WMF executive director calls Trump's immigration ban "an affront" to the movement's vision
The Wikimedia Foundation's executive director Katherine Maher at WikiConference North America in 2016
On 30 January, Katherine Maher published a WMF blog in which she branded the new US administration's executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries (an action now partially stayed by several federal judges) as one that "threatens our freedoms of inquiry and exchange", and "infringes on the fundamental rights of our colleagues, our communities, and our families".
Maher's statement continues a trend for the Foundation to assume a more active role in advocacy. Unlike the coordinated service blackout by Wikimedia and other sites to protest against the copyright-related SOPA bill before the US Congress in 2012—a bill with substantial support from both major political parties—the blog concerns an action by a specific US administration. Maher's statement illustrates the difficulty of insulating the movement's visions from politics. As one Wikimedian put it on the Wikimedia-L mailing list: "writing an encyclopedia is a political act". Another person cast this in a broader perspective: "being in favour of sharing free knowledge is altogether a political statement, as freedom of sharing knowledge is not something which is accepted by all political regimes (please remember the globality of the movement".
The SOPA incident marked the WMF's hiring of a DC lobbying firm, Dow Lohnes, which advocated for the Foundation from then until the end of 2013, when it merged with law firm Cooley LLP 2014. The WMF retained Cooley to fight the lawsuitInternet Brands brought against two Wikimedia volunteers later in 2012. The Foundation hired a second lobbyist, Thompson Coburn, to monitor copyright legislation.
Maher's blog was variously supported and condemned on the Wikimedia mailing list. There were several complaints of a lack of community discussion beforehand. One contributor wrote that "needlessly and divisively injecting this kind of politics ... is neither healthy nor appropriate". Another replied to a comment that had supported the blog: "I imagine that your response would be different if Katherine's position didn't match your own. ... taking political positions beyond the mission is fraught with risk".
The ban has threatened the situations of many people working in the US technology sector, on the basis of their countries of origin; the Signpost understands that this may include several WMF employees or contractors. As well, the action may create difficulties for the Wikimedia community offline. According to one contributor: "There were speakers and delegates at Wikimania 2012, in Washington DC, who would not have been able to attend under the current ban. I therefore have no problem with the WMF speaking out against such a ban; indeed I applaud them for doing so." Other Wikimedians were supportive: "Having a truly 'neutral point of view' when it comes to anything regarding Donald Trump is not really possible. I support and applaud Katherine Maher's statement on the WMF blog." In a post entitled Politics, Christophe Henner, the chair of the WMF Board, weighed in with a strongly worded statement, ending with this proposition:
... as a movement, we have the potential to have a huge impact on the world. That is not neutral, that is a force of change and change always is political".
Just before publication, Michelle Paulson, the WMF's interim general counsel, posted a follow-up announcement to the list, including clarifications of the WMF's views on taking policy positions. Among Paulson's comments was this:
Today, the Wikimedia Foundation joined with more than 90 other organizations in filing an amicus brief in State of Washington v. Trump currently before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals of the United States. This case challenges the recent executive order issued in the United
States on January 27, 2017, which establishes immigration and travel restrictions based on country of origin. Other signatories to the brief include Facebook, Levi Strauss & Co., Microsoft, Mozilla, and Paypal.
Latest grants to WMF restricted to specific projects
The Wikimedia Foundation announced two grants in January 2017:
US$3 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, announced January 9; and $500,000 from two charities affiliated with Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, announced January 26. The Sloan grant will fund improving the data structure of Wikimedia Commons, and has been discussed here; the Newmark grants will fund tools to assist in the prevention of harassment and "toxic behavior" on Wikipedia, and have been discussed here. The substance of each grant was greeted by Wikimedia community members with enthusiasm, though commentators also expressed skepticism on several points.
In response to a request from the Signpost, Lisa Seitz-Gruwell, the WMF's chief advancement officer, confirmed that the Sloan grant is the second-largest restricted grant in the organization's history, behind only the Stanton Foundation's $3.6 million grant to fund the VisualEditor software.
As a side note, this answers an open question about the VisualEditor grant. Community members had asked upon the grant's 2011 announcement whether or not it was restricted, but to our knowledge, no official answer was ever supplied. The WMF has a longstanding policy of publishing restricted grants' documents when possible, and a 2010 Stanton grant's plan was published; Seitz-Gruwell confirmed, however, that no grant documents from the 2011 VisualEditor grant have been published.
Shortly after the initial announcement of the Sloan grant, the WMF published three detailed documents from the grant application. The Signpost is not yet aware of any public documents from the Newmark grants; if any are published, we will link them in the comments or in a future update. (Update: See the comments below for two relevantlinks.) PF, Feb. 6, 2017
As the WMF continues to pursue funding restricted to specific programs and projects, it will likely continue to face questions around the philosophy driving its approach, the plans establishing the context for the restricted funds, and the level of influence exerted by funders or WMF staff pursuing funding. PF
Pete Forsyth was an author of the 2010 Stanton grant plan linked in this article.
Austrian chapter in license enforcement imbroglio. Questions are being asked (Google Translation) about the sending of letters to Austrian re-users of CC BY-SA 3.0-licensed photographs who fail to attribute the photographer. Under local law, such re-users can find themselves subject to legal action to recover a fee. The Signpost understands that such letters—warning of impending legal action or financial liability—have been sent to multiple non-compliant re-users. In addition to individual letters, some actions appear to be supported by legal advice from the chapter to enforce the license, and an offer by the chapter to cover the legal expenses of photographers where re-users repeatedly refuse to attribute them, and in egregious cases. In some cases, the photographs were taken using the chapter's equipment. An apparently related RFC (Google Translation) has been launched on the German Wikipedia. There have been questions about the involvement of Mr Kulac, a practising lawyer and the chair of the Austrian chapter. We understand that the chapter board is meeting around the time of publication to discuss the matter.
Collapse of the German Wikipedia ArbCom: follow-up. In December, the Signpostcovered the mass resignations of arbitrators from the German Wikipedia's ArbCom ("SG"), upon the revelation that one of the arbitrators, MAGISTER, has affiliations with the far-right political party Alternative for Germany (AfD). Since our report, two RfCs seeking consensus for by-elections or fresh elections have failed. There has been pressure in the community to have arb-related administrator rights removed from the three remaining arbitrators who have these rights, including MAGISTER. Now there is further controversy surrounding MAGISTER. The timeline of events(Google Translation) appears to be this: During a closed ArbCom Skype audio meeting, MAGISTER told his colleagues in a heated exchange that he would take notes. There were subsequently accusations on both sides. MAGISTER threatened to now-resigned arbitrator AnnaS.aus_l. that he would publish full notes of the call on YouTube in an "artistic" way. Anna claimed that MAGISTER intended to publish full audio recordings of the meeting on YouTube. MAGISTER claimed that he took only shorthand notes, and wanted to publish them on YouTube. He accused Anna of being "hysterical" (hysterisch). MAGISTER has been blocked for one week for calling her hysterical, but as yet there have been no sanctions for the threat to publish private notes.
The Affiliations Committee has begun taking steps toward revoking Wikimedia affiliation for groups that do not meet reporting requirements.
Europeana announced a challenge, oriented at Wikimedia's affiliated organizations, to use the organization's resources to improve Wikimedia content relating to World War I. Edit-a-thons on World War I have been held on severaloccasions in the past, as well.