Google hides Wikipedia link, WMF publishes first transparency report, and the copyright battle over the monkey selfie
The Observerreported (August 2) that Google would "restrict search terms to a link to a Wikipedia article, in the first request under Europe's controversial new 'right to be forgotten' legislation to affect the 110m-page encyclopaedia." This was followed by a profile of Jimmy Wales the day after, detailing his opposition to the legislation. The BBC, The Daily Telegraph and others followed with their own reports on the Wikipedia link Google have removed.
The Wikimedia Foundation receives notifications from Google on the pages in question, and decided to make these public as part of its transparency reporting. The pages affected included:
The New York Times and The Washington Post were among the first to comment (August 6) on the Wikimedia Foundation's first transparency report, which details requests for user data, content alteration and takedown that the Foundation has received. Further reports appeared in The Guardian, with strong quotes from Jimmy Wales, Geoff Brigham and Lila Tretikov describing the legislation as Orwellian and tyrannical, and in The Daily Telegraph, which focused on the Wikimedia Foundation's refusal – referenced in the transparency report – to delete a monkey's "selfie" from Wikimedia Commons. The image was prominently displayed at Wikimania, and a number of Wikipedians, including Jimmy Wales, took selfies of themselves next to the picture. The Foundation argues that the photographer who set up the equipment cannot claim copyright, as a monkey operated the camera.
Wildlife photographer David Slater put his side of the story on Technology.ie and ITN. He asserts that the Foundation's legal reasoning is based on tabloid reports from 2011 that took liberties with the facts of how the images came about, which he described in 2011 on his website. He toldAmateur Photographer that he set up the shot, mounting the camera on a tripod:
Slater says that, at one stage, a monkey did steal the camera and run away with it, but he claims the picture in question was taken after he had set it up on his tripod. Whether or not he set up the shoot could be key to any ensuing legal battle, says photography rights lawyer Charles Swan. Swan told Amateur Photographer (AP): "European copyright law requires a photograph to be the author's 'own intellectual creation'. In simple terms, the author has to leave his "mark" on the image. If a photographer sets up a shot, selecting the background etc, with some mechanism (eg. infrared or shutter release) for an animal to trigger the photograph, that is more likely to be considered an original artistic work with the photographer as the author. If he has set up the picture and the monkey has just clicked the shutter, then that could be his copyright, if the resulting picture is what he set up. Who releases the shutter is neither here nor there in that scenario. It's all down to whether it's your picture, or a random picture taken by a monkey – which means there's no copyright at all.'
The tripod set-up was also referenced in a 2011 article in The Guardian, the first quality newspaper to run the story at the time.
Amateur Photographer further reported on August 11 that Slater has struck a deal with "Picanova, a German printing company that plans to give away a canvas print of the monkey, worth £27.40, to anyone visiting its website. Slater says a 'significant percentage' of what he receives from Picanova will go towards the animal's conservation. Picanova has pledged to donate £1 to a Sulawesi black macaques conservation project for every print ordered."
Slater says he has been in touch with a number of lawyers in both the UK and the US; it looks likely that the case will go to court. (Andreas Kolbe)
"Rule by a thousand Gradgrinds"
The Guardian published a number of articles timed to coincide with Wikimania, in addition to the two mentioned above. One (August 6) was a profile of Lila Tretikov, which noted some of her early troubles in her role as Executive Director. This was followed by an unusually critical assessment of Wikipedia in an editorial titled "The Guardian view on Wikipedia: evolving truth" (August 7). Noting the drop in editors since 2007, the problem of "self-selecting cliques", and that Wikipedia seemed to lavish more care on a list of pornographic actresses than on a list of women writers, The Guardian opined:
The deep problem for Wikipedia is that an encyclopedia must not just be accurate in its treatment of factual subjects. It must also have sound judgment about what matters. The apparently insatiable demands of the public for lists is a plea to know what is important in a world of trivia. That's a judgment that Wikipedia hoped to avoid, or to render "objective", but it can't in reality be evaded. Notability is a necessarily subjective quality, which doesn't make it arbitrary nor mean that it doesn't exist.
It matters that Wikipedia should get better. For one thing, it has killed off all the competition. People are no longer willing to pay a premium for the views of experts and rival encyclopedias have shrivelled off the web. Like it or not, Wikipedia is now the starting point and all too often the terminus, of almost any attempt to research online. The problem of ensuring that collaboration among volunteers will produce accurate information can be solved: online discussion works very well to produce answers to questions that have clearly right answers. Computer programming, for example, would be almost impossible without the resources supplied by Google and Stack Exchange. But much of the world's most valuable knowledge is not of that sort, and is lost when it is treated as if it were. The real danger of Wikipedia is not that it contains errors of fact, but that it reinforces a flawed understanding of knowledge. The dream of freedom became rule by a thousand Gradgrinds.
The following day, August 8, an article by Julia Powles in The Guardian said, "Jimmy Wales is wrong: we do have a personal right to be forgotten"; there was also a profile of Erik Möller and Wikipedia Zero, and Dan Gillmore, who spoke at Wikimania, invited people to "waste a day on Wikipedia. It's good for the future of humanity."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation stated its views on the issue on July 24, saying:
The zero rating of a Internet service is negotiated between the content provider and the network, and in most cases the terms of this negotiation are kept secret. An exception is the non-profit Wikipedia, which although certainly also a big Web property, does operate transparently in its negotiations with providers, and neither pays nor receives payment in exchange for its zero rating.
It goes without saying that users will be much more inclined to access a zero rated service than one for which they need to pay, and that this tilts the playing field in favor of the zero rated content owner. On its face, this isn't neutral at all. Yet some have argued that it is worth allowing poor consumers to access at least part of the Internet, even if they are shut out from accessing the rest of it because they can't afford to do so.
However, we worry about the downside risks of the zero rated services. Although it may seem like a humane strategy to offer users from developing countries crumbs from the Internet's table in the form of free access to walled-garden services, such service may thrive at the cost of stifling the development of low-cost, neutral Internet access in those countries for decades to come.
Zero-rating also risks skewing the Internet experience of millions (or billions) of first-time Internet users. [...] Sure, zero rated services may seem like an easy band-aid fix to lessen the digital divide. But do you know what most stakeholders agree is a better approach towards conquering the digital divide? Competition—which we can foster through rules that reduce the power of telecommunications monopolies and oligopolies to limit the content and applications that their subscribers can access and share. Where competition isn't enough, we can combine this with limited rules against clearly impermissible practices like website blocking.
This is the vision of net neutrality that EFF is working towards, both in the United States and around the world. We firmly believe that all the world's citizens deserve access to an open, neutral and secure Internet, in all its chaotic, offensive and wonderful glory. Whilst we appreciate the intent behind efforts such as Wikipedia Zero, ultimately zero rated services are a dangerous compromise.
This was followed by a Wikimedia Foundation
blog post by Erik Möller (August 1) outlining the operating principles of Wikipedia Zero—no exchange of payment, no selling of Wikipedia Zero as part of a bundle, no exclusive rights granted to any carrier, and openness to collaboration with other public-interest sites. Möller argued,
These principles are designed to balance the social impact of the program with Wikimedia's other values, including our commitment to net neutrality. We will continue working with the Wikimedia community and with net neutrality advocates to evolve the program's design, with the goal to make it possible to replicate these principles for other public interest projects in a manner fully consistent with net neutrality policy objectives.
We believe that as the world comes online, ensuring free access to important resources like Wikipedia is a social justice issue, as illustrated by the petition by South African students. We believe that free access to public interest resources can be provided in a manner that keeps the playing field level and avoids net neutrality issues. The Internet has tremendous potential to bring education and services to people for free. Beyond Wikipedia, this includes potentially life-saving access to health and emergency services or disaster relief.
In making the case for Zero, Moeller argued that the Wikimedia Foundation is committed to net neutrality—the notion that all online data should be treated equally—and that Zero doesn't violate this fundamental concept of the open internet. We respectfully disagree. We believe that Zero clearly violates net neutrality and is an attack on the future of the open internet.
Wikimedia is not alone in forging "zero-rating" deals with telcos. Facebook has also struck deals to offer low-data versions of its services in both developed and developing countries. But Wikimedia argues that unlike Facebook Zero, its service is non-commercial, and therefore deserves a special Wikipedia carve-out because no money is changing hands in exchange for prioritization over other services. No money, no net neutrality violation.
This reasoning fails to pass the smell test. The company's own recently updated terms of service recognize that payment and benefit need not be monetary. In fact, Wikimedia is using its well-known trademarks as currency in deals with telecom partners as it seeks to acquire more users via Wikipedia Zero.
Current users understand that the revolutionary nature of the internet rests in its breadth and diversity. The internet is more than Wikipedia, Facebook, or Google. But for many, zero-rated programs would limit online access to the "walled gardens" offered by the Web heavyweights. For millions of users, Facebook and Wikipedia would be synonymous with "internet." In the end, Wikipedia Zero would not lead to more users of the actual internet, but Wikipedia may see a nice pickup in traffic. [...]
Wikipedia Zero and similar services are playing into the hands of incumbent telecoms, who already have a stranglehold on markets around the world. Zero-rated offerings make these telcos' services more attractive, solidifying their already overly-dominant positions in most markets, and further advancing the idea that websites should have to pay extra to reach users, which once again runs afoul of net neutrality principles and further hurts the development of online content and services.
Wikimedia has always been a champion for open access to information, but it's crucial to call out zero-rating programs for what they are: Myopic deals that do great damage to the future of the open internet.
The debate is sure to continue. (Andreas Kolbe)
"I accidentally started a Wikipedia hoax"
E J Dickson from The Daily Dot reported (July 29) her amazement that a joke about children's book character Amelia Bedelia that she and her friend Evan had added to Wikipedia more than five years prior was still in the article—and that in the intervening years, it had come to be quoted as far away as Taiwan by an English professor, cited in "innumerable blog posts and book reports", and was now even spread by the current author of the children's book series, who had taken over writing duties when his aunt Peggy Parish, the originator of the series, had died.
It was total bullshit: We knew nothing about Amelia Bedelia or the author of the series, Peggy Parish, let alone that she'd been a maid in Cameroon or collected many hats. It was the kind of ridiculous, vaguely humorous prank stoned college students pull, without any expectation that anyone would ever take it seriously. "I feel like we sort of did it with the intention of seeing how fast it would take to get it taken down" by Wikipedia's legion of editors, Evan says.
But apparently, it hadn't been taken down at all. There it was, five and a half years later, being tweeted as fact by relatively well-known members of the New York City media establishment. [...]
Ultimately, what I learned from my inadvertent Wikipedia hoax was not that Wikipedia itself isn't reliable, but that so many people believe it is. My lie—because that's what it was, really—was repeated by dozens of sources, from bloggers to academics to journalists.
Even though the vandalism was over five years ago, a Wikipedia administrator blocked the IP address responsible for the edit after Dickson's article appeared. John E. McIntyre of the Baltimore Sunlamented that "a lie is halfway around the world before truth has got its boots on". (See also How many more hoaxes will Wikipedia find? and the related book review in the July 30 issue of the Signpost.) (Andreas Kolbe)
Famous and not so famous people struggling with their Wikipedia articles
The Bangalore Mirror and the New Indian Expressreportedon demands for a police investigation into vandalism to the Wikipedia article of renowned Indian actor and politician Ambareesh. Ambareesh starred in 208 films before turning to politics and currently serves as Minister of Housing for Karnataka. On June 16 and 17, an IP editor vandalized a number of articles related to Indian film, including slurs about Ambareesh alleging that he was an insane alcoholic whose "TV interviews offer comic relief to those who are fans of other actors." The vandalism to Ambareesh's article was not removed until July 5. The Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC) promised that "We will take up the issue with the cyber police." (Gamaliel)
Minnesota Public Radioreported on the discussion regarding the notability and proposed deletion of an article about Cam Winton, fourth place candidate in the 2013 Minneapolis mayoral election with 11 percent of the vote. MPR spoke with User: Antonymous, who added the proposed deletion template to the article on July 17, and Winton, who has edited the article as User:CamWinton. Winton's article was created in 2013 by User:Mnmln, who has edited no other articles and, according to Winton, was a friend of his who created the article to promote Winton's campaign. Last year, the article was submitted to Did You Know by a different user and appeared on the front page of Wikipedia on October 24, 2013, twelve days before the November 5 election. Following the publication of MPR's story, the proposed deletion template was removed by another user on July 21. (Gamaliel)
Actor and teen heartthrob Ansel Elgort (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars) lamented on Twitter on July 12 "I would do anything to get my wikipedia page to not say i am a model. just because ive done photo shoots for acting like any other actor [...] doesnt make me a model. can one of you amazing people take that shit off there? I will be forever thankful"  The listing of Elgort's occupation as "model" was inserted into the article in February by an editor who also added a section titled "Modeling Work" which included information about these photo shoots. When Elgort tweeted, the article was already semi-protected following an edit war over who got to hold the occupation of Elgort's girlfriend, so the talk page was inundated with edit requests to the point that one editor joked "The next IP that makes an edit request should have a needle stuck in his or her eye". Protection expired and over the next two days, established editors argued whether or not the sources supported calling Elgort a model while they clashed with IP editors and new accounts over the issue, some trying to assist Elgort and others to prolong the edit war by inserting "model" as occupation again. The edit war seems to have died down following further protection and a growing consensus by established editors that the occupation of "model" seemed inappropriate. Cosmopolitan reported on Elgort's dilemma and he tweeted a link to their article with the comment "Hey guys!! No one ever buy @Cosmopolitan again! [...] and you you follow them unfollow them! They write stupid articles like this..." (Gamaliel)
Andrew Jacobs, the New York Times correspondent for China, wrote in the Times on August 2nd about a sentence in his Wikipedia article claiming that "Since 2008, Jacobs has written over 400 articles, the vast majority of which portray China in a negative light," which was first inserted into the article in November 2013 and has been repeatedly been removed and restored. Jacobs connects the sentence to a general sentiment in China against Western media and "hostile foreign forces". The account inserting that sentence was indefinitely blocked for violating the Biographies of living persons policy on May 25. Following the publication of Jacobs' piece in the Times, Jacobs' biography was submitted to Articles for deletion; it was ruled a "keep" on August 10. (Gamaliel)
Could Wikipedia help crowdsource politics?: Motherboard looked (August 14) at a concept discussed in a Wikimania presentation by Carl Miller, about "how to make Wikipedia matter in the weightiest decisions society makes". The article was skeptical, highlighting Wikipedia's numerous biases. Dariusz Jemielniak's talk at Wikimania, in which he expressed his belief that "an expert could not win a debate on a top-level Wikipedia page", was also referenced. (Andreas Kolbe)
Poor coverage of Middle-Eastern culture: The National (Abu Dhabi) commented (August 13) that Wikipedia's coverage of Middle-Eastern culture was often poor, and encouraged people in the Middle East to pick up their "virtual pen". (Andreas Kolbe)
Superprotect: Heise and Golem reported (August 12) on the current clash between the German Wikipedia community and the Wikimedia Foundation over the Media Viewer, which has seen Wikimedia Foundation Deputy Director Erik Möller blocked for a month in the German Wikipedia for ignoring community consensus. A follow-up article by Heise on August 16 noted that the situation had escalated further, with hundreds of German Wikipedia users participating in a community survey now endorsing a demand that the Wikimedian Foundation immediately remove superprotection from any pages in the German-language Wikipedia. See this week's News and notes for more detailed coverage. (Andreas Kolbe)
Civil servants editing football: The Independentwondered (August 12) why civil servants are editing Wikipedia pages on Scottish footballers. (Andreas Kolbe)
More reliable than the BBC?: The Telegraph (August 12) and the International Business Times (August 11) were among publications to discuss a recent survey which showed that the public trusted Wikipedia authors more than it did BBC journalists. (Andreas Kolbe)
Medical content: Medical Xpress reported (August 11) that "Cancer Research UK urges medical community to help make Wikipedia more accurate". CRUK currently have a Wikipedian in Residence, who is working with CRUK medical experts to check and improve the accuracy of Wikipedia's articles on cancer. (Andreas Kolbe)
Seife interview: Salon discussed (August 9) Wikipedia and the internet with journalism professor Charles Seife, author of the book Virtual Unreality recently reviewed in the Signpost. (Andreas Kolbe)
Wikipedia protest hits wrong note: PC Pro Technical Editor Darien Graham-Smithcriticised (August 8) Wikipedia's decision to draw special attention to articles delisted from Google. He said, "I don't see a philanthropic charity pursuing a worthy endeavour. I see a global, privately owned organisation arrogating for itself an absolute right to collect and publish personal information, without regard to context or consequence. And I find that very concerning indeed." Bustle also commented, highlighting arguments on both sides of the debate. (Andreas Kolbe)
Gaza conflict: Euronewshighlighted (August 7) language-dependent biases in Wikipedia's reporting on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, based on a comparison of the Hebrew and Arabic Wikipedia articles. (Andreas Kolbe)
My Wikipedia biography said I was not man enough to impregnate my wife: A BBC Newsnight interview with Jimmy Wales on the right to be forgotten took an unexpected turn when the interviewer, James O'Brien, revealed that his own Wikipedia biography had said for some time that he had not been "man enough to impregnate his wife by natural means" (August 6). The vandalism lasted for several weeks, and was reinserted several times without being promptly reverted. (Andreas Kolbe)
Help! I'm a Wiki-geek: Nimrod Kamer wrote in the London Evening Standard (August 6) about his addiction to "tinkering with the truth online—even on his own page". (Andreas Kolbe)
Wiki wars: In the run-up to Wikimania, the BBC (August 5) looked at Wikipedia's often fractious working environment, the community's unbalanced demographics and the resulting imbalances in Wikipedia's coverage, as well as some of the measures taken to improve matters. (Andreas Kolbe)
Men's rights on Wikipedia: Caitlin Dewey in The Washington Postlooked (August 4) at the involvement of men's right activists on Wikipedia, and Wikipedia-based activism in general. (Andreas Kolbe)
Alexander City, Alabama article vandalised: As reported by the Alexander City Outlook (August 1), Alexander City (population around 15,000) was "punked" on Wikipedia. The vandalism, attributing the founding of the town to Elvis Presley and mentioning an alien spaceship as well as crystal meth production and human sacrifices, lasted for more than four days, during which the article received around 400 views. (Andreas Kolbe)
Armenian government ministers write Wikipedia articles to set an example: As reported by the BBC (July 31, 2014), The Guardian, Betabeat and Motherboard, Armenians have been asked on Armenian television to contribute to the Armenian Wikipedia. "One Armenian, one article—I will definitely do that and believe you will too," Education Minister Armen Ashotyan told his compatriots. Seyran Ohanyan, the country's Defence Minister, said he had "contributed an article about the country's military". (Andreas Kolbe)
Late Night comedy: The US talk show Late Night with Seth Meyers on 30 July mentioned Wikipedia: "Wikipedia is now accepting donations using the online currency Bitcoin, so now you can support information you're not sure is true, with currency you're not sure is money. Finally." (The ed17)
Google testing Wikipedia-based timeline for Knowledge Graph: Android Police reported on July 27 that Google is testing a new feature for its search pages that will allow Google users to query an interactive Wikipedia-based timeline. This would complement the Knowledge Graph panel, another Wikipedia-based feature that commentators believe has been responsible for a recent decline in Wikipedia page views. Judging by the video supplied by Android Police, the interactive timeline, if implemented, will allow users to navigate high-level Wikipedia content without ever leaving google.com. Also covered by Business Insider. (Andreas Kolbe)
Doctor who?: The Sydney Morning Heraldreported (July 27) on a campaign to boost the online profile of Australia's female scientists. (Andreas Kolbe)
Salisbury beautified: The Rowan Free Presscomplained (July 26) that the article on Salisbury, North Carolina is " so deceptively wonderful and free of any possible negativity". A number of new accounts and IP editors have removed information about a recent change in City Manager from the article. One of those editors identified himself as a city government employee on the article talk page and wrote that he was asked to remove any reference to the former City Manager. (Gamaliel)
Stephen McNeil biography: The Chronicle Heraldnoted (July 25) edit-warring in the biography of Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil. (Andreas Kolbe)
BuzzFeed fires plagiarist who copied from Wikipedia and other sources: Following allegations of plagiarism raised on Twitter and then picked up by Gawker (July 24), New York Magazine and Politico reported that BuzzFeed have fired Viral Politics Editor Benny Johnson. Johnson was found to have "periodically lifted text from a variety of sources" including Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers and U.S. News & World Report. BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith apologized to BuzzFeed readers, saying, "Plagiarism, much less copying unchecked facts from Wikipedia or other sources, is an act of disrespect to the reader. We are deeply embarrassed and sorry to have misled you." Johnson too apologized on Twitter. The Guardian, The Washington Post and Mashable were among other publications who reported on the story. The Washington Post subsequently published an inventory of 41 articles containing plagiarized content and its respective sources; Wikipedia was more often involved than any other source. (Andreas Kolbe)
New York Times reporter accused of plagiarising Wikipedia: Next it was a New York Times reporter's turn to be accused of lifting a paragraph out of Wikipedia: Mediabistro (July 28) compared the lead of a recent New York Timesarticle to the Wikipedia article for Piero di Cosimo, finding them a close match. Politico, The Washington Times, The Poynter Institute and others reported that the New York Times was "looking into" the matter. On July 30, the Timesannounced that it had added an editors' note acknowledging the plagiarism to the article. (Andreas Kolbe)
Netanyahu biography replaced with Palestinian flag: Several media outlets reported that Wikipedia's article on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was replaced with the image of a Palestinian flag on July 22 in the wake of Israel's recent offensive in the Gaza Strip. Timereported on claims in social media that the vandalism remained for nearly an hour, but the page history indicates that it was reverted immediately by ClueBot NG. The New York Daily Newsreported that the same editor also edited the article on the Israel Defence Forces to read "the bunch of people randomly and unrepentantly murdering innocent Palestinian civilians". (Gamaliel)