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Monkey selfie, net neutrality, and hoaxes

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By Andreas Kolbe and Gamaliel
The notorious Milanese mobster Renato Vallanzasca, whose article on the Italian Wikipedia was removed from Google's search results

The Observer reported (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 removal of a Google search result link does not affect the existence of an item on Wikipedia, and searches made on, Google's US site, remain unaffected.

An AfD for the Gerry Hutch biography was closed as Keep per the Snowball clause.

Who owns the copyright to this selfie?

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.

The story went on to attract attention in many other publications, with some legal experts questioning and others endorsing the Foundation's reasoning; a Commons deletion discussion was closed as Keep.

Wildlife photographer David Slater put his side of the story on 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 told Amateur Photographer that he set up the shot, mounting the camera on a tripod:

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:

There were three further Guardian pieces the same day. One asked, "Whose truth is Wikipedia guarding? This vast tree of knowledge is nurtured predominantly by young white western males with a slight personality defect". The second was a profile of Wikimedia UK chief John Davies, who pointed out that the "UK produces 20% of all articles" in Wikipedia, while the third noted that "Wikipedia edits made by government sought to minimise high-profile killings".

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."

This was followed by John Naughton's article "Wikipedia isn't perfect, but as a model it's as good as it gets" (August 10) and a piece on "Histropedia" (August 11), a "tool to visualise history unveiled at Wikimania." (Andreas Kolbe)

Wikipedia Zero—violating net neutrality?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and have raised questions over whether Wikipedia Zero, the Wikimedia Foundation program to provide free access to Wikipedia to Internet users in the developing world, violates net neutrality.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation stated its views on the issue on July 24, saying:

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,'s Raegan MacDonald strongly disagreed with Möller's reasoning:

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.

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 Sun lamented 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)

John Seigenthaler dies aged 86

John Seigenthaler in 2005

On July 11, John Seigenthaler died at the age of 86. Obituaries in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Tennessean, The New Yorker, and many other media outlets describe him as a crusading newspaper editor and "one of the towering figures in modern American journalism." Seigenthaler's eventful life included spending 42 years at the Nashville newspaper The Tennessean, working for US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and getting beaten with the Freedom Riders in Mississippi, being founding editorial director of USA Today and founder of the First Amendment Center, writing books on US President James K. Polk and the Watergate scandal, and even saving a would-be bridge jumper from suicide as a young reporter. Seigenthaler is a significant figure in the history of Wikipedia due to the 2005 Wikipedia Seigenthaler biography incident (see previous Signpost coverage on the event and its aftermath). Following the creation of a fallacious Wikipedia biography by an IP editor which falsely accused him of being a suspect in the assassinations of both U.S. President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy, Seigenthaler brought media attention to bear on the issue of what Seigenthaler called "Internet character assassination". In the wake of the controversy, Wikipedia enacted numerous significant changes, including the wide-ranging biographies of living persons policy and preventing IP editors from creating new articles. The Nashville Scene presents a conversation with Seigenthaler regarding his experience with Wikipedia. (Gamaliel)

Famous and not so famous people struggling with their Wikipedia articles

The Bangalore Mirror and the New Indian Express reported on 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)

Cam Winton campaigning in 2013

Minnesota Public Radio reported 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)

Ansel Elgort

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" [1] 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)

In brief

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John E. McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun lamented that "a lie is halfway around the world before truth has got its boots on".
Mark Twain: "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." Robert C. Byrd, Sen. (24 June 2008). Letter to a New President: Commonsense Lessons for Our Next Leader. St. Martin's Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-4299-2876-2.; Mark Twain (23 May 2012). The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain: A Book of Quotations. Courier Dover Publications. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-486-11132-2.
— Maile (talk) 23:27, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • When the issue of the monkey pic came up, I asked one of the lawyers of my company (we're based in New York). He laughed at the question, and said he's been using that picture for three years in his class on copyright where--in answer to the question "Who owns the copyright under U.S. law?"--the majority of students provide the incorrect answer. The correct answer is that it's clear from the U.S. Constitution that only a human entity can make a copyright claim, thus the pic is public domain. -- kosboot (talk) 12:27, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • Well, I am glad that somebody has acknowledged, neutrally, my block of the IP responsible for the Amelia Bedelia hoax. Bearian (talk) 15:10, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • The section on famous/not famous people struggling with their pages reminds me on internet personality JonTron, who lamented his page getting deleted and disrupted the AfD for it by tweeting the page. He even called out a Wikipedia administrator for deleting the page beforehand. GamerPro64 21:57, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]


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