Back in 2012, a Zakaria article on gun control was found to have portions closely resembling a New Yorker article by Jill Lepore. Zakaria was briefly suspended and an examination of his work was conducted by Time, CNN, and the Post, none of which publicly identified any further instances of plagiarism. On August 18, 2014, the Twitter duo listed on their blog 12 instances of what they alleged to be plagiarism in Zakaria's work for those three employers from 2011 to 2012, all of which predated the gun control article and thus would have been included in the 2012 review of his work. The examples range from close paraphrasing to word for word matches of sources including the New York Times, The Nation, Forbes, Vanity Fair, Businessweek, a report from the Center for American Progress, and Wikipedia. In a 2011 Time article called "The Debt Deal’s Failure", Zakaria wrote about US President Ronald Reagan:
Spending under Reagan averaged 22.4% of GDP, well above the 1971 – 2009 average of 20.6% ... The national debt tripled, from $712 billion in 1980 to $2 trillion in 1988.
Spending during Reagan's two terms (FY 1981–88) averaged 22.4% GDP, well above the 20.6% GDP average from 1971 to 2009...the public debt rose from $712 billion in 1980 to $2,052 billion in 1988, a roughly three-fold increase.
Two anonymous bloggers today have alleged that there are 11 cases in my writing where I have cited a statistic that also appeared somewhere else. These are all facts, not someone else's writing or opinions or expressions. For example, in one column, I note that the national debt tripled under Ronald Reagan. The bloggers point out that this is also in Wikipedia's Reagan entry. But it is also in hundreds of other articles, studies, and reports – just Google the phrase. Until today, I had never read the Wikipedia entry for Ronald Reagan. As it happens, it is incorrect. (There is a difference between "public debt" – Wikipedia's words – and national debt.)
Zakaria writes that many of these examples are statistics he learned of from sources other than those from which he is alleged to have plagiarized. The 12th instance is a quote from Richard Holbrook that Zakaria writes he drew directly from Holbrook himself.
Politicoreported that CNN, Time, and the Washington Post expressed satisfaction with the previous 2012 review of Zakaria's work, though a Time spokesperson said "We will be reviewing these new allegations carefully." Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt defended Zakaria in statements to numerous news outlets, including Talking Points Memo, which quoted him as saying "I honestly think it is reckless even to suggest this is plagiarism." Byers noted that "The accusations against Zakaria ... don't seem to be gaining nearly as much steam as those that brought down BuzzFeed editor Benny Johnson."
On August 20, Our Bad Media responded to Zakaria and Hiatt. The anonymous duo wrote "Just because another journalist’s phrases happen to include statistics does not mean they are free game for cribbing without attribution." Highlighting the alleged plagiarism from Wikipedia, they wrote:
Whoever wrote the Wikipedia article had the idea to take the spending under Reagan and compare it to spending from 1971 to 2009, and next, take the public debt in 1980 and compare it to the public debt in 1988. In that order. Zakaria's article presents the exact same idea in a very similar presentation. That's subtle, but nevertheless textbook, plagiarism.
While the Cato panel encouraged Congressional staffers to edit Wikipedia in a positive way, Wikipedia vandalism originating from the US House of Representatives made news again. User:22.214.171.124, an IP address assigned to the House, made headlines in July when a series of edits, mostly focused on conspiracy theories but also on more mundane topics like the Choco Taco, were noticed by the media after they were tweeted by the Twitter bot CongressEdits. The address was blocked for ten days for disruptive editing, leading to more headlines about the blocking (see previous Signpostcoverage).
Outraged editors called for a permanent block on the IP address, while the IP editor shot back "Blocked because I disagreed with the trans-lobby? These days, If I complain about a man using the womyn's restroom then I'm cosidered [sic] transphobic...This has been happening a lot lately here in the halls of Congerss [sic] ... People need to understand that transgenderism is being promoted by the Patriarchy to diminish the experiences of real womyn." The Hillreports that the Human Rights Campaign has asked House Speaker John Boehner to investigate and identify the user responsible for the Wikipedia edits.
People and their Wikipedia articles
During an August 29 interview with Yahoo! TV, American actress Kristen Connolly (House of Cards, Houdini) complained about a long-standing, inaccurate, unsourced claim in her Wikipedia article that she was a former professional tennis player. She said: "I'm not even a good tennis player, let alone a former professional one. And I don't know how to take it off, because it's very hard to change a Wikipedia entry ... they won't let you change your own." The claim was inserted into the article in June 2012 in the first and only edit of a new account and it appears to have remained in the article until shortly after the publication of the interview. An editor added a citation needed tag in December 2012, but the tag was removed by an IP editor in February 2013.
Pitchfork and other music websites reported on an August 17 Tumblr post by the Canadian musician Claire Elise Boucher, who performs under the stage name Grimes. Grimes complained about a quote in her Wikipedia article taken from a 2012 interview with CMJ. Describing the creation of her 2012 album Visions, she told the interviewer "I blacked out the windows and did tons of amphetamines and stayed up for three weeks and didn't eat anything." The quote appears to have been first added to the article in October 2013, and has been removed and re-added by different editors several times since then.
Grimes objected to the inclusion of her quote because she has lost people to drugs and alcohol, and fears the statement conveys a pro-drug message. She wrote: "Editing a website that people take seriously and reference all the time so that it looks like i think amphetamines are cool is incredibly irresponsible, people might read that and think its a cool thing to emulate. I hope you know you are doing the world a disservice."
On August 15, the Washington City Papersuggested that User:Evansjack1 is Washington DC councilman Jack Evans. The user of the account, which has only edited the Evans article and various talk pages, has referred to himself as Evans, including an edit summary which complained "I have been on the city council for 23 years. I am the longest serving Council member in dc history. I have been a leader in revitalizing our city and have great accomplishment [sic], none of which are mentioned. Just a lot of inaccurate accusations." The account also posted Evans' real phone number in a comment to another editor and requested that editor call Evans.
However, according to Washington City Paper, Evans' spokesperson refuses to confirm or deny that the account belongs to Evans himself. The account is less than a month old and has already been blocked twice for edit warring while attempting to remove sections of the article unfavorable to Evans, including material about a 2013 Office of Campaign Finance probe, political action committee spending, conflicts with a journalist, and his vote against a censure of former DC mayor Marion Barry. The account continued to edit the article and its talk page after the publication of the story.
Channel 4 Newsreports (August 13) on an edit war from July 2013 at the Wikipedia article for Lynton Crosby, an Australian political strategist who has been called a "master of the dark political arts", "the Australian Karl Rove", and "one of the most powerful and influential figures in the nation". IP addresses belonging to the Crosby Textor Group, a consultancy firm co-founded by Crosby, removed material involving Crosby's political tactics, a political controversy involving cigarette packaging, and a call from an MP to sack Crosby. The edit war was continued by a number of accounts that were permanently blocked following a sockpuppet investigation.
Well, to begin with, Wikipedia has done amazing things. It has become the de facto information source for most of us and it's changed the world dramatically for the better in that research that used to take anywhere from minutes to months and phone calls and trips to libraries or far-flung archives, all of that is now available in a second. The problem is that the Wikipedia model, as it was stated by its founders, is that they don't consider that expertise exists, effectively. Anybody can edit. And an expert has no greater standing on Wikipedia than a non-expert. So, the problem is for any given entry, an 11-year-old can go in and change it, and it could be about something really important, like aircraft design, or a particular medication. I know that formulas that some engineers use have been defaced and it took a couple of weeks for them to be fixed. Now Wikipedia says, "sooner or later, somebody will set it right," but that's not always true. The idea is the 11-year old, maybe not maliciously, but just because he or she has an imperfect understanding of something, they may change the article to reflect their non-expert understanding. Eventually, an expert might come along and fix it, but if the 11-year-old is relentless enough with the edit key, the 11-year-old is going to win the battle of attrition because the expert will just give up, the expert's got more important things to do. So, the problem with Wikipedia is that the information can be quite unreliable, and there's no way for the average user to know. You don't know by looking at it whether you're reading an entry from an expert or a non-expert.
Jimmy Wales responded to Levitin's comments on his user talk page "I will try to contact Prof. Levitin to correct his misunderstanding. It is simply not true that I believe that expertise does not exist. And it is obvious that in Wikipedia that the model he describes of the editing process is wrong."
Half-baked Alaska: The Independent (August 28) reports on the outcry, including Wikipedia vandalism, following a controversial incident on the August 27 episode UK reality show The Great British Bake-Off. A contestant who was eliminated from the show that evening alleged his baked Alaska was sabotaged by another contestant, who became the target of malicious edits by outraged viewers.
Ice bucket vandalism: The Wirenoted some vandalism to the article for the popular viral Ice Bucket Challenge, intended to promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The August 25 edit by User talk:Die Mannschaft5 delivered a critique of the effectiveness and appropriateness of using the Challenge to raise money for ALS while employing various forms of the word "fuck" twelve times. The Wire reported the vandalism remained in the article for fourteen minutes, but the edit history shows that it was immediately removed by User:ClueBot NG.
Did NIU ban Wikipedia?: A widely circulated August 20 Betabeatstory discusses a claim posted on the social media website Reddit that Northern Illinois University was banning access to a broad range of websites, including Wikipedia. According to the Reddit discussion, a student newly arrived at his or her dormitory was attempting to access the article Westboro Baptist Church when he or she was presented with a "Web Page Access Warning" citing the university's Acceptable Use Policy. That policy apparently prohibits access to many activities which a typical college student may engage in, including “political activities” and social media. The Huffington Postquoted a university spokesman as saying the claim was "ridiculous". The spokesman said the policy "only applies to employees. I think that's where the confusion is." The spokesman did not explain how a student in a dormitory might have received a warning intended for university employees.
Wikipedia geography: Oxford Internet Institute professor Mark Graham discussed his research into the geographic distribution of Wikipedia articles in The Conversation (August 18). Graham examined Wikipedia articles that have been "geotagged" with geographical coordinates. He found a striking geographic imbalance, with 84% of them being located in North America or Europe. He also found an imbalance in the languages used to write those articles, with more articles in English about a particular country than in the dominant language of that country, especially in the Middle East. Graham writes "Wikipedia might not just be reflecting the world, but also reproducing new, uneven, geographies of information."
WikiQueer: On August 18, The AdvocateprofiledLGBT activist Gregory Varnum (User:Varnent), founder of the LGBT encyclopedia WikiQueer (see previous Signpostcoverage). Like Wikipedia, WikiQueer is a wiki-based encyclopedia that is free to read and edit. Varnum founded WikiQueer in 2012 because he thought Wikipedia's coverage of LGBT history was inadequate. He felt "the need for a truly comprehensive wiki by and for the LGBT communities, free of any community politics."
Brand Bihar on Wikipedia: The Press Trust of Indiareported on August 16 that Nitish Kumar, former Chief Minister of the Indian state of Bihar, has used social media to launch a "Bihar on Wikipedia" campaign to encourage internet users, especially younger ones, to write about topics related to Bihar on Wikipedia. "We know much about Bihar's golden history, culture, great personalities, traditions and astonishing stories, but the world connected to the Internet doesn't. We are launching the 'Bihar on Wikipedia' campaign for them to strengthen Brand Bihar," Kumar wrote.