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Dog days gone bad

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By Smallbones

In the dog days of summer, the media often take a break from more serious stories and settle for topics that you might feel comfortable reading about at poolside. Not this summer though. There are three big stories that appear in almost every edition of every newspaper: COVID-19, racial tension, and politics, particularly about the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Stories about Wikipedia's fine coverage of the pandemic continue to be published, and stories on how politics interact with Wikipedia are all too common. Stories about Wikipedia and Black Lives Matter are just a bit rarer. Stories on conflict-of-interest or paid editing on Wikipedia are also common, when they intersect with the topics of the pandemic, politics, or race.

Medical topics on Wikipedia

How volunteers created Wikipedia’s world-beating Covid-19 coverage in The Spinoff avoids being just another article praising Wikipedia's COVID-19 coverage by focusing on the effort in New Zealand. Mike Dickison, New Zealand's first Wikipedian at large, is interviewed and points out that COVID-19 pandemic in New Zealand has been viewed more than a million times. He states that Wikipedia's "got an immune system against falsehood, so it’s actually quite resilient to hoaxing and fake news and bad information."

Wikipedia, The Free Online Medical Encyclopedia Anyone Can Plagiarize: Time to Address Wiki-Plagiarism links to an academic paper by Michaël R. Laurent showing five cases of medical journals plagiarizing from Wikipedia. Unfortunately, Laurent's paper is paywalled.

UN recognises Malayali researcher's fight against COVID-19 misinformation in The New Indian Express.

Politics and race on Wikipedia

There's a War Going on Over Kamala Harris's Wikipedia Page with Unflattering Elements Vanishing according to The Intercept. Harris is widely considered a front-runner to be chosen as Joe Biden's Vice Presidential running mate. They noted that Bnguyen1114 had edited the article on the potential Democratic vice-presidential nominee hundreds of times, with The Intercept suggesting that the edits would make her a more palatable candidate for progressive Democrats. We note that Bnguyen1114 says that he was doxxed on Twitter.

Bnguyen1114 later declared at WP:COIN that he has volunteered for several Democratic candidates' campaigns and many other details of his motivations in editing. "I mean seriously, I'm an open book, people." He was then topic banned from the article. There is little or no evidence that he is a paid editor.

Other coverage included the San Francisco Chronicle's online site SFGate and Fox News [1].

CNN on Wikipedia on Fox

Last week CNN reported on an RfC about Fox News's reliability as a source. CNN reported the three closers' RfC summary as "Use of Fox News in these two areas [science and politics], however, will be carefully scrutinized; it can still be used, but likely only when there are additional sources to corroborate or if it is clearly marked as opinion or biased. In other words, prior to this discussion an editor would need to make an argument why not to use a Fox News source, but now the expectation that any disputes will require the person wanting Fox to be the primary source/reference will have to make the argument for inclusion."

Arabella by Arabella?

Wikipedia's article on Arabella Advisors was being influenced by MaryGaulke, a paid editor, according to Lachlan Markay in the Daily Beast. Arabella, an organization funding liberal causes, had hired Gaulke. She targeted "excerpts on the page sourced to conservative news organizations and a leading good-government watchdog group." Gaulke has identified herself on her user page and on the Arabella Advisors talk page as being a paid editor but did not edit the article itself, consistent with Wikipedia's rules. On the talk page she requested the removal of parts of the article which were sourced from the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan watchdog group, the Washington Free Beacon, a very conservative newspaper, and the Daily Signal, the media arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation. Markay's story was picked up by the Washington Free Beacon. Markay previously worked for the Washington Free Beacon and the Heritage Foundation.

NYPD editing revisited

Gizmodo, following evidence provided by a Twitter bot @NYPDedits, states with few or no reservations, that IP accounts from the New York City Police Department have whitewashed Wikipedia's article on the department. The editing changed the large second paragraph of the article from text like:

"The NYPD has an extensive history of police brutality, misconduct, and corruption, as well as discrimination on the basis of race, religion and sexuality. Critics, including from within the NYPD, have accused the NYPD of rampantly manipulating crime statistics (“juking the stats”)."
"The NYPD has an extensive history of reducing crime in the most diverse city in the country. The Operation impact program, which placed new police officers in high crime areas to combat the growing street violence using the broken windows theory was reformed in January of 2014."

The Daily Dot reported on the same story the next day with almost the same level of certainty. The Signpost has rarely, if ever, seen a more obvious case of conflict of interest editing.

Capital New York published a similar story on the NYPD five years ago as Edits to Wikipedia pages on Bell, Garner, Diallo traced to 1 Police Plaza. The NYPD edits to the articles on Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo were more serious than even the current NYPD edits, according to Gizmodo, but that "the intent to erase wrongdoing on the part of cops is identical."

Is paid editing an ethics violation or a conflict of interest?

A report in the Charleston City Paper says that Sheriff Al Cannon of Charleston County, South Carolina hired an employee of the sheriff's office to write his biography on Wikipedia for $500, according to a July 7 report filed by Cannon's election campaign with the South Carolina Ethics Commission. Cannon's campaign paid the money to the office's social media coordinator according to his immediate superior, in an "off-duty capacity, not paid by county funds." Since the writer was off-duty, it appears that neither he nor Cannon violated South Carolina ethics laws. The author did declare a conflict-of-interest on his user page, and then on July 11 a declaration of paid editing. Cannon's election opponent, Kristin Graziano was forced to leave her job as sheriff's deputy by Cannon after he found out that she intended to run against him. Cannon wrote that the situation would create an "inherent and irreconcilable conflict of interest."

"Boris Johnson criticises Oxford decision to remove Rhodes statue" as reported in The Guardian. The governing body of Oxford University's Oriel College has voted to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said "If we go around trying to bowdlerise or edit our history in this way, it’s like some politician sneakily trying to change his Wikipedia entry." The Signpost requests that if the Prime Minister has any information on a politician trying to change "his Wikipedia entry", that Johnson should report this to us.

"Wikipedia war over Henry Dundas slavery role", in The Times (paywall). It's probably just an honest difference of opinion, but few edit wars on Wikipedia make it into The Times. In any case, the statue of Henry Dundas atop his column in Edinburgh looks a bit more shaky these days. Two Wikipedians prolonged the battle in the Times' comments section, focusing on the role of "squatters" (article ownership).

An IRA funeral

"Bobby Storey funeral: Wikipedia a battleground over IRA man’s memory as over 70 edits made". The funeral of Bobby Storey, IRA freedom fighter (as some insist) or terrorist (as others insist) prompted an edit war.

Wikipedia case studies

TechDirt presents a series of case studies on content moderation on different websites. This month two case studies about Wikipedia were added. Content Moderation Case Study: Can An Open Encyclopedia Handle Disinformation? (2005) about the Wikipedia Seigenthaler biography incident covers the case when John Seigenthaler, a respected journalist, was falsely accused of being involved in political assassinations in a Wikipedia article. TechDirt lists four decision options that Wikipedia could have made, as well as four questions on the implications of possible policy changes. Finally the controversy is described as partially solving itself by attracting many editors to the article. The ability of new editors to create articles was curbed and a new policy on biographies of living persons was created.

The second content moderation case study this month Dealing With Misinformation In Search (2004) is about googlebombing in which links to Wikipedia turn out to be a small part of the solution.

A case published in 2019 The Wikimedia Foundation Asks The European Court Of Human Rights To Rule Against Turkey's Two-Year Block Of All Wikipedia Versions was written at the time the WMF took Turkey to court. The resolution - that the WMF won the case and all Turks were allowed access to Wikipedia sites - must have surprised the case writer, who viewed the court case as a symbolic or superficial response, bound to fail as a practical matter.

Google and our "managers"

"Google Search Upgrades Make it Harder for Websites to Win Traffic". Google's search results now include more paid ads and more links to other Google sites, with more than half of the searches sending readers to another Google site. Their parent, Alphabet Inc., had 2019 revenues of $162 billion and 2019 net income of $34 billion. This situation is making it harder or more expensive for advertisers, SEO firms, and other business websites to attract traffic. It may also be getting harder for Wikipedia. "Wikipedia managers", likely meaning WMF staffers, are worried that Wikipedia has not always been properly credited as the source of Google's knowledge panel: "We regularly consider the impact of third-party use of Wikipedia’s information, especially as the public increasingly consumes content outside our sites .... we’ve worked with Google over the years to improve the way they credit content from Wikipedia in the knowledge panel so that the public clearly knows when they’re reading information from Wikipedia," according to an anonymous "manager" quoted by Bloomberg News (via AdAge [2]).

In brief

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Discuss this story

"Summer"? In half of the planet, it's winter. Please remember that we are a global community. Andy Mabbett (Pigsonthewing); Talk to Andy; Andy's edits 18:46, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]

Ok, but it's a very easy mistake to make when it's so hot outside. BTW while half of the earth's surface is in the Southern hemisphere, less than one-third of the land surface is there and 10-12% of the population, more than half of which is in Indonesia and Brazil. And, just guessing, that half or more of the 10-12% of the population is in the equatorial zone, were the different between summer and winter might not be a big deal. So for the 5-6% of our readers who may have been offended by my use of the word "summer", I apologize. I'll try not to do it again.
BTW, @Pigsonthewing:, you've given me an idea. Maybe next year in August we can have a special issue put together by people from the southern hemisphere. Is anybody up for it? It would certainly help those of us locked down for the pandemic, who would enjoy having some time off during the dog days. Smallbones(smalltalk) 21:52, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Same issue for the community around Animal Crossing: New Horizons after a diving update was rolled worldwide, including players in the southern hemisphere who have their island covered in snow. -Gouleg (TalkContribs) 13:28, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]

"freedom fighter" vs "terrorist" - I fail to see why this has to be mutually exclusive, regardless POV. Over the history quite a few freedom fighters and revolutionaries resorted to terror. Staszek Lem (talk) 21:48, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]

I think we probably agree on this, though I was likely being a bit too sly. It's something of a reference to an old saying "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." It's more or less my view and it was funny seeing this in action on Wikipedia. "Terrorist" though is quite an extreme thing which I really disagree with, even more than I disagree with war in general. Terrorism is an attack on people's minds, not just their bodies. The idea as I understand it is to make people so afraid that they will follow your rule. Smallbones(smalltalk) 23:13, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]

The statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College has not been removed yet. As our comprehensive article on the List of monuments and memorials removed during the George Floyd protests makes clear, the college's governing body has voted to remove it, but they've convened a commission to take the final decision, and it does not report until January 2021. As the Rhodes Building is a Grade II* listed building, they'll need to apply for permission to remove it. More here and here. Theramin (talk) 01:29, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]

Good catch! I stand corrected. Smallbones(smalltalk) 20:50, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks - but might I then prevail upon you to correct the mistake in this article, to say that college authorities have voted to remove it, rather than it having been removed already? Theramin (talk) 00:18, 6 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
No? OK, well, this is still part of the wiki, so I guess I should fix it myself. Theramin (talk) 00:57, 10 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]

That 89 GB snapshot includes my Monster Truck Madness GA, my Neo Geo CD FP, and my List of Puella Magi Madoka Magica episodes FL! -iaspostb□x+ 17:26, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]

The medical encyclopedia anyone can plagiarize ... has me steamed. See User:SandyGeorgia/AlainFymat for three Featured articles used almost entirely by Alain L. Fymat for predatory journal publication without attribution. I have sent letters, but we will see if I have any recourse. SandyGeorgia (Talk) 00:26, 5 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]

On Google's Knowledge Graph, it is interesting to note that that the sometimes Google may misinterpret articles from here. When the 2020 Singaporean general election was in full swing with the voting conducted on 10 July, a local online media publication shared a screenshot of a first-time candidate being named as a Member of Parliament in the Knowledge Graph even before the voting was closed. Google probably had misinterpreted a line in the lead before the article was revised: "In October 2016, Singaporean Member of Parliament Low Yen Ling announced in a speech to women rights organisations that Gan is "one notable example who smashed the 'brass ceiling' to become the first female general in the SAF"." I did some copyediting, shifting the line into the body as it was more suited there. The Knowledge Panel was then updated to show Gan as either as a "Politician" or a general as I continued to tweak the article. My immediate concern was that people misconstrue Wikipedia being the one feeding the wrong information to the Knowledge Graph, whereas what probably had happened was Google's algorithms screwing up. This also reinforces the need for the Lead section to be as concise as possible. – robertsky (talk) 03:37, 6 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]


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