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WMF inks new rules on government-ordered takedowns, blasts Russian feds' censor demands, spends big bucks

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By Andreas Kolbe, EpicPupper, Mhawk10 and JPxG

Permit government takedown requests on terrorist and violent extremist content

On June 8, a new page was added to the Wikimedia Foundation's official wiki, bearing the weighty title: "Terrorist and violent extremist content procedures and guidelines". The document, first posted by WMF Tech Law Lead Counsel Charles Roslof, laid out procedures through which the Wikimedia Foundation would accept and respond to a "request for Terrorist Content notice of action" via a "Terrorist Content Sub-Group" of the WMF Trust & Safety team: requests are to be followed by an internal review by the WMF legal team to ensure that they were in fact legally required. However, this review process is not guaranteed to be public, and it is unclear whether even the fact of requests having been accepted will be a matter of public record – the policy says that "the Foundation may be limited by applicable law in disclosing the information about these requests".

Initially, the policy specified that requests would be accepted from "relevant law enforcement authorities in the United States of America (USA), European Union (EU), or a member nation of the EU". However, a subsequent revision on June 10 updated the policy and changed some wording, omitting the specific reference to jurisdiction (as of press time, the policy now refers only to "relevant law enforcement authorities"). It also added a passage clarifying removals that the WMF objected to ("Please note that the Foundation may also be in the course of appealing the Legal Order, but prohibited from reinstating the content in question unless and until it has succeeded in its appeal").

This page's only incoming link is from the site's list of policies, and as of press time it has not been mentioned on the WMF's official news page or Twitter account, making it difficult to tell whether this is a simple formalization of existing practice or a new mechanism entirely.

The policy is fairly short, and does not reference active content removal measures being taken on the WMF's part, instead relating only to the WMF's response to reports from government agencies. It remains to be seen what the ultimate implications of such a policy are. The definition of "terrorism" is notoriously inconsistent – our own perpetual topics of furor on international politics can provide good examples of this – and it is unclear precisely what the interplay will be between this policy and takedown requests from jurisdictions such as, for example, the Russian Roskomnadzor. — J

Wikimedia Foundation appeals ruling by Russian court

The Wikimedia Foundation is appealing a ₽5,000,000 (67888.66 USD or 60441.37 Euros) fine issued by a Russian court relating to the decision not to remove information verboten in Russia from several Russian Wikipedia articles. The fine came after the court found that the Wikimedia Foundation operated within the Russian Federation and that the content in question (largely related to the Russo-Ukrainian War) was illegal under Russian law. The Signpost has previously reported that publishers in Russia must only use government-approved facts and terminology when covering military operations.

The appeal was made on June 6; the WMF put out a statement (Russian-language version) outlining their rationale for the appeal on June 13, saying that the decision to fine the Wikimedia Foundation was based on from erroneous claims that the Wikimedia Foundation operated within the territory of the Russian Federation, and that the fine itself violated rights to free expression and access to knowledge. The Wikimedia Foundation also objected to allegations of "disinformation", writing in the statement:

Russian-language Wikipedia is a crucial second draft of history, written by and for Russian speakers around the world who volunteer their time to make reliable, fact-checked information available to all. Blocking access to Wikipedia in Russia would deny more than 145 million people access to this vital information resource. Further, the articles flagged for removal uphold Wikipedia’s standards of neutrality, verifiability, and reliable secondary sources to ensure articles are based in fact. They are well-sourced, including citations to a variety of established news sources. The articles continue to be improved by Wikipedia volunteer editors from all over the world with more sources and up-to-date information.

Russia's telecommunications regulator, Roskomnadzor, previously sought to restrict access to certain articles on the Russian Wikipedia within the Russian Federation, taking umbrage to the characterization of Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine as an "invasion", "aggression", or "war". On March 31, the regulator threatened the WMF with a ₽4,000,000 fine for publishing what it called "unreliable socially significant materials, as well as other prohibited information".

A list of Wikipedia pages banned in Russia is available on the Russian Wikipedia. As of press time, the list of articles restricted by the Russian Federation has expanded beyond the Russian language articles, and now includes some articles from the English Wikipedia. — M

Where does the Wikimedia Foundation spend its money?

The WMF's 2020 Form 990, released last month, enables some interesting insight into where the Wikimedia Foundation has been spending its money, especially in light of claims by the Foundation that "a lot" of the money raised through donations is flowing into the Global South (see this issue's In the media section). Firstly, page 1 of the Form 990 shows that the WMF reported:

According to the Form 990, $92 million of the total expenditure – that is, all but $20 million of it – was spent in the United States. This includes $5.5 million that the Wikimedia Foundation did not actually spend, but added to its own endowment at the Tides Foundation.

As for expenditure in the rest of the world, the Form 990 divides this into expenses for "Program Services" (mainly technical and legal support for Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia websites) and "Grantmaking" (to grow global reach and increase contributor diversity). Of the $20 million spent on "Program Services" and "Grantmaking" outside the United States, most of it – around $15 million (9% of total WMF revenue) – went to Europe and North America outside the US (i.e. Canada and Mexico). This left a little over $5 million – or about 3% of total revenue – for the entire rest of the world. The two main regions in the rest of the world that saw funding for Program Services and Grantmaking in 2020 were Africa and East Asia/Pacific. The regional breakdown was as follows:

World regions (excl. North America and Europe) Spending (US$) % of revenue
Sub-Saharan Africa 2.0 million 1.3%
East Asia and the Pacific (Australia, Korea, Taiwan, etc.) 1.3 million 0.8%
South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, etc.) 0.6 million 0.4%
Middle East and North Africa 0.6 million 0.4%
South America 0.5 million 0.3%
Russia and neighbouring states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, etc.) 0.1 million 0.06%
Central America and the Caribbean 0.1 million 0.06%

Total spending in the Global South (understood to comprise the Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, South America, Central America and the Caribbean), therefore, amounted to just $3.8 million. That is 2.4% of total revenue – or 3.4% of global expenditure.

The Form 990 also gives a detailed breakdown for "Grantmaking" alone, without the expenses classed as "Program Services". According to this breakdown, grants given outside the United States totaled $3.5 million, of which $1.2 million went to Europe ($666,875 to organizations and $496,615 to 32 individuals). As for grants given to organizations (page 32–33 of the Form 990) and individuals (page 34) in the Global South, these were mainly focused on Sub-Saharan Africa and South America, with the amounts going to South Asia – home to almost 2 billion people – looking particularly small by comparison:

Global South regions Grants total (US$) % of revenue
Sub-Saharan Africa 1,368,343 0.9%
South America 418,934 0.3%
Middle East and North Africa 84,969 0.05
South Asia 78,537 0.05%
Central America and Caribbean 2,925 0.002%

Overall, the "Grantmaking" amounts reported in the Form 990 for the above regions of the Global South totaled $1,953,708, or 1.2% of WMF revenue in 2020 – a very minor part of the WMF budget, especially bearing in mind that the Foundation enjoyed an effective surplus of more than $50 million. It will be interesting to see how these figures will develop in the years to come. See also the Foundation's own 2020–2021 grantmaking report on Meta. – AK

Brief notes

Selena Deckelmann, the WMF's new Chief Product and Technology Officer
In this issue
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Discuss this story

It's interesting that the WMF is planning on making their pro-Western bias clear on what counts as a "terrorist entity"; given they're likely going to treat US/EU with deference compared to other countries. Aside from the nebulous definition of terrorism w/r/t entities such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [1] or Hamas [2] or the entirety of the United States Armed Forces [3], Western countries also love invoking "national security" or "terrorism" to justify censorship. Have we not forgotten the time when the French government didn't like our page on the Pierre-sur-Haute military radio station and coerced an admin into taking it down on the French Wikipedia? Perhaps soon the German government will issue a takedown of our page on the People's Defense Units because their flag is a banned symbol in Germany. The fact a country is in the EU or is the US does not guarantee said country will not abuse their powers we've granted them here. Wikipedia is well-known brand name and the negotiating power of the Wikimedia Foundation is strong. We have successfully stared down European governments before when they were acting unreasonably and we should do so again when necessary.
One also wonders how these new rules will be enforced against the sizable WikiCommunist contingent here on the English Wikipedia. Many formerly-Soviet EU countries consider communism to be violent extremism and ban communists from public life. All Marxist-Leninists agree that a violent revolution is needed to establish communism. It will be entertaining to see how these new rules are enforced in practice against this group; given how many of them have advanced permissions. Chess (talk) (please use {{reply to|Chess}} on reply) 23:59, 26 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]

One is left to wonder what methods will be used to sort through the conflicting censorship requests of various nations, many of which reciprocally consider each other's actions to be terrorism – will the Indian or Pakistani governments be given precedence in deleting sections from Kashmir conflict? I assume that some additional framework will be necessary, and that the people responsible will do their best, but it's hard to have faith in a process where transparency and community oversight are not present. Hopefully, some clarification can be obtained on the subject. jp×g 00:39, 27 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]
@JPxG you might be interested in reading this which goes into questions you've raised. Best, Barkeep49 (talk) 01:52, 27 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]
@Barkeep49: That's a good link, and I think the idea of having community liaisons is quite smart. Having seen what the WMF has done against various threats to our projects' freedom in the past, I am hopeful that this can be handled judiciously. It may indeed be the case that the WMF has little in the way of appetizing options on this kind of stuff, if the choice is between complying with demands and being imprisoned or shot. Hopefully, the world we live in does not go any further in that direction. jp×g 02:25, 27 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I'm just worried that governments will start holding editors hostage just to see their requests fulfilled. Firestar464 (talk) 03:08, 27 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]
@Firestar464: The French government already did over a decade ago to Remi Mathis, coercing him into deleting an article that they didn't like on the French Wikipedia. The extrajudicial censorship failed because the WMF stood up for the Wikimedia movement's values and a Swiss admin ended up reinstating the page; the French government having never even bothered to get a court order.
Of course, now the French government can just ask politely to delete whatever pages they don't like and we will have to comply. Chess (talk) (please use {{reply to|Chess}} on reply) 01:14, 29 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]
My guess is that it will be far from entertaining to see how these new rules are enforced. My guess is that the Wikimedia Foundation receives few, or even zero, requests for terrorist content takedowns over the next year and what ones it does receive will be uncontroversial in nature. Best, Barkeep49 (talk) 01:55, 27 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]
@Jimbo Wales Your thoughts? Firestar464 (talk) 03:27, 27 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]
We need more transparency. The fact that the takedowns and/or reasons may not be public is apalling. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 07:18, 27 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]

May we please have an inline conversion of "₽5,000,000" (Rubles?) to Euros and US Dollars? 2600:1700:D0A0:21B0:ACB3:C300:5CAA:BB93 (talk) 00:42, 29 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]

 Done Thanks for the suggestion! Chris Troutman (talk) 00:52, 29 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]

The headline is horrible Secretlondon (talk) 14:37, 29 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Hi, all! Thank you for your interest. A lot of the concerns expressed here are discussed on the Legal department's Meta-Wiki FAQ. Namely, these new procedures are aimed at establishing more clear processes in line with developing global trends on addressing terrorist content, including the EU’s TERREG.

These processes provide an outline for handling valid government requests to take down extremist content, not an expansion into the Foundation engaging in content moderation. Please take note of question 4 in the above-linked FAQ; "the Foundation's role is limited to reviewing and complying with valid legal removal orders from designated government authorities," and "if the Foundation is of the view that the removal order has been issued in error, it shall take necessary actions to challenge the orders before the relevant authority.”

The legal team would conduct a legal review for all the removal orders, factoring in the nature and context under which it is published. During the examination, if it is found that the request attempts to abuse the protocol for inappropriate censorship and/or the content falls under relevant exceptions (such as academic, informative and research purposes), they will take appropriate measures to challenge it. It's also pertinent to note that this process is for requests warranting immediate action, and unless required under the removal order, the annual transparency report will provide information about actions taken in response to terror content removal requests.

The Foundation’s legal team will be hosting community office hours to address any concerns about the protocol. I’ll follow up with the details regarding the sessions in the coming days.

I hope this helps clarify some of the concerns here. Thank you for your time, RAdimer-WMF (talk) 21:38, 29 June 2022 (UTC)[reply]

@RAdimer-WMF: Thank you for taking the time to speak here on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation. One quick thing: Meta:Wikimedia_Foundation_Legal_department/FAQ_On_Countering_Terrorist_and_Violent_Extremist_Content_on_Wikimedia_Projects#12 refers to material related to DMCA compliance (transparently logged here on Commons and here on Foundation), but does not provide links to where "here" is. Do you happen to have those links handy and, if not, would you be willing to ask the WMF Legal people to include the links in their FAQ? — Ⓜ️hawk10 (talk) 04:17, 2 July 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for bringing this up! I've asked what the intended links were, though doing some clicking around there is Category:DMCA on foundationwiki and this DMCA page on Commons. Hopefully we can get that FAQ updated soon! RAdimer-WMF (talk) 04:19, 3 July 2022 (UTC)[reply]
On a related topic, see also the Global Advocacy Conversation Hours on Disinformation: [4] Andreas JN466 11:53, 2 July 2022 (UTC)[reply]
For the office hours: see the Diff calendar. RAdimer-WMF (talk) 00:55, 8 July 2022 (UTC)[reply]


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