article by length in the first day among recent articles covering mass shootings on the English-language Wikipedia. The analysis compares the Sandy Hook page with six similar articles from a list of 43 articles on shooting sprees in the US since 2007. Among the analyses described in the study, of particular interest is the dynamics of dedicated vs occasional contributors as the article reaches maturity: while in the first few hours contributions are evenly distributed with a majority of single-edit editors, after hour 3 or 4 a number of dedicated editors show up and "begin to take a vested interest in the article, which is manifest in the rapid centralization of the article". A plot of inter-edit time also shows the sustained frequency of revisions that these articles display days after their creation, with Sandy Hook averaging at about 1 edit/minute around 24 hours since its first revision. The notebook and social network data produced by the author for the analysis are available on his website. The Nieman Journalism Lab previously covered the role that Wikipedia is playing as a platform for collaborative journalism, and why its format outperforms Wikinews with an interview of Andrew Lih published in 2010.[2] The early revision history of the Sandy Hook shooting article was also covered in a blog post by Oxford Internet Institute fellow Taha Yasseri, however with a focus on the coverage in different Wikipedia language editions.[3]

Network positions and contributions to online public goods: the case of the Chinese Wikipedia

A graph with nodes color-coded by betweenness centrality (from red=0 to blue=max).

In a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Management Information Systems (presented earlier at HICSS '12[4]), Xiaoquan (Michael) Zhang and Chong (Alex) Wang use a natural experiment to demonstrate that changes to the position of individuals within the editor network of a wiki modify their editing behavior. The data for this study came from the Chinese Wikipedia. In October 2005, the Chinese government suddenly blocked access to the Chinese Wikipedia from mainland China, creating an unanticipated decline in the editor population. As a result, the remaining editors found themselves in a new network structure and, the authors claim, any changes in editor behavior that ensued are likely effects of this discontinuous "shock" to the network. The paper defines each editor as a node (vertex) in the network and a tie (edge) between two editors is created whenever the editors edit the same page in the wiki. They then examine how changes to three aspects of individual editors' relative connectedness (centrality) to other editors within the network altered their subsequent patterns of contribution.

The main finding is that changes in the three kinds of editors' connectedness within the network result in differential changes to their editing behavior. First, an increase in the number of direct connections between one editor and the rest of the network (degree centrality) resulted in fewer edits by that editor, and more work on articles they created. Second, an increase in the overall proximity of an editor to the other members of the network (closeness centrality) resulted in fewer edits and less work on articles they created. Third, an increase in the extent to which an editor connected otherwise isolated groups in the network (betweenness centrality) resulted in more edits and more work by that editor on articles they created. Overall, these results imply that alterations to the network structure of a wiki can change both the quantity and quality of editor contributions. The researchers argue that their findings confirm the predictions of both network game theory and role theory; and that future research should try to analyze the character of the network ties created within platforms for large-scale online collaboration, to better understand how changes to network structure may alter collaborative practices and public goods creation.

Quality of pharmaceutical articles in the Spanish Wikipedia

Ibuprofen, one of the World Health Organisation's "essential drugs", a topic covered in detail by the Spanish-language Wikipedia.

In an online early version of an upcoming article in Atención Primaria,[5] researchers at the Miguel Hernández University of Elche and the University of Alicante have benchmarked articles on pharmaceutical drugs in the Spanish Wikipedia against information available in a pharmaceutical database, Vademécum.[6] A subset of the Vademécum corpus of 3,595 drugs was created using simple random sampling without replacement, consisting of 386 drugs. Of these, 171 (44%) had entries on the Spanish Wikipedia, which were then scrutinized along several dimensions in May 2012. Usage of the drug was correctly indicated in 155 (91%) of these articles, dosage in 26 (15%), and side-effects in 64 (37%), with only 15 articles (9%) scoring well in all of these dimensions. The researchers conclude that, while Wikipedia has a high potential to help with the dissemination of pharmaceutical knowledge, the Spanish-language edition does not currently live up to this potential. As a possible solution, they suggest the pharmaceutical community more actively participate in editing Wikipedia. The list of the drugs involved has not been made public, since a similar study is currently underway whose results may be distorted by targeted intervention. The authors have signalled to this research report their intention to make the list available after this second study is complete.

Wikipedia editing patterns are consistent with a non-finite state model of computation

A paper posted to ArXiv[7] by SFI's Omidyar fellow Simon DeDeo presents evidence for non-finite state computation in a human social system using data from Wikipedia edit histories. Finite state-systems are the basis for the study of formal languages in computer science and linguistics, and many real-world complex phenomena in biology and the social sciences are also studied empirically by assuming the existence of underlying finite-state processes, for the analysis of which powerful probabilistic methods have been devised. However, the question of whether the description of a system truly entails a finite or a non-finite, unbounded number of states, is an open one. This is significant from a functionalist point of view: can we classify a system by its computational properties, and can these properties help us better understand how the system works regardless of its material details?

The paper's contribution lies in its proof of a probabilistic generalization of the pumping lemma, a device used in theoretical computer science as a necessary condition for a language to be described by only a finite number of states. The lemma is applied to the edit histories of a number of the most frequently edited articles in the English Wikipedia, after being properly transformed into coarse-grain sequences of "cooperative" or "non-cooperative (reversion) edits (reverts being identified by means of their SHA1 field). A Bayesian argument is applied to show that the lemma cannot hold for a majority of sequences, thus showing that Wikipedia's collaborative editing system as a whole cannot be described by any aggregation of finite-state systems. The author discusses the implications of this finding for a more grounded study of Wikipedia's editing model, and for the identification of detailed computational models of other social and biological systems.

Wikipedia as our collective memory

A protester on Tahrir Square during the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

Michela Ferron, a member of the SoNet (Social Networking) research group at the Bruno Kessler Foundation in Trento, Italy submitted her PhD thesis[8] in December 2012. She examined the idea of viewing Wikipedia as a venue for collective memory and the language indicators of the dynamic process of memory formation in response to "traumatic" events. Parts of the thesis have already been published in journals and conference proceedings, such as WikiSym 2011 and 2012 (cf. presentation slides).

A full chapter is dedicated to the background on the concept of collective memory and its appearance in the digital world. The thesis continues with an analysis of "anniversary edits", showing a significant increase in editorial activities on articles related to traumatic events during the anniversary period compared to a large random sample of "other" articles. More detailed linguistic indicators are introduced in the next chapter. It is statistically shown that the terms related to affective processes, negative emotions, and cognitive and social processes occur more often in articles on traumatic events; "Specifically, the relative number of words expressing anxiety (e.g., “worried”), anger (e.g., “hate”) and sadness (e.g., “cry”) was significantly higher in articles about traumatic events".

In the next step, Ferron tried to distinguish between human-made and natural disasters. It has been observed that "human-made traumatic events were characterized by language referring to anger and anxiety, while the collective representation of natural disasters expressed more sadness". Finally, a detailed case study of the talk pages of articles on the 7 July 2005 London bombings and the 2011 Egyptian revolution was carried out, and language indicators, especially those related to emotions, were investigated in a dynamic framework and compared for both examples.

SOPA blackout decision analyzed

A First Monday article[9] reviews several aspects of the Wikipedia participation in the 18 January 2012 protests against SOPA and PIPA legislation in the US. The paper focuses on the question of legitimacy, looking at how the Wikipedia community arrived at the decision to participate in those protests.

The English Wikipedia landing page, symbolically its only page during the blackout on January 18, 2012

The paper provides an interesting discussion of legitimacy in Wikipedia's governance, and discusses the legitimacy of the decision to participate in the protests. The author notes that the initiative was given a major boost by Jimmy Wales' charismatic authority, as Wales posted a straw poll about the issue on his talk page on December 10, 2011, as while the issue was discussed by the community beforehand (for example, in mid-November at the Village Pump), those discussions attracted much less attention. It is hard to say whether the protest would have happened without Jimbo's push for more discussion, as it veers towards "what if" territory; as things happened, it is true that Jimbo's actions began a landslide that led to the protests. However, this reviewer is more puzzled at the claim made in the introduction to the article that the discussion involved a "massive involvement of the Wikimedia Foundation staff". While several WMF staffers were active in the discussions in their official capacity, and while the WMF did issue some official statements about the ongoing discussion, the paper certainly does not provide any evidence to justify the word "massive".

The paper subsequently notes that the WMF focused on providing information and gently steering the discussion, without any coercion; this hardly justifies the claim of "massive involvement". At the very least, a clear explanation is necessary of precisely how many WMF staffers participated in the discussion before such a grandiose adjective as "massive" is used. It is true that the WMF staffers helped push the discussion forward, but this reviewer believes that the paper does not sufficiently justify the stress it puts on their participation, and thus may overestimate their influence.

The third part of the paper discusses how the arguments about legitimacy or the lack of it framed the subsequent discourse of the voters. The author notes that after initial period of discussing SOPA itself, the discussion of whether it was legitimate or not for Wikipedia to become involved in the protest took over, with a major justification for it emerging in the form of an argument that it was legitimate for Wikipedia to protest against SOPA as SOPA threatened Wikipedia itself. While this is an interesting claim, unfortunately, other than citing one single comment, no other qualitative or quantitative data are provided; nor is the methodology discussed. We are not told how many individuals voted, how many commented on legitimacy or illegitimacy, how many felt that Wikipedia is threatened; we do not know how the author classified comments supporting any of the viewpoints, or the shifts in the discussion ... this list could unfortunately go on. In one specific example drawn from the conclusion, the author writes that "The main factor that shaped the multi-phased process was the will to have the community accept the final decision as legitimate, and avoid backlash. This factor especially influenced those who are suspected of relying on traditional means of legitimacy such as charisma or professionalism." At the same time, we are provided with no number, no percentage, and certainly no correlation to back up this claim. Without a clear methodology or distinct data it is hard to verify the author's claims and conclusions.

The introduction also notes that "the mass effort of planning an effective political action was not something “anyone [could] edit”" and "the debate preceding the blackout did not follow Wikipedia’s open and anarchic decision-making system"; unfortunately this reviewer finds no justification for those rather strong claims anywhere else in the article.

Overall, this is an interesting paper about legitimacy in Wikipedia, but it seems to overreach when it tries to draw conclusions from the data that is simply not presented to the reader. It suffers from a failure to explain the research's methodology, making verification of the claims made very hard. Due to the lack of hard data, most conclusions are unfortunately rendered dubious, and the paper has a tendency to make strong claims that are not backed up by data or even developed later on.

Bots and collective intelligence explored in dissertation

Rats (blue trace) interacting with a rat-sized robot (red) controlled by a human who in turn perceives the rat's movements through those of a human-sized avatar in a virtual reality environment.[10] The video was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by the Open Access Media Importer Bot.

In his Communication and Society PhD dissertation,[11] Randall M. Livingstone of the University of Oregon explores the relationship between the social and technical structures of Wikipedia, with a particular focus on bots and bot operators. After a fairly broad literature review (which summarizes the basic approaches to Wikipedia studies from new media theory, social network analysis, science and technology studies, and political economy), Livingstone gives a concise history of the technical development of Wikipedia, from UseModWiki to MediaWiki, and from a single server to hundreds.

The most interesting chapters for Wikipedians will be V – Wikipedia as a Sociotechnical System – and VI – Wikipedia as Collective Intelligence. Chapter 5 looks at the ways the editing community and the evolution of software (both MediaWiki and the semi-automated tools and bots that interact with editors and articles) "construct" each other. Based on 45 interviews with bot operators and WMF staff, this chapter gives an interesting and varied picture of how Wikipedia works as a sociotechnical system. It will in part be a familiar account to the more tech-minded Wikipedians, but offers an accessible overview of bots and their place in the ecosystem to editors who normally steer clear of bots and software development. Chapter 6 looks at theories of intelligence and the concept of collective intelligence, arguing that Wikipedia exhibits (at least to some extent) the key traits of stigmergy, distributed cognition, and emergence.



  1. ^ Keegan, B. (2012). How does Wikipedia deal with a mass shooting? A frenzied start gives way to a few core editors. Nieman Journalism Lab HTML Open access icon
  2. ^ Seward, Z.M. (2012) Why Wikipedia beats Wikinews as a collaborative journalism project. Nieman Journalism Lab HTML Open access icon
  3. ^ Yasseri, T. (2012) The coverage of a tragedy. Stories for Sunday morning HTML Open access icon
  4. ^ Wang, C. (Alex), & Zhang, X. (Michael). (2012). Network Centrality and Contributions to Online Public Good–The Case of Chinese Wikipedia. 2012 45th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (pp. 4515–4524). IEEE. DOI Closed access icon
  5. ^ López Marcos, P.; Sanz-Valero, J. (2012). "Presencia y adecuación de los principios activos farmacológicos en la edición española de la Wikipedia". Atención Primaria. 45 (2): 101–106. doi:10.1016/j.aprim.2012.09.012. PMID 23159792. S2CID 196366011. Closed access icon
  6. ^ "Vademécum". UBM Medica Spain S.A. Archived from the original on 30 December 2012. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  7. ^ DeDeo, S. (2012). Evidence for Non-Finite-State Computation in a Human Social System. ArXiV. PDF Open access icon
  8. ^ Ferron, M. (2012, December 7). Collective Memories in Wikipedia. PhD Thesis, University of Trento. PDF Open access icon
  9. ^ Oz, A. (2012). Legitimacy and efficacy: The blackout of Wikipedia. First Monday, 17(12). HTML Open access icon
  10. ^ Normand, J. M.; Sanchez-Vives, M. V.; Waechter, C.; Giannopoulos, E.; Grosswindhager, B.; Spanlang, B.; Guger, C.; Klinker, G.; Srinivasan, M. A.; Slater, M. (2012). De Polavieja, Gonzalo G (ed.). "Beaming into the Rat World: Enabling Real-Time Interaction between Rat and Human Each at Their Own Scale". PLOS ONE. 7 (10): e48331. Bibcode:2012PLoSO...748331N. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048331. PMC 3485138. PMID 23118987. Open access icon
  11. ^ Randall M. Livingstone: Network of Knowledge: Wikipedia as a Sociotechnical System of Intelligence. PDF Open access icon
  12. ^ Medeiros, J. (2012). Infographic: History’s most influential people, ranked by Wikipedia reach. Wired UK. HTML Open access icon
  13. ^ Purcell, K., Rainie, L., Heaps, A., Buchanan, J., Friedrich, L., Jacklin, A., Chen, C., Zickuhr, K. (2012): How Teens Do Research in the Digital World. Pew Internet HTML Open access icon
  14. ^ a b Ermann, L., Frahm, K. M., & Shepelyansky, D. L. (2012). Spectral properties of Google matrix of Wikipedia and other networks. ArXiv PDF Open access icon
  15. ^ Dobusch, L., & Müller-Seitz, G. (2012). Serial Singularities: Developing a Network Organization by Organizing Events. Schmalenbach Business Review, 64, 204–229. HTML Open access icon
  16. ^ Yun, Q., & Gloor, P. A. (2012). The Web Mirrors Value in the Real World – Comparing a Firm’s Valuation with Its Web Network Position. SSRN Electronic Journal. DOI Open access icon
  17. ^ Morgan, J. T., Bouterse, S., Stierch, S., & Walls, H. (2013). Tea & Sympathy: Crafting Positive New User Experiences on Wikipedia. CSCW ’13. PDF Open access icon
  18. ^ a b Florin, F., Taraborelli, D., Keyes, O. (2012). Article Feedback: New research and next steps. Wikimedia blog HTML Open access icon
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  20. ^ Baker, E. (2012). Measuring the Impact of Wikipedia for organisations (Part 1), Ed's blog, HTML Open access icon
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While I'm at it, I think that you mean that the discussion on Jimmy's talk page about SOPA was in 2011, not 2001.--Sturmvogel 66 (talk) 06:36, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

 Fixed FallingGravity (talk) 06:53, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I have never seen evidence that First Monday has pubhlished a useful and important paper on anything whatsoever; just bad papers on important subjects, trolling for attention - David Gerard (talk) 08:12, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

If the Spanish Wikipedia is anything like the English Wikipedia then there is a reason why they would score poorly for drug dosage information: we strongly discourage including it. We don't give medical advice and this is an open wiki - both reasons why such information would be unacceptable. This is an encyclopaedia, not a drug formulary. -- Colin°Talk 11:20, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

That was the first thing I noticed in that section too. Please let's not start adding that kind of information just because some external reviewer expected to find it. We have good reasons for not including it. Rmhermen (talk) 16:03, 5 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

This page is one of the best Signpost articles I have ever seen. Good job! As for the SOPA blackout, I think a case can be made for it starting on Reddit, then the many Redditors who are also Wikipedia editors starting "a landslide that led to the protests" on Wikipedia. This appears to predate Jimbo's straw poll. (What percentage of Wikipedians watch Jimbo's talk page anyway?) --Guy Macon (talk) 09:00, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Any links to show that landslide? --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 10:41, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I recall that they picked January 18 (though I don't have a cite to hand) - David Gerard (talk) 10:50, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
The date might have been picked on Reddit, I think that's correct. But I am asking about proof of the assertion it was done by (or with a significant contribution) by Wikipedia editors who were also active on Reddit. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 11:01, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
October 26, 2011
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) introduced in House
October 26, 2011:
Reddit goes nuts with 5454 upvotes and 3181 comments
November 15th, 2011:
Wikimedia weighs in
December 10, 2011:
Wales straw poll
I have over 100,000 karma points on Reddit under a pseudonym (I also have an account under my real name but do not use it) and was heavily involved in the runup to the blackout. We have a fair number of Reddit users who casually dropped wikiisms like "NPOV" or "noticeboard", and a much larger number who asked "will Wikipedia and/or Google join us?" --Guy Macon (talk) 22:25, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks, that's interesting to know about. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 13:18, 3 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Hmm, I'm not sure it's worth getting-into-it, but I find the review of the SOPA paper above really bizarre. It kinds of reminds me of a parody about reviewing various printed books as if they were novels - i.e. the telephone listings were praised for immediately introducing many interesting characters, but didn't flesh them out and had no plot or drama. Here the reviewer is treating a humanities paper as if it were a mathematical analysis, and thus finding it wanting. For example - "At the same time, we are provided with no number, no percentage, and certainly no correlation to back up this claim". (oh no, he gave only one example, ok here's another) "Due to the lack of hard data, most conclusions are unfortunately rendered dubious, and the paper has a tendency to make strong claims that are not backed up by data or even developed later on.". Now, maybe one can argue humanities papers are gibberish because of those sort of problems in general, and certainly that case can be made :-). But it's weird to see that general argument applied as if it were a specific failing, to an ordinary paper in its genre. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 23:07, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

That's the sort of thing First Monday does. I see they've taken "A Critique of Vulgar Raymondism" down Ah, sorry, you're talking about the story - David Gerard (talk) 23:36, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Actually, the reviewer holds a PhD in sociology. Regards, Tbayer (WMF) (talk) 23:39, 2 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Tbayer, yes, I checked the reviewer's user page. Which makes the approach even more strange. One would think s/he had encountered many nonmathematical papers by now (papers also at least regarded as meaningful). It's as if "review" was taken to mean "do a review as if it were a journal article in your field, to the way you think such articles are best done". -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 01:01, 3 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I agree with Seth that sociology papers are generally not held to the same standards as "hard science", but I also agree that this means they can be more easily dismissed as sheer opinion. Kaldari (talk) 01:41, 3 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Bad sociology papers are not held to the same stadards as "hard science" and can and should be dismissed. Comte and Durkheim are turning in their graves... --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 02:52, 3 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
For what it's worth, my recollection too is that the meme essentially became "SOPA threatens Wikipedia" – and that was clearly false. Andreas JN466 03:11, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
In sociology, we do quantitative research, too. Quite a lot of it, in fact, through not all the time (I myself have published papers with very little quantitative analysis, so I'd like to think I can understand both sides of the barricade). But this is not a theory paper; if it would I wouldn't complain about missing data and methodology. But from part 3 of the paper it is clear it leaves the theory and moves on, as the author implies she collected some data (but she doesn't tell us how) and then she attempts to analyze it - or rather, she draws conclusions, as I see little of any analysis, just conclusion, without so much as a hint about the data structure. I am not asking for regression models here, now, but how can one talk about the trends without so much as the number of cases, percentages or a single graph? The author writes at one point "We can trace a new line of arguments" - and I'd like to ask how did she trace this line? Where's the time plot, where's the count even?
As it happens, I have in fact researched Wikipedia and SOPA vote myself, and have a paper on that topic under review, so I am not complaining about something impossible; the numbers are there, can be easily collected and analyzed. Just to pick a bone with another statement in the article: "almost all of the people who opposed the blackout pointed to the institutional problem of using Wikipedia for political goals, and claimed it was illegitimate and “unconstitutional” under Wikipedia’s internal norms". Well, according to my numbers on that very issue, it was only 40.3% of protesters who did it (89 total out of 221 who objected to at least one of the aspects of the protest as it passed), not "almost all". I really don't want to be disrespectful to a fellow scholar, but if you make claims, cite your data. And it's not like we have any numbers or methodology to dispute the claims in this article - and here's at least one I have a bone with. The discussion of legitimacy and the description of the vote are fine, but when you make claims like "The only argument that equals the strength of the legitimacy argument is one of existential threat, a battle of survival.", you should have a way to prove it (and for the record, if we are talking about pure numerical strength, I counted five other types of arguments that surpassed the strength of the legitimacy arguments, the existential threat bypassed it by a factor of 2.5 if we count just the threat to Wikipedia, or 4, if we include the threat to the Internet).
Now, our articles on Humanities does not mention sociology, so if you are coming from that field, you may be right my review is a bit harsh - but I will stand by Comte and the scientific method. Which, sadly, I didn't see much in that paper. How are we supposed to replicate the results without methodology given? Aaargh. As it stands, the humanities argument does have some weight, as a lot of what I see in this paper is an essay - author's thoughts backed by anecdotal evidence (the paper has one, I repeat, one data point - a single quote).
Anyway, I'll end on the note that it is not a bad paper. If I was reviewing it I'd suggest a major revise (add methodology and data, or drop all references to having collected and analyzed the said data, and focus on theory) and resubmit. Apparently, other reviewers disagreed with me, as this was published in a peer reviewed journal. Goes to show the world of "academic lottery" (as in - will you get reviewers who will go easy on you or not?). Congrats to the author for getting the piece published, I just don't think it was there yet. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 02:52, 3 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Eh! In sociology, we do quantitative research, too most of it borders on junk science. No matter, the issue remains that the SOPA page in mid January 2012 was unmitigated rubbish, mostly sourced from opposition press releases and blogs. SOPA was not an existential threat to wikipedia, being as wikipedia is based in the US. Any making such a claim were either ignorant of the way that the judiciary interpret laws, or deliberately lying. John lilburne (talk) 12:41, 3 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Putting aside your fallacy of generalization (one critical study of a tiny subfield of social science published in a popular magazine is hardly representative), I am looking forward to the time you add sources to your claim above. Somehow I would like to see a single reliable source backing your assertion that SOPA was not a threat to Wikipedia. I hope I am not asking for too much (and no, I am not presenting sources to the contrary, but I am also not making an assertion that it was a threat). --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 13:17, 3 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks! I had no idea that I was "either ignorant of the way that the judiciary interpret laws, or deliberately lying". I am interested in how you managed to acquire an infallible ability to interpret legislation -- that would seem to be a handy ability to have. Does this magical ability also allow you to determine what percentage of a given science is junk? That would also be a handy ability to have. Basing my opinions on evidence and logic really is tedious, so this could be a real timesaver for me. --Guy Macon (talk) 13:38, 3 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Lawyers are simple souls and interpret legislation based on the plain meaning of the words used. See Law 101. If the wording of US legislation says "foreign based websites" then the Judiciary don't interpret it to mean US websites. If the wording says "primarily dedicated to illegal and infringing activity" then they don't interpret it to mean any old website that isn't "primarily dedicated to illegal and infringing activity". So once they've determined that a) its a foreign website, and b) that it is "primarily dedicated to illegal and infringing activity" I'm sorting guessing that the website in question wouldn't be wikipedia. John lilburne (talk) 14:37, 3 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Right, because the law is never abuse. You may want to read up on patent trolls, or stuff like this or this. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 22:21, 3 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
We don't discard rape laws because some people make false accusations. If you want to propose that we should abandon all laws on the basis that they may be abused, then make your case. I'll listen and promise not to laugh. John lilburne (talk) 22:37, 3 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Amazing! First I find out to my great surprise that those who disagree with you are either ignorant or deliberately lying, and now I suddenly discover that we are proposing that we abandon all laws! Perhaps you can save some time by jumping right to the part where we are all Nazi Pedophile Bedwetters. (Come to think of it, Hitler was a big fan of strawman arguments...) --Guy Macon (talk) 02:45, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Wasn't me that erected the strawman that SOPA needed to be opposed because law is abused. As for the rest well ... when one spends one's days hanging out on the street corner with the drug dealer, and boogies the night away with the bootlegger, one can hardly be surprised when honest, decent kind of folks look at one askance. John lilburne (talk) 07:59, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
This was never about the law being used to close down access to Wikipedia. It was about the law being used to close down access to foreign websites, in a way which (because it was badly written) presumed them to be infringing. Experience has shown us that corporates who, for example subpoena a robot's personal details, and send cease and desist notices to laser printers, would certainly be shutting down access to many, many, sites, which may not have the resources to defend themselves, offending or not. As well as cutting off access to source and external links, this would feed the climate of balkanization, encouraging retaliatory actions from other countries. Rich Farmbrough, 00:29, 4 January 2013 (UTC).[reply]


"SOPA was not an existential threat to Wikipedia, being as Wikipedia is based in the US. Any making such a claim were either ignorant of the way that the judiciary interpret laws, or deliberately lying."
"If the wording of US legislation says 'foreign based websites' then the Judiciary don't interpret it to mean US websites. If the wording says 'primarily dedicated to illegal and infringing activity' then they don't interpret it to mean any old website that isn't 'primarily dedicated to illegal and infringing activity'."


"SOPA targets only foreign Web sites that are primarily dedicated to illegal and infringing activity. Domestic Web sites ... are not covered by this legislation."


"Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that has been developed by tens of thousands of volunteers from all over the world over the last 11 years. Together, we have created millions of articles containing billions of facts, referenced to hundreds of thousands of sources from around the world. We have grown to be one of the most frequently accessed websites in the world. Wikipedians are fiercely proud and protective of our ability to freely share knowledge with the rest of the world, as the first of 846 related projects in 280 languages working under the umbrella of the Wikimedia Foundation."
"In late 2011, the United States Congress proposed two legislative bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which legal scholars and others have advised have the potential to significantly change the way that information can be shared through the Internet. It is the opinion of the English Wikipedia community that both of these bills, if passed, would be devastating to the free and open web."

It wasn't an accurate depiction of Wikipedia's concerns when Lamar Smith first said it, and it still isn't. --Guy Macon (talk) 04:00, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Wait a minute - Guy Macon, are you agreed that Wikipedia was not threatened by SOPA? And are you saying that even though Wikipedia was not threatened by SOPA, SOPA was just such a bad law that it justified Wikipedia getting dramatically involved in political lobbying on one side of a law even though it was again not threatened itself? Note, please, I've heard the pro/anti SOPA arguments too many times, there's no need to waste space on them. I'm trying to clarify exactly what you are claiming vis-a-vis Wikipedia. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 04:20, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
No. I do not agree that Wikipedia was not threatened by SOPA. Certain specific threats are precluded -- the law as written does not allow them to directly shut down Wikipedia -- but that doesn't mean that Wikipedia was not threatened by SOPA. Not all threats are direct threats. You don't have to use a gun to harm a species. You can wipe out a species through Habitat destruction without ever directly harming any member of that species. And you can cause great harm to Wikipedia if you damage the environment Wikipedia lives in - a free and open web. That was Wikipedia's stated concern. And it is disingenuous for Lamar Smith or anyone who parrots his talking points to suggest otherwise. --Guy Macon (talk) 05:27, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I would say then you're redefining "threat" in a way which is not appropriate - and if I were to be harsh, misleading. Being specific, do we agree that if "threat" is defined as a take-down as was contemplated under SOPA for sites primarily dedicated to infringement, that Wikipedia was not threatened in this sense of the word? You're using what I call a "culture war" definition - anything you deem as harmful to the "habitat" or "environment" then can be called a "threat". Again, that's not how the term is commonly used. It's a bit like when Jimmy Wales claims Larry Sanger couldn't be co-founder of Wikipedia by definition because Sanger was an employee of Bomis - it's switching between two different senses of a word. Anyway, refining, is it your view that SOPA was just such a bad law that it justified Wikipedia getting dramatically involved in political lobbying on one side of a law even though Wikipedia was exempt itself from being taken down by SOPA? -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 05:58, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
So my using the exact definition Wikipedia used -- agreed upon by the community and signed off by the foundation -- is "redefining", and if I want to avoid being accused of redefining I have to agree to use the definition put forth by U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (sponsor of SOPA)? If you have a shred of evidence that supports what you claim Wikipedia's official position at the end of the discussion was, this would be a good time to produce it. --Guy Macon (talk) 10:26, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
No one is denying that the WMF didn't redefine "threat" for political purposes. John lilburne (talk)
The meme was "Wikipedia is threatened". Sue Gardner for example said the legislation, "if passed, would seriously damage the free and open Internet, including Wikipedia". She quotes the words "devastating to the free and open web" from the RfC closing statement, approvingly. And she said, "although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence is not. As Wikimedia Foundation board member Kat Walsh wrote on one of our mailing lists recently, 'We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate.'" The implied meaning is clear: it sounds like the legislation threatened Wikipedia's ability to operate. Tim Starling later commented on that on the Wikimedia-l mailing list, saying: "Maybe SOPA was a 'serious threat to freedom of expression on the Internet', and worth fighting against, but it wasn't a threat to Wikipedia's existence." Andreas JN466 20:52, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
@Guy Macon - I'm not asking about "official position", as (whatever that is) it cannot reply. I'm discussing your reasoning and justification, which may or may not correspond to whatever PR that the WMF came up with. Note indeed, it's quite possible for a political statement to use hyperbolic or dubious language - this should not need to be argued. After all, it would be pretty silly to claim that because a political campaign uses terminology, that by itself makes the usage standard or reasonable (isn't twisting meaning what the "Orwellian language" cliche is all about?). And my query "is it your view that SOPA was just such a bad law that it justified Wikipedia getting dramatically involved in political lobbying on one side of a law even though Wikipedia was exempt itself from being taken down by SOPA?" seem to me rather straightforward (yes, I'm putting in some derogatory connotations in my phrasing, but I think it's very mild and acceptable in such a debate). Forgive me if I'm not respecting your desire not to comment further, I wanted to respond to what you said above. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 23:42, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
And yet so many seemed to think that SOPA was an existential threat to wikipedia. The actual SOPA page in mid January 2012, was predominately expressed in those terms. The vast majority of references were to external page of opposition to SOPA. To quote Rory Cellan-Jones at the BBC:

Over the years, despite the occasional mistakes and mischief introduced by its amateur editors, the online encyclopaedia has gradually built an enviable reputation for accuracy and impartiality. Its account of the detail of America's anti-piracy laws, the arguments surrounding them, and their impact if they are ever pushed through Congress, could be invaluable. But, having taken such a public stance on this issue, can Wikipedians ever be seen as objective about it in future?

All pretence of impartiality was abandoned, the SOPA page itself is a testament to that. And over the past year, more and more people have been coming forward to tell how they communities were manipulated and lied to at the behest of Google and other mega-corporations. John lilburne (talk) 09:42, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Rather than the anecdotal "And yet so many seemed to think that...", why not ask the sociologist who in the thread above said that he "researched Wikipedia and SOPA vote [him]self, and [has] a paper on that topic under review"? Why guess when the actual figures are available for the asking?
As a general comment (not specifically addressed to the comment above), if someone wants to make an argument like "Wikipedia joined the blackout because [actual stated reason], and that wasn't a good enough reason to justify doing that", I would be fine with that. If someone wants to make an argument like "Wikipedia joined the blackout because [reason made up out of whole cloth by Lamar Smith], and that wasn't a good enough reason to justify doing that", I am going to have to cry foul. And if the argument is "Wikipedia joined the blackout because [reason given by X% of those who joined the discussion], and that wasn't a good enough reason to justify doing that", I would have to ask what X is, and whether it is being claimed that Wikipedia's actual stated reason for joining the blackout was not the community position. --Guy Macon (talk) 10:26, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Why? Well because the maths that sociologist's use tends to be suspect. As some have said they only finish the analysis when they've tortured the data enough that it gives them the answer they were expecting. Piotrus's paper may or may not do that, we won't know until we've tortured his data ourselves. As for the rest of your rant, there are buttons that can pressed in most communities, which will generate a knee-jerk reaction. On reddit, and here to some extent, it is the RIAA/MPAA is coming to get you. In other's it is Obama isn't an American, or the government blew up the Twin Towers, or they are giving polio vaccinations to our kids to make them sterile - kill the doctors and nurses. Go figure. In any case the SOPA page does not approach NPOV by a long way. John lilburne (talk) 11:15, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Re: "As for the rest of your rant", clearly you are not interested in having a civil discussion, preferring personal attacks and cheap debating tricks. Sorry, not interested. I am withdrawing from this conversation and unwatching this page. WP:IAD. --Guy Macon (talk) 11:37, 4 January 2013 (UTC)[reply]


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