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UK political editing; hoaxes; net neutrality

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By Andreas Kolbe

UK political editing

British Conservative Party co-chairman Grant Shapps: accused by The Guardian and a Wikipedia administrator to have made improper edits to Wikipedia—a charge he strenuously denies. Now the administrator's actions have come under the media's and the arbitration committee's spotlight as well.

Wikipedia appears to have been drawn into the drama of the upcoming (May 7), hotly contested UK general election.

On April 21, The Guardian, a centrist, liberal newspaper, reported that British Conservative Party co-chairman Grant Shapps had been "accused of editing Wikipedia pages of Tory rivals", using Wikipedia account Contribsx:

The story was soon picked up by the Daily Mail, and many others. The following day (April 22) the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg was reported in The Guardian to have made political capital of Shapps' embarrassment:

Hours later though, conservative The Daily Telegraph shot back, alleging that the administrator who had accused the Tory co-chairman of deceptive Wikipedia editing and blocked the account—Wikimedia UK employee and former Wikipedia arbitrator Chase me ladies, I'm the Cavalry, Richard Symonds—is a committed Liberal Democrat activist, as indeed are several of his Wikimedia UK colleagues. (Symonds denied the personal accusation in a subsequent Guardian interview.)

On Wikipedia itself, Risker had requested an arbitration case by that time. Within less than a day, this request reached ten accepts and one recuse, making an arbitration case inevitable. The arbitration case request was the subject of a report in the International Business Times on April 22. The case has now been opened. It will be held entirely in camera, with email evidence submissions accepted until 7 May (the date of the UK election).

Dan Murphy of The Christian Science Monitor, commenting on the story from the other side of the Atlantic, looked at the bigger picture (April 22), focusing on Wikipedia's susceptibility to spin from all sides in an article titled "Did leading UK politician edit his Wikipedia page? Possibly, but the problem goes deeper."

Shapps has forcefully denied the claims that he or someone authorised by him was behind the account's edits, telling the BBC on April 22 that the allegations were "categorically false and defamatory. It is the most bonkers story I've seen in this election campaign so far."

Shapps's past (acknowledged) Wikipedia editing had previously attracted The Guardian's attention in 2012 (see previous Signpost coverage). Media interest in the story shows no sign of abating, with the Daily Mail and The Times publishing articles in the small hours of April 23: "Wikipedia official who accused Shapps is a Lib Dem: Online administrator once described himself as 'Liberal Democrat to the last'", "Lib Dem behind Wikipedia meddling claims". City A.M. then reported that the "Lib Dems deny involvement in Grant Shapps Wikipedia case" and The Conversation followed a few hours later with a piece by Dr. Taha Yasseri, who identified himself on Chase me's talk page as a former Wikipedia administrator and checkuser, writing that "Wikipedia sockpuppetry is a problem, but baseless accusations are no better". A.K.

Wikipedia hoaxes

The Washington Post and The Daily Telegraph both ran stories on Wikipedia hoaxes last week.

The Telegraph's Jamie Bartlett asked, "How much should we trust Wikipedia?" (April 16), noting that a hoax made up by a friend about the origin of the butterfly swimming stroke had recently come to be quoted in a reputable newspaper (the Guardian, as Ianmacm pointed out in the discussion on Jimmy Wales' talk page).

The Washington Post's Caitlin Dewey provided another in-depth write-up of the Jar'Edo Wens hoax (April 15, see previous Signpost coverage) along with coverage of a recent breaching experiment by Gregory Kohs of Wikipediocracy and MyWikiBiz.

Dewey thinks there is a numbers problem at the core of Wikipedia:

For more Signpost coverage on hoaxes see our Hoaxes series.

Wikimedia: violating net neutrality?

IBNLive wonders about "Wikipedia Zero: Is Wikimedia violating net neutrality in 59 countries?" (April 17).

This discussion comes in the context of a major Indian net neutrality campaign that has seen Mark Zuckerberg embattled in India, and which has led to widespread condemnation of zero-rated services such as Airtel Zero and Facebook's generally includes free Wikipedia access—although not under the official Wikipedia Zero umbrella.

Even so, Wikipedia Zero has had its share of mentions in the context of this debate. DNA India for example listed Wikipedia Zero among services flouting net neutrality in its piece "Net Neutrality: Whose internet is it anyway?" (April 19):

The Indian Express, too, criticised Wikipedia Zero when it commented that "Not just Airtel Zero: Facebook to WhatsApp, everyone has violated Net Neutrality in India" (April 14):

A YouTube video made by Indian stand-up comics collective All India Bakchod (AIB) has been a key factor in mobilising support for the Indian net neutrality campaign. The video is available here.
Cory Doctorow covered the wider net neutrality debate currently raging in India for BoingBoing, titling his piece " delivering poor Internet to poor people" (April 19), a riff on the even more provocative title of Mahesh Murthy's Scroll piece "Poor internet for poor people: why Facebook's amounts to economic racism" (April 18). Doctorow quoted Murthy at length in his own article:

India's savetheinternet campaign for net neutrality had by April 20 resulted in close to one million emails from Indian citizens to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

The campaign was galvanised by a YouTube video made by Indian stand-up comics collective AIB. The video, which encourages viewers to write to TRAI demanding strict adherence to the net neutrality principle, has to date received over 2.5 million views. A.K.

In brief

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UK political editing

Hello everyone. The Telegraph article - and the other articles based off it, including this one - are inaccurate, but as a volunteer I simply do not have the time or expertise to argue with the hundreds of editors about taking them down. Instead I have done an interview with the Guardian which answers the allegations and obfuscations that Mr Shapps has made. It can be read here: Wikipedia volunteer who blocked 'Grant Shapps' account: I stand by my decision. Chase me ladies, I'm the Cavalry (Message me) 23:09, 23 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Thanks for the comment, Chase Me. I added the link to the article, which was written before the Guardian interview came out. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 01:06, 24 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks, Ed. Andreas JN466 02:20, 24 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Can I ask you something, Chase me. There have been several reports of your deleting social media evidence of your LibDem ties since this story broke. I have observed one such case first-hand. Why are you doing that? Do you not realise that performing such deletions strengthens the impression that you are trying to hide something? Andreas JN466 02:20, 24 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
That's how the journalists got my home address and showed up at my door - through my social media accounts. I realise that it strengthens the impression that I am trying to hide something, but I don't want anyone else showing up at my door. You know about my wife and how the stress would affect her. It is not something I want to do - all my friends are on Facebook and now I'm stuck to texting them - but I have to if I want to be able to live in my flat without journalists tailing people in through the secure outer door and then looking through my letterbox. Chase me ladies, I'm the Cavalry (Message me) 11:15, 24 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
I understand that, and you have my sympathies. Beyond that, my advice to you would be to not unduly downplay your LibDem affiliations, as in doing so, you only create another media story. Andreas JN466 12:51, 24 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • And another "for what it's worth": [1]. Wikipedia has thousands of whitewashers and blackwashers, including indeed many proven biography subjects editing their own biographies. I still don't understand what was so different about Contribsx that it required going from zero to an immediate indefinite block, placed a full sixteen days after the Contribsx account had last edited, if it wasn't to provide a spicy hook for a news story that, by all accounts, was already written before the block was placed. Andreas JN466 21:54, 28 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Net neutrality

  • "The foundation says that it sees free access to resources such as Wikipedia as a "social justice issue,"

....What? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Either elaborate upon your brazen declarations or stop using irrelevant pop. buzzwords because you want to seem like a hepcat. Just do your job, please. Thanks.

  • "it is absolutely in the interests of the public to use the Internet to provide free access to education, knowledge, medical information, or other public services."

Yes. I agree with all of this, save the medical information thing that shouldn't be mentioned here, as Wikipedia is supposed to NOT be advocating its medical advice as something that you should follow, for obvious reasons.

Aside from that, though, what you say is true here. The Web has made it thankfully a lot easier for people to get the information they need, and that's a very good thing.

But still, these statements make me think that someone with some rabble-rousing agenda has snuck into the Wikimedia Foundation. That's no good, and could cause a lot of problems in the future.

Alternatively, someone just used a bad choice of words. I hope that that's all it is. Tharthandorf Aquanashi (talk) 23:53, 23 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Doesn't the second quotation explain the first? Gamaliel (talk) 23:55, 23 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
The second quotation touches upon things that are related to putting useful and commonly sought after information into the public domain and/or the like in some manner or another. This is comparable, for instance, to what Project Gutenberg does with many books. It has naught to do with social justice, hence why I called out the first quotation on its hogwash. Tharthandorf Aquanashi (talk) 00:05, 24 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
"The foundation says that it sees free access to resources such as Wikipedia as a "social justice issue," i.e. the WMF is a social justice warrior; net neutrality is about ethics in internet journalism. hey ideologues, the WMF is a pragmatist: feel the burn. Duckduckstop (talk) 19:08, 24 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Tharthandorf Aquanashi would you say that Freeman Dyson is full of hogwash? i.e. "Technology and Social Justice: 1998 Nizer Lecture". Carnegie Council. November 25, 1997.. Duckduckstop (talk) 22:51, 28 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
No, but what he was talking about is slightly different than what the Wikimedia foundation was talking about. I don't really disagree with what he was saying there. Tharthandorf Aquanashi (talk) 10:41, 29 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Wikipedia hoaxes

The quote from Caitlin Dewey is excellent, and I still think that one of the obvious opportunities for alleviating the problem continues to be ignored: there should be a worldwide distributed group of university-affiliated people who someone pays to edit Wikipedia in constructive, open, traceable/checkable ways. These would be the people who would bring Wikipedia's coverage of, say, "Ecuadorian customs, Indian legends and Japanese history" up to speed. These are the people who would notice that a "Wiki-troll ... meddled with articles about Islamic history" long before he finally "messed with a video game page". They would voluntarily include their real names and university affiliations on their user page (that is, they would consent as a condition of employment, like any terms of service where "by continuing you consent"), and their entire contribution history would be publicly viewable and critiqueable (a feature Wikipedia already has for every user), so there would be no mysterious/unnoticed/untracked/under-the-radar paid editing involved. As for who they would be: They would mostly be underpaid adjunct professors who happen to be competent in the topics at hand (such as "Ecuadorian customs, Indian legends and Japanese history"), but possibly also university students studying those topics, if they meet some requirements of aptitude and good faith. Both of those populations include many people who would love to build Wikipedia coverage if they could make a paying job out of it. As for who would fund their payroll: rich philanthropists could set up endowments for this, and also, anyone could donate garden-variety donations to it (crowndfunding), if anyone ever got serious about building it. Now, the main reason this idea never gets anywhere is because it begins with the phrase "people who someone pays to edit Wikipedia". Bam, radioactive poison, already killed, never get a fair hearing. But this idea is so obvious and so NOT paid advocacy that it's painful that no one takes it seriously or discusses it. — ¾-10 15:54, 25 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]

You have a point. The quotation about "the Wiki-troll Jagged85, who meddled with articles about Islamic history for years; it was only when he messed with a video game page that he finally got kicked off" emphasizes a key weakness in Wikipedia. But because the Foundation is so tightly wedded to the idea that Wikipedia is volunteer-driven & that anyone can edit it, I am pessimistic that your solution -- or any other solution -- will be adopted. -- llywrch (talk) 19:42, 26 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
I share your doubt that it will happen. The idea would not change either "volunteer-driven" or "anyone can edit". Both of those things would still be true. The university project would only augment those, not replace them. But your point is taken—there's a bias against such ideas, because the brightline version of "no paid editing" is ideologically opposed.
  One reason that's frustrating is that the university project is not some crazy BS without precedent. Crowdsourcing and it could coexist, with crowdsourcing as the main basis. Say 98/2 ratio. Nupedia and Citizendium failed because they tried to rely too hard on the university-project-like idea. They left out the crowdsourcing aspect (say, a 0:100 ratio) and thus failed. Wikipedia succeeded because its basis is crowdsourcing. But does that mean that Wikipedia must remain 100:0 and never be 98:2?
  By the way, I realize that although this comment started out as a reply to User:Llywrch, it became an argument to anyone listening, which amounts to a brick wall. Duly noted, but again, "That's the very point about why it's frustrating." — ¾-10 00:02, 27 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • Wow! As a Brazilian pt-N, en-4 editor, I think the buzz about the "Big South" gap in Wikipedia, every day more present in our discussions (see Wikimania applications), has less to do with paid editing or the volunteer-driven and all-inclusive aspect of our project and more with the language barrier. If we think Wikipedia as a multi-lingual global project, every single issue should be more or less covered by those non-native users proficient in English (specially those most wanted). The point is that there are a whole lot of dedicated users who could have spotted Jagged85 earlier if that barrier were easier to take on. Speaking about Portuguese speaking users, I can see a serious trend among us in watching pages on enwiki related to various issues related to our "world". This should be encouraged and promoted, perhaps even with a project. In areas were the native English-speaking base of users is lacking, the non-native proficient users, with the help of the locals, should be encouraged to contrbute here, as well and as easily as in their local wikis. The other side of this coin for them is that those same locals here can help us to improve our own projects (specially in technical issues: filters, local hacks etc.). This kind of of inter-language collaboration is very rare (but alive, as Medical translations projects seems to prove) and can be a way to go. José Luiz talk 23:37, 29 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]
I wonder if ever-improving machine translation will help with that. If machine translation were perfect, any user anywhere could read and edit any Wikipedia (regardless of foreign language) just as easily as a native speaker. Working backward from that thought experiment of the ideal case, Google Translate (including the "Do you want to translate this page?" feature of the browser) has already gotten us to a point that is impressively far along the path, albeit not perfect. Looking forward to a point when Star Trek's universal translator is not really all that different from our reality. Sometimes feels like we are almost there. Machine interpreting on your smartphone is already available today at Google Play and the App Store. It's primitive now, but 10 years from now it might be awesome. — ¾-10 01:54, 30 April 2015 (UTC)[reply]


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