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In the media

Truth or consequences? A tough month for truth

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By Andreas Kolbe, Bri, Mhawk10 and Smallbones

Rauwerda named "Media Contributor of the Year"

Annie Rauwerda, the creator of the Depths of Wikipedia account.

Annie Rauwerda, who is best known for her Instagram account depths of Wikipedia, was named "Media Contributor of the Year" as part of the Wikipedians of the year awards at this year's Wikimania and by Diff. She has also been named five times in this column for her work and for the extensive news coverage of her work by National Public Radio, The New Yorker, The New York Times and many others – including this ABC News Nightline report today. We heartily concur with the award and send our congratulations. – S

Wikipedia biography allegedly used for fraud

The Buffalo News reports that the Wikipedia biography of Darin Pastor was allegedly used by Pastor and a partner, Halford W. Johnson, as part of a scheme to defraud nearly 100 investors.

Their audacious lies, according to prosecutors, stretched around the world, from a purported deal to buy livestock from companies in Kenya and Somalia to sell to companies in Oman, to fraudulent gold deals with companies in Hong Kong and Australia. A gas-to-liquid-fuel plant peddled to investors with annual $1 billion revenue projections was lifted entirely from a PowerPoint presentation an Arkansas business group pitched to them. Prosecutors said Pastor and Johnson's intentions were as false as the Wikipedia page Johnson created to entice investors ...

A report by the United States Department of Justice states,

Pastor and Johnson maintained an online Wikipedia page for Pastor that misrepresented his net worth, and[,] in soliciting investments in Capstone, encouraged potential investors to research Pastor online. Pastor actually had a negligible net worth and was millions of dollars in debt. While investors believed their money would be used to fund Capstone’s business deals, millions of dollars were used to pay for Pastor’s personal expenses and to fund a lavish lifestyle for himself and his wife ...

Darin Pastor's article, created in 2013 by a single-purpose account, User:KCDPR (later renamed to User:D Pastor2014) was discussed at the WP:BLPN noticeboard after the publication of the above articles. – AK

Did Chancellor candidate remove an inconvenient truth?

Someone in the UK Houses of Parliament edited Kwasi Kwarteng's Wikipedia biography.

On Tuesday August 30, a section in the article Kwasi Kwarteng was removed. The Labour-aligned tabloid the Daily Mirror and the Conservative The Spectator soon reported that the edit had been made from the UK Houses of Parliament, suggesting that Kwarteng was responsible for the edit, while not directly accusing him.

Kwarteng is the leading candidate for Chancellor of the Exchequer, the second most powerful position in UK government, if Liz Truss becomes prime minister. The Daily Mirror is not considered a reliable source by many Wikipedians. The Spectator has been a weekly fixture in British publishing since 1828.

The section deletion was reverted after one minute. A Twitter account announced the deletion five minutes later and an additional sentence was added to the article after another 5 minutes:

On 30 August 2022, this section was removed from Kwarteng's Wikipedia entry, with it being revealed that an IP address from the House of Commons had removed it.

This edit was itself soon reverted and over the rest of the day over 40 edits were made concerning these two edits. As with almost any edit on Wikipedia, it can be almost impossible to identify the person who made it. While it might have been made by a Kwarteng staffer, it also might have been made by one of his political opponents, Labour or Conservative, or indeed by anyone with access to the parliamentary internet system. – S

Alan MacMasters did not invent the electric toaster

Nichrome (patent filed 1905 by Albert Marsh) is a beautiful thing. Wikipedia hoaxes, not so much.

A longstanding Wikipedia hoax was reported by the abovementioned Annie Rauwerda in Input, a digital magazine covering culture. Rauwerda said that a hoaxer had claimed that a Scot named Alan MacMasters invented the electric toaster in the 1890s, apparently learning of the hoax from a blog post on Wikipediocracy, an online forum critical of Wikipedia.

The hoax was first introduced to Wikipedia in 2012 in an edit to the Toaster article and later expanded into an Alan MacMasters biography. In a classic case of citogenesis, many credible media sources subsequently copied the hoax, including the Daily Mirror in 2012, the BBC in 2013, and The Scotsman's "Scottish Fact of the Week" in 2014, which in turn all eventually ended up used as sources to bolster the fake biography. The hoax made its way into children's books about history published by Penguin Random House and Dorling Kindersley as early as 2016. Google to this day answers the question "Who invented the electric toaster" with "Alan MacMasters", citing the website of the Hagley Museum and Library.

The Alan MacMasters article was nominated for deletion by Mangoe after its dubiousness was pointed out in a post on notorious forum Wikipediocracy by user "tarantino", and the article was removed from the English Wikipedia last month, but at the time of writing Alan MacMasters still lingers in one form or another in about a dozen other Wikipedia language versions. – AK, B

Why does Wikipedia need so much money?

Piles of money needed urgently! Or...?

A topic the Signpost has banged on about at great length, this is the question asked by Distractify in a piece that

As this article by a media outlet that is cited several hundred times as a reliable source in Wikipedia illustrates, the quality of media reporting on Wikipedia remains very patchy. AK

Surprise! There's vandalism on Wikipedia!

Conor McGregor – alive, we think

Conor McGregor was declared dead on Spanish Wikipedia, then by Google, leading to complaints on non-Wiki social media, and finally at least three sportswriters reported that the well-known UFC fighter was alive and that the report was all Wikipedia's fault. Normally, in a case like this we'd expect that a vandal added the fake death, was reverted ten minutes later and that the press didn't have any real story to report so tried to shock their readers with a super-scoop "Surprise! There's vandalism on Wikipedia!"

The press did miss the major part of the story here, but we were likely the most surprised of all. The level of vandalism on the Spanish Wikipedia is many times worse than anything ever seen on English Wikipedia. A death date was inserted by an anonymous (IP) editor, but rather than being reverted within ten minutes, the death date was modified, reverted, reinserted and re-reverted in a game of IP hot potato that lasted several weeks. Between June 15 and August 22 there were 51 edits to the article by 21 editors, 38 (74.5%) of the edits made by IPs. Good faith edits were in short supply: only one of the IP edits seemed to add actual meaningful content. Six edits were made by the three registered users, and seven were reversions made by a bot. The changes made over the 51 edits were limited to a couple of minor content changes, an added reference or two, and minor wording changes.

So who is responsible for the vandalism? Certainly the IP editors, but perhaps a systemic fault lies with the Spanish Wikipedia which might have too few recent changes patrollers, inferior software tools for patrolling, or just too many IP editors. – S

Chocolate, peanut butter, and horse manure

Free knowledge, or something else?

The Search Engine Journal seems to be better informed about Wikipedia policies against using our encyclopedia for advertising and other conflict of interest editing than they have been in the past. In "Wikipedia And SEO: Everything You Need To Know", they accurately describe our policies and guidelines on notability, neutral point of view, no original research, verifiability, reliable sources, and spam. They do take some liberties with "no firm rules", not mentioning that the purpose of occasionally ignoring rules is to improve the encyclopedia, not to improve their bottom line.

They do understand that linking to Wikipedia articles is not going to improve their clients' ranking in Google searches. They also seem to understand that stealing links in Wikipedia articles isn't going to improve the rankings either. They even wax poetic about how well Google and Wikipedia complement each other – just like chocolate and peanut butter, they say. So what can SEO firms add to the mix? Horse manure; a rather untasty addition.

They suggest replacing dead links in Wikipedia with links to their clients' websites, not so much to improve search ranking, but only because a bit of extra traffic to the sites never hurts anything. They suggest that you work with an experienced Wikipedian to write an article about a client's firm, but that you should, "Just be careful to avoid being labeled as spam".

So what have they forgotten to mention? Just two small things: our policy that paid editors must declare their clients and employers and that you must be here to improve the encyclopedia. – S

Jimmy Wales interviewed by WION

Indian outlet WION featured an exclusive interview with Jimmy Wales: Wikipedia founder sees enormous potential in India; brushes aside Elon Musk's criticism. Wales discussed the increasing number of Indian volunteers:

The country is home to almost 65,000 contributors – representing almost a fifth of the total number of Wikimedia volunteers. Wikipedia is currently available in 25 of the languages spoken across India, including Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Odia and Telugu and even endangered and tribal languages like Tulu and Santali. In addition to these Indic languages, India recently became the country with the second largest population of contributors to English Wikipedia after the US.

Asked about the success of the recent Indian fundraising campaign (see previous Signpost coverage), Wales said:

Wikipedia is one of the world’s most visited websites, yet many people don’t know that it is hosted and operated by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation. Unlike other top websites, we rely on donations to support Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects, with the average donation being about US $15. I’ve always hoped that if we build something people care about and value, then they will want to support it.

Wales rejected criticism from Elon Musk that Wikipedia was losing its objectivity. Asked about cyber warfare in the context of global conflicts, Wales said that while Wikipedia has good mechanisms in place to counter bias, disinformation campaigns –

are also becoming increasingly more sophisticated and difficult to spot. Because of this, the Wikimedia Foundation is also investing in its capacity to respond to disinformation threats and support volunteers. An example of this was the task force the Foundation prepared ahead of the 2020 US presidential election. Foundation staff worked for hand in hand with volunteers to establish clearer lines of communication between volunteers and staff to surface and address disinformation attempts, conducted research to better understand how disinformation could spread on Wikimedia projects and built new tools for volunteers to evaluate potentially malicious edits and behaviour on the site.


In brief

President Biden signing an executive order ... not directing Wikipedia editors to change an article for his benefit.
Other presidents skip the editing and just start their own Руни ("Runi"), the new Russian anti-Wikipedia or something

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Jimmy Wales interviewed by WION

While I fully agree with Jimmy on improvements needed against disinformation, I don't think he or anyone needs to worry about what Elon was complaining about. Since it had little to do with "disinformation" and more to do with the fact that Wikipedia actually had accurate properly referenced information that informs and debunks right wing misinformation and conspiracy nonsense. And Elon has gone full in on the latter stuff, so of course he's complaining that we include scientific and fact based information proving him wrong. SilverserenC 00:42, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]

As one of the people who was getting yelled at on Talk:Recession for a few days during said imbroglio, I don't know if it was "conspiracy nonsense" so much as a few newspapers jumping on a juicy story and half-assing the background research, surely a time-honored journalistic tradition (albeit an annoying one). jp×g 21:26, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Foundation help with disinformation

Foundation staff worked for hand in hand with volunteers to establish clearer lines of communication between volunteers and staff to surface and address disinformation attempts, conducted research to better understand how disinformation could spread on Wikimedia projects and built new tools for volunteers to evaluate potentially malicious edits and behaviour on the site.

I'm not familiar with this effort. Where can I read more about it? czar 01:08, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
The WMF chief of staff wrote about US elections-related disinformation efforts here: Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2020-12-28/News from the WMF. There may be more. ☆ Bri (talk) 01:54, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Help Wikimedia Counter Disinformation! (diff post) and Croatian_Wikipedia_Disinformation_Assessment-2021. SCP-2000 06:23, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
@NGunasena (WMF): RMerkley (WMF) was previously pinged to say a little more about this back in 2020 but they never got round to it. Could you as the new Chief of Staff elaborate a little now?
As there wasn't anything public on-wiki about this US elections project (unless I missed it; if so, please provide a link) the impression generated is that there was substantial off-wiki communication between the WMF and a subset of volunteers to coordinate mainspace editing. Best, Andreas JN466 09:15, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
@Jayen466: Indeed. Very, uh, fascinating if true. jp×g 21:27, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
@Jayen466: File:Biden Campaign Disinformation Retrospective.pdf has a serious amount of detail about the WMF's 2020 stuff. There's also a bit more details about the Merkley piece in this Vox article. –MJLTalk 00:56, 3 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks. Interesting (the pdf in particular). Andreas JN466 06:15, 3 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
So to summarize, it looks like the quoted text refers to a specific 2020 anti-disinformation effort specifically in the US and the stats do not link back to a central report or coordination page, whether on Meta-Wiki or elsewhere. Additionally, at first blush and per the Signpost comments, Merkley's statement seems to conflate actions I'd expect editors to take without prompting (watchlisting pages, protecting pages, and reverting edits) with actions that the task force directly implemented (the "18 events" mentioned). Merkley laid out a little bit more about the WMF's investment in a prior post, but I am not seeing exactly where there is hand-in-hand communication between editors and the Foundation to address disinformation (apart from the work that went into those 18 events), conduct research, and build new tools specifically for anti-disinformation. Or if it happened, perhaps it isn't summarized online? Have I missed something? czar 06:43, 3 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I got the immpression off pages 5–7 of the pdf that this was primarily about improving communication between the WMF, OTRS and functionaries (stewards, oversighters etc.). Andreas JN466 07:30, 3 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I thought that Biden PDF was some kind of postmortem of a singular incident, not a report on the overall anti-disinformation effort. Merkley's initial October 2020 announcement of the anti-disinformation effort refers to starting efforts two months in advance, which would include this August 2020 incident. Unless there are other classified incidents, it might be that the main effort was the creation of a WMF T&S Disinformation subteam (pamphlet to the right). czar 21:10, 4 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for finding that. Andreas JN466 08:21, 12 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
@Czar: Published today: [1] THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY is quietly broadening its efforts to curb speech it considers dangerous, an investigation by The Intercept has found. Years of internal DHS memos, emails, and documents — obtained via leaks and an ongoing lawsuit, as well as public documents — illustrate an expansive effort by the agency to influence tech platforms. ... Prior to the 2020 election, tech companies including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, Wikipedia, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Verizon Media met on a monthly basis with the FBI, CISA, and other government representatives. According to NBC News, the meetings were part of an initiative, still ongoing, between the private sector and government to discuss how firms would handle misinformation during the election. Andreas JN466 00:35, 1 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Not a fan of that. –MJLTalk 02:40, 1 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
As detailed here, the bit about Wikipedia is not news at all, the Foundation itself announced that two years ago.
What's more, that Intercept article seems highly dubious in general. The ever snarky but reliable Techdirt (not known as a defender of censorship) has a detailed fisking, concluding:

The [Intercept] article is garbage. It not only misreads things, it is confused about what the documents the reporters have actually say, and presents widely available, widely known things as if they were secret and hidden when they were not.


In fact, just after this story came out, ProPublica released a much more interesting (and better reported) article that basically talks about how the Biden administration gave up on fighting disinformation because Republicans completely weaponized it by misrepresenting perfectly reasonable activity as nefarious.

Regards, HaeB (talk) 03:40, 3 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Interesting. I wouldn't endorse Techdirt as ever reliable though. September's Did The 5th Circuit Just Make It So That Wikipedia Can No Longer Be Edited In Texas?, also by Masnick, was pure political point-making pretending to be about legal fact. :/
The WMF didn't tell us it was coordinating with the DHS as far as I recall; it only referred to "government agencies".
Also note that the WMF's Disinformation job ads asked for Arabic, Persian and Russian speakers and that T&S reportedly claims to be "fighting ISIS". What is not clear to me is how, to what extent and through what mechanisms WMF work in this field impacts content. Andreas JN466 10:38, 3 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Definition definition

Here [2] is another Bloomberg article (originally) on the Recession-WP-war I rather liked. Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 18:24, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Decent article, save for the bit about "although editing bots on Wikipedia engage in sustained and often destructive warfare" which has never been true. Headbomb {t · c · p · b} 14:30, 3 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Do I smell toast?


"vastly underestimates Wikimedia Foundation salaries (the Foundation's 2020/2021 salary costs were $68M for employees alone (excluding contractors), so an average salary of $65,000 per head would require about 1,000 employees, two or three times the number the Foundation actually had)," - this would seem to assume that zero was spent on WMF pension contributions, or what the UK would call national insurance, or various benefits and so on. These are fairly often grouped under salary and thus trying to make a pure "take x divide by y" without factoring it in will lead to significant inaccuracies Nosebagbear (talk) 20:19, 4 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Aside from the overhead, which is easily an additional 30% above base salaries, $68k is nowhere near the average base salary for an engineering-focused org based in the Bay Area, which is the highest paid region of the US. I'd recommend taking the estimate out of the Signpost article. czar 20:55, 4 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I know that at least one of the highly compensated positions listed at the discussion for another section in this issue is filled by a remote worker. We shouldn't automatically make comparisons to Bay Area. ☆ Bri (talk) 20:57, 4 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
For a remote org headquartered in San Francisco, I think it's safe to assume that the highest proportion of their salaries are benchmarked to the Bay Area. But even with the assumption that pay is by geography, $65k per employee is nowhere near accurate for an engineering-focused firm, which Levivich's calculation below upholds. czar 21:48, 4 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Levivich said at 21:01 that salary comp is "perhaps much higher" than $104k per (non executive) employee. It sounds reasonable to me. Engineering median wage is right about $100k per Michigan Technological University, and that's granting many employees are engineering track, but at the same time many are non-technical doing other nonprofit functions. ☆ Bri (talk) 22:22, 4 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Right, I agree that Levivich's $104k is closer to what sounds reasonable than the Signpost's listed $65k, and I agree that it is likely higher once the FTE are separated from the contractors/contingent workers. I'm not sure how much stock I'd put in the Michigan Tech page but it is worth noting that software engineer/developers are paid higher than engineers in general, i.e., much higher than $100k, on average, and I imagine that's including location-based disparities even if it's based mostly in Michigan. czar 23:41, 4 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
@Czar: 65K is what Distractify reported; I was making the point (or trying to make it ...) that the figure reported by Distractify was far too low. Andreas JN466 21:21, 11 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
It's WMF 2020 Form 990, page 10 (Part IX: Statement of Functional Expenses), column A ("Total expenses"):
  • line 5 "Compensation of current officers, directors, trustees, and key employees": $3,200,369
  • (line 6 is $0)
  • line 7 "Other salaries and wages": $52,302,332
  • line 8 "Pension plan accruals and contributions": $1,445,512
  • line 9 "Other employee benefits": $8,022,951
  • line 10 ("Payroll taxes"): $2,886,511
The total ($67,857,675) is also on page 1, line 15 "Salaries, other compensation, employee benefits (Part IX, column (A), lines 5-10)". During that period they had 300-500 employees or so. Not all full time, but 52M / 500 = 104k. But if you divide 52M by the number of full-time equivalents (whatever that number is, idk, but it's less than the total number of employees because not all are full time), it's gonna be higher than 104k, perhaps much higher. Levivich 21:01, 4 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
The number of employees captured in the line 15 figure is below 400. According to the WMF's FAQ on Meta, the line 15 total does not include contractors, so it's only the 320 employees listed in line 5 plus any non-US employees (as opposed to contractors). Now, non-US employees cannot have numbered more than 54, because that is the total number of employees, agents, and independent contractors the WMF had outside of the US that year. $68M divided by 374 is over $180K. 55.5M (total compensation paid) divided by 374 is about $148K; this would be net salaries without benefits and taxes two years ago, but bear in mind that the number of FTE would have been significantly smaller, given that there were well over a hundred people leaving or joining during the year according to the tuning sessions. Andreas JN466 20:29, 11 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]


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