The Signpost

Kazakhstan, the world's largest landlocked country, straddles Europe and China.
Kazakhstan is a vast country, the world's ninth-largest by area, blessed with enormous mineral resources.
The Kazakh government is based in Astana, Kazakhstan's futuristic, purpose-built capital. The large yurt-like structure in the far distance was designed by renowned British architects Foster and Partners.
Organisations like Human Rights Watch sharply condemn the Kazakh government for its human rights abuses. You would not have thought so from reading Wikipedia.
The 2015 Freedom House world map. Kazakhstan is shown slate-coloured, i.e. "not free". The freest countries in the region are Mongolia, landlocked between China and Russia and marked in green, just to the east of Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, marked in orange to the south-east of Kazakhstan.
The search engine manipulation effect (SEME): recent research shows that Google visibility has a significant impact on public perception, opening the door to manipulation. Wikipedia, increasingly integrated into Google's Knowledge Graph and Bing's Satori equivalent, is a key factor in what search engine users see.
In 2013, Croatia's Minister of Science, Education and Sports, Željko Jovanović, warned his country's students not to rely on the Croatian Wikipedia, as it had been "usurped" by a far right fringe group that had filled large parts of it with falsified content.
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  • Andreas is right: we need more eyeballs scanning potential areas of trouble. The table of conflict-of-interest edit requests is a good starting place and desperately needs more monitors. I've been trying to reduce the backlog, which had 107 requests as of this post dating back to March 2015. When corporate editors try to comply with Wikipedia's COI editing guidelines, but get no feedback for weeks or months on end, it is little surprise that they grow impatient and make the changes themselves, which I have seen a number of times. Not that the PR editors' behavior is excusable, but the editors of this encyclopedia need to live up to their responsibilities as well. Altamel (talk) 18:59, 11 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Should't the simple fact that this page got written, with all of the effort put into its research, be enough to prompt at least ArbCom to say something? —烏Γ (kaw), 19:14, 11 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
    ArbCom is a committee nominally for the purpose of arbitrating disputes between Wikipedians that cannot be resolved by other means. It strays, and is pushed, outside this remit often, and in many ways, but this is not necessarily a good thing. ArbCom is do not represent the community, they represent themselves. All the best: Rich Farmbrough, 18:16, 12 October 2015 (UTC).Reply[reply]
    I know. But they're often held in much higher regard than that (often perceived as something analogous to a Wikipedia Supreme Court), and if not them, then what would be a better avenue? —⁠烏⁠Γ (kaw), 19:12, 12 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
    Speaking personally, very definitely not for the committee, it is my personal impressions that the way to get arb com to rule on it is to bring a case before it. To do so, it normally must be a matter that has been discussed by the community , but which remains unresolved. If the COI Noticeboard discussion should reach that point, then if a suitable case is brought, that's the point when the people on arb com can consider if we want to hear it. There is considerable strategy involved in deciding how and when to bring a case, and I would advise anyone who wishes to do this to read very carefully the appropriate help pages, examine closely a number of recent and relevant cases, and consult with those having experience at this. I will add my personal observation, not necessarily shared by my colleagues: it is rare that anyone brings a case to arb com and comes out the better for it. I would thus personally thing it a good idea to follow all other potential avenues first. DGG ( talk ) 22:02, 12 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Great article and let's think about what progress could be made to address the issue. The problem is around anonymous editing. Why can't editors on sensitive subjects like this identify themselves to the WMF in some way? The community is powerless, I think. Peter Damian (talk) 19:21, 11 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • This is an outstanding piece of investigative journalism, Andreas Kolbe, and I commend you for it. As there are no easy answers, I will offer no glib solutions. I will put the main articles in question on my watch list, and study the matter further. I hope Jimbo responds in detail. Cullen328 Let's discuss it 19:26, 11 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
    • Jimbo? What do you want to get from him? A silver bullet? Something like disabling article creation by anons? I see it nothing but a PR stunt in response to vandalism scandal. IMO it created more trouble than help for wikipedians, but completely avoided the issue in the center of the scandal. You are right avoiding glib solutions in this page. But there should be major taskforce assembled to handle the major problem. How many strikes did we have already? - üser:Altenmann >t 20:27, 11 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
      • Indeed, invoking Jimbo here is comically ironic, being that the author of this wonderful investigation, Andreas Kolbe, has been personally and expressly banned from ever again engaging on the Jimbo Talk page. And Jimbo's face is what brings in another $70 million for the Wikimedia Foundation every year. Do you really think crying to Jimbo, who is almost certainly culpable in this mess, is going to help matters? I wonder if Cullen even read the op-ed. - 2001:558:1400:10:A045:BC0D:2ABF:8106 (talk) 19:45, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
        • Of course I read every word of it. I fail to see how expressing a wish that Jimbo would respond in detail consitutes "crying to Jimbo" but I assume that it is somehow clear in your mind, anonymous IP contributor.Cullen328 Let's discuss it 20:48, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
          • Yes, it was clear in my mind. And I'm not anonymous. My User name is 2001:558:1400:10:A045:BC0D:2ABF:8106|2001:558:1400:10:A045:BC0D:2ABF:8106. Thanks, and happy editing! - 2001:558:1400:10:A045:BC0D:2ABF:8106 (talk) 20:56, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Anonymity is a problem for Wikipedia, but it is not absolute. I have books and articles citing Wikipedia, and giving my name as the author. Hawkeye7 (talk) 20:49, 11 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Andreas, thanks a lot for this investigation! I have started to watch a few Kazakhistan-related articles and do some cleanup in the Spanish-language Wikipedia. --Hispalois (talk) 21:17, 11 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • This is a great piece, I enjoyed reading ALL of it.—M@sssly 23:50, 11 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • This essay is bland politics backed by civic ineptitude. "[...] the article Elections in Kazakhstan held a great amount of technical detail [...]" That is a reckless thing to say, since the article is blatantly non-informative and generally useless. The technical detail doesn't even match the elections in New York article, which I consider to be the bare minimum technical detail required to have a minimal understanding of that electoral system. Reckless. "You might expect to find these assessments prominently reflected in the Wikipedia article [...]" No, I would expect such an article to be generally useless, given the state of the law of Kazakhstan article. (Are you really going to make me create that article? How pitiful.) Priorities, yo, get them straight. Oh, wow, more discussion of law, somehow without any discussion of actual law...
    The author is discussing complex issues seemingly without even a basic understanding of the underlying structures, either in the country in question, or seemingly without even a basic understanding of Western political systems. Common, but still. WP:SOFIXIT is obviously a non-starter, because it requires an basic awareness of what "it" is, and it seems the author doesn't. "But the thing is, if I as a single editor am all that stands between accurate coverage of just the basics of the human rights situation in a major country and said content devolving into a farce, then Wikipedia and the public have a structural problem that is far more urgent to address than a few dozen corrupted articles on Kazakhstan." No, as far as making these articles better, the author is a non-entity. We are making progress, but I think reckless lack of knowledge is a bigger issue for the US and EU, especially when their peoples (such as, in all likelyhood, the author) churn out such civically useless nonsense (like this article) yet have such a large voice (like this article). Priorities, yo. Cheers, Int21h (talk) 01:46, 12 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
    • Disregarding the overall tone, I have to agree that Int21h hits the nail: the Kazakhstan mess is not the result of some evil conspiracy; it is just because en:wikipedians don't give a f8ck for kz: affairs. Heck, even the discussed essay proves this: it says these SPAs go quietly away without edit war when reverted. - üser:Altenmann >t 03:06, 12 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Kudos to Andreas for his journalism, but the whole thing is TL;DR. I'd rather see us doing more to combat paid spamming on en.Wiki, and Wales encouraging the WMF to spend more of its surplus millions in getting the Labs server properly maintained so that our tools will work..Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 09:35, 12 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
    • Yes, because it is far more important to suppress marketers trying to promote a better vacuum cleaner on Wikipedia, than it is to simply document when a government whitewashes its practice of torturing political prisoners. Tell me, is this the sort of paid spamming on you are talking about? Because that's an example of some fine editing that the Wikimedia Foundation itself paid $6,000 to support. - 2001:558:1400:10:A045:BC0D:2ABF:8106 (talk) 19:53, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • This makes some fair points, but many go too far. Is it really so reasonable to ask a small project to turn down a huge ready-made start to many of its encyclopedia entries, just because that information source carries bias? Can we really expect Wikipedia editors to decide that a Johns Hopkins academic study is unreliable, based on some argument they may not have heard about regarding its funding? And the blanket dismissal of the red-linked accounts as part of a PR campaign runs counter to usual AGF principles - I see a lot more accusation than evidence there. I could just as easily start going on about seeing the same crew of regulars turning up to congratulate each other here - people who may demand that we line up behind Human Rights Watch on this issue, but don't seem to have any trouble calling for Wikimedia Commons to be shut down to prevent it from keeping "porn". On the plus side, this editorial is better than some of its forum-based predecessors in that it doesn't try to blame Jimbo for the entire foreign policy of the UK government.
Now by my criticism I don't mean to suggest that there is no bias at all. We can't keep nationalist pressure off the article about Copernicus, let alone something more recent or relevant. If this article is a whitewash, consider what people have tried to do to keep critics away from their favorite American politicians.
The proposal of ending anonymity is a Wikipediocracy favorite. (Not just them of course - the head of Facebook loves it, as does Xi Jinping, the foremost leader in censorship who met with Zuckerberg to talk business two weeks ago but politely declined to name his baby) Authoritarian regimes, and authoritarian individuals, love the notion of tracking down some poster who uploaded the wrong picture or the wrong fact and ruining his life, and as Wikipediocracy regulars know very well, I'm not just talking about in Asia!
That said, the notion of patrolling and revising articles by readership is actually a sound idea. It is unfortunate that everyone wants to read articles like Thanksgiving but nobody wants to write them. I would like to see a "random article" feature weighted according to the last month's traffic statistics, so that people can click on it and read - or review - articles that other people are interested in. Wnt (talk) 16:22, 12 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • "Wikipedia has three times as many articles points posted to the scoreboard as it did in 2007, while the number of highly active editors game-players, the core community, has dropped by a third." FTFY. As you Andreas once said, "whatever Wikipedia as a community is doing, it is more of a vehicle for contributors' self-indulgence than it is a concerted endeavour to bring free knowledge to the world." As for me, I'd like to see Jimmy stripped of his founder flag, the WMF to release a press statement indicating Wales no longer represents the movement, an absolute ban on IP editing, and unrestricted preventative use of CU to ferret out socks. Chris Troutman (talk) 16:40, 12 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Chris troutman: The closest I can come to making sense out of that is that you think whatever articles editors are writing is "self-indulgence" ... unless they're writing the articles you want, in which case they're indulging you, which I take it isn't a problem. Wnt (talk) 17:37, 12 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Wnt: Yes, I guess. I like being indulged. I'm not sure what the source of your confusion is.
Wikipedia is a game we all play and incidents like this Kazakh foolishness proves that there are structural problems in Wikipedia that facilitate gameplay but not knowledge management. Andreas has been pointing this stuff out for years and I'm a big fan of his journalism. Why wasn't I, as an editor, watching Human rights in Kazakhstan? It's because I don't care. I contribute to articles like Gabe Zichermann because I got paid to or articles like National archives because there was a reward involved. Sometimes I'll do stuff like James Brown (Elvis impersonator) because it gives me joy. Is anyone here contributing content out of a misplaced belief in community service? Does some poor kid in Kenya need an article on fan death?
Wikipedia assumes the aggregate will somehow correct errors like Kazakh PR editing when it clearly doesn't. Why doesn't WMF try to find methods (like those mentioned above) to spot problems like this? WMF doesn't care. It gets gameplayers clicking and editing while fools send in money for coding that doesn't even work. Don't get me wrong, I get a lot of utility from Wikipedia as a reference work and I'm glad I could pitch in. However, the good of Wikipedia is only in what we the volunteers contribute. Anything the home office does or fails to do is tied to the gameplay. Obvious conflicts of interest ostensibly buying permission for POV-editing, while shameful, has become par for the course. Chris Troutman (talk) 18:08, 12 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Chris troutman: Herman Hesse expressed some of this sort of misgiving about writing metaphorically in The Glass Bead Game. Who is to know if writing a novel like that makes any beneficial impact on the world? And yet ... people decide it does. Even you admit that Wikipedia is sometimes a useful reference, so why shouldn't people support it? I think though you should surrender the illusion of omniscience - you have no more idea than I do whether the article on fan death is useful to a poor Kenyan. You guess no, but I'm thinking there must be some Kenyan kid who gets tired of the noise of a fan and could make good use of a source backing the notion to convince an otherwise inconsiderate neighbor to shut the thing off when he's asleep, so he can listen to the songs of his countryside instead. Beneath it all there's an element of faith - let people write about what they will, and somehow, the truth will out. Whatever truth is, wherever it is needed, we don't have to know, and we have some evidence that should help us believe. Wnt (talk) 18:35, 12 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • This piece of investigative journalism is clearly beyond what can be expected of an educated volunteer working in their spare time, and we're lucky to have it. Given that subject-area knowledge is important here, it would make sense to consider partnering with some organizations that specialize in human rights and in assembling information about dictatorships and closed societies, to ensure that unofficial, non-government perspectives also appear in articles. There's quite a bit more to be said, as these problems were extensively studied during Cold War days, but it would require more research than can be fit in this brief response. --Djembayz (talk) 02:28, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Actually, now that research has turned up the problems in Kazakhstan with people spreading false information on cell phones and causing a bank run, the Kazakh encyclopedia might be a good partner for figuring out the mechanics of basic quality control. Even though you'd need to avoid the political topics that their government finds sensitive, there could be some useful lessons learned on developing a systematic way of prioritizing and queuing articles for review, and setting up an editorial board structure. If you viewed it as an experiment in "how do we unlock articles systematically for improvement and structure editorial boards," it could certainly improve Kazakh Wikipedia. --Djembayz (talk) 03:43, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Search engines are part of the problem - If Google/Bing/etc. treated each article as if it were a stand-alone web site, the "page ranks" of most pages would plummet. True, articles about countries and hot-news topics might still rank high, but your run-of-the-mill paid-COI-editor-created company/band/bio/whatever page wouldn't break the top 10 on most search engines, so the motivation for most search-engine-optimizers to abuse Wikipedia would dry up. davidwr/(talk)/(contribs) 04:19, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Perhaps it's time to add a "Wiki-Blame" view to Wikipedia pages, where viewers can highlight a word or phrase and see when that word or phrase was first added to the page and by whom. This way news organizations could properly attribute quotations to a particular editor rather than to "Wikipedia". davidwr/(talk)/(contribs) 04:19, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • I've proposed Wikidata properties at Wikidata authority control property proposals for the three human rights organizations mentioned in this op-ed. Articles with authority control templates could get human rights reports linked automatically. Runner1928 (talk) 16:23, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Spotted a typo here: "This is all there is above the fold." Yours truly, - Mister 2001:558:1400:10:A045:BC0D:2ABF:8106 (talk) 19:07, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

  • Given anon editing, it is an arms race, and we need more tools to WP:SOFIXIT, e.g.
    • Automated SPA account flagging (including IPs)
    • IP checking for WP:COI
    • Automated tagging to alert readers, e.g.
      • Primary sources
    • Differentiate content based on trust e.g. automated (based on mix of SPA vs non-SPA), or tweak project ratings so they're visible
    • We can't embrace this systemic bias, but we can stop incentivizing paid/COI per WP:BOGOF (shameless plug). Widefox; talk 22:25, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Just a quick comment, but given the length of this piece, I would have run it as a multi-part series instead of one article in one issue of The Signpost. I commend the effort that went into creating it, but I think you'd have had a greater engagement with the audience if the length weren't so, well, long to digest in one go. Imzadi 1979  22:40, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Agree that the "Jimmy Wales has been BOUGHT and is secretly editing in pro-Kazakh propaganda" angle totally falls flat to me. The amount of power that Wikimedia wields over specific Wikipedia content is minimal at best. This is just a vanilla "not very many disinterested editors" problem. And removing anonymity would make this problem worse, not better, as it'd lead to fewer editors overall.
Also, for whatever it's worth, I'm not a huge fan of poo-pooing the alleged mountain of Soviet-esque "positive" news. To be sure, if it's truly irrelevant crap, that's bad. But to the extent that there's "ethical whitewashing", adding in a lot of (hopefully accurate) details of other issues is an effective way to minimize negative content - or to put things on more of a high road, put that content in proper context. People/institutions/corporations/governments aren't defined by their worst moments, after all. I disagree with Wikipedia:Anonymous dirt accretion method of biography writing - this has actually proved a weirdly effective method of article writing - but there's a germ of truth here; it's okay to talk about the negative as long as it is in proportion to everything else, so that an article on, say, Cuba isn't just a list of political prisoners & the like. This is just the same effect in reverse: include the long parade of boring positive stuff first, and add in the spicy negative material later. SnowFire (talk) 22:59, 13 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Dear Colleagues. Maybe it does not belong to the subject, but I would like to inform you that the Azerbaijani section of Wikipedia, the Kazakh section is like. If you can, please take part in the [[:meta:Requests for comment/Sysop abuse on the Azerbaijani Wikipedia|discussion]. It is very miserable, in gross violation of the principles of Wikipedia, but nobody does not prevent it. --Idin Mammadof 8:58, 16 October 2015‎ (UTC)
  • @Jayen466: Outside some unnecessary anti-Jimbo slant/conspiracy theories about his involvement, this is a very good, excellent even, piece of investigative journalism. It highlights a major problem (PR-like editing for political reasons by non-transparent regimes - something I have been warning about since at least late 2000s...), and a new method of whitewashing criticism (through abusing WP:UNDUE and adding tons of mostly irrelevant commentary) that should probably be discussed at talk of WP:UNDUE to see if we can provide some solutions. We certainly need to look more closely on how to deal with that. I don't think that any attempt to eliminate or reduce anonymity will succeed (dead horse...). Drawing attention to WP:COIN backlog and trying to help there is much better. I also fully support implementing reader-visible information about article quality. One suggestion I'd have is to turn the Wikipedia:Metadata gadget on for all users by default. I'd also suggest adding the page watcher numbers and some other statistics (number of editors or such) to the article, near the title. I'd note that there is a good amount of academic research which suggests various formulas for assessing Wikipedia's article quality; but the community has never paid much attention to them. It may be worthwhile to examine them (by a WMF-grant sponsored taskforce) and consider which one we should implement (and how). --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 10:45, 18 October 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]


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