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A few complaints and mild disagreements

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By Andreas Kolbe, Bri, and Smallbones
In some months, the weather can just be disagreeable. In other months maybe it's people who seem to be disagreeable. This month it seems like the media all found something to disagree with, either about Wikipedia's coverage or with our policies. Or maybe we disagree with them. It was that kind of month.

Fox in the outhouse

In Wikipedia’s Fox News Problem (Slate), author Samuel Breslow – who is listed as a long time Wikipedia editor – explains how a novel-length reliable sources debate decided to allow Fox News to be used for non-controversial facts. "If outlets like Fox News are permitted, Wikipedia’s view of the world will look more like Fox's" was part of Slate's distillation of the importance of reliable source determination on Wikipedia content. Major debates (community Requests for Comment) took place in 2010, 2020 and the most recent debate closed this month. The article's author interviewed Wikipedia administrator and member of the Arbitration Committee Kevin Li, who closed the September Request for Comment, for his interpretation of the process, and the article quotes him extensively. – B

A new Wiki-villain?

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A new villain or just the same old Snidely Whiplash?

YouTuber and Washington Post columnist J. J. McCullough – a retired Wikipedian who long ago drew the image shown here on the right – has released a 22-minute YouTube video titled "Why I hate Wikipedia (and you should too!)". He criticizes Wikipedia's de facto information monopoly, which he says crowds out other sites and reduces information diversity, and its writing style, complaining about the length and disorganized detail in articles. He really dislikes the anonymity and unaccountability of Wiki-editors – especially of admins and other hard-core editors. He likens Wikipedia to McDonalds: a place to go to get fast, cheap fare when you are hungry but don't really care about quality. There might be some truth in his lengthy and detailed list of complaints, though his description of the editor who has contributed nearly half a percent of all edits to Wikipedia as having written a third of it does seem wildly out.

Indeed, McCullough says that he doesn't read Wikipedia. In the first 30 seconds of the video, he states that in his seven years of creating videos he has never consulted the august online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; that for over a decade he has blocked the site from his browser; and that he uses Google's hide search feature to ensure that he does not see Wikipedia in search results. So how does he know so much about Wikipedia?

In 2008 two articles related to McCullough were deleted: Filibuster Cartoons (his website) and J.J. McCullough. Four further attempts were made to recreate the article about him, either as J.J. McCullough or J. J. McCullough (note the extra space). After the last of these was deleted in 2020, the creation of new articles by those titles was blocked.

The video has attracted detailed comment at the Village Pump, with allegations that McCullough is angry that the biographies of him have been deleted. Others there have speculated that he is a former admin. We reached out to McCullough for further comment, but he has not replied. S

Accurate and reliable, fair and balanced, just and proper

In Evidence suggests Wikipedia is accurate and reliable. When are we going to start taking it seriously? science writer Liam Mannix in The Sydney Morning Herald uses the case of Queen Elizabeth II's death to demonstrate how fast and accurate Wikipedia is.

this is ... not something we should expect. Wikipedia is free. Its editors are volunteers. There is no expertise or academic qualifications required. We are told again and again that we can’t trust it because anyone could be writing it. It should be the worst place on the internet.

Yet published evidence suggests it is reasonably reliable – at least as reliable as its competitor the Encyclopedia Britannica.

He links to academic studies on six specific subject areas – mostly medical but also one on general political coverage. All of these studies confirm Wikipedia's accuracy. He links to two broader (and older) studies that give Wikipedia better than passing marks. And a linked 2014 meta-analysis of 110 studies concludes '"Wikipedia is generally a reliable source of information" across almost all domains studied.' – S


The term "deaditors"—Wikipedia editors who memorialize the pages of notables who have recently died—was previously mentioned on this page in The Signpost in 2018. As Annie Rauwerda explains in Input, the term started with an article written by a Dutch Wikipedian, which was then reported on in Slate. The term has also been used recently in a few foreign-language reports (Italian, Spanish, Czech).

Other media covering the phenomenon this month include Gizmodo, Metro UK, Yahoo! (which says deaditors are also known as "WikiJackals"), The Sydney Morning Herald, NPR, Kim Komando [1] and The Wall Street Journal.

Most of the reports reflect a sense of wonder, or even awe, at how well Wikipedians perform this task.

Was ex-CEO Maher a Monty Python encyclopedia salesman?

Simon Garfield in The death of the door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman in inews recalls a 2020 email from Katherine Maher asking for a £20 donation for Wikipedia. In 2017 he had donated £2, and then he got the email asking for more. At that point Garfield took at least one amazing action. He compared Maher's position to that of an encyclopedia salesman in a 1967 Monty Python comedy sketch.

Of course the self-identified thief later turns out to be an encyclopedia salesman, who would rather people think him a thief.

Garfield is a professional writer who uses Wikipedia extensively. He's written a history of encyclopedias, All The Knowledge in the World: The Extraordinary History of the Encyclopaedia. He thinks that "Wikipedia is one of the greatest things on the internet".

After talking with Maher, he donated £12.

Maher is now a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. She was recently appointed a member of the US Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board, an advisory panel established a decade ago by Hillary Clinton.

Runiversalis is back

Will the real anti-Nazis please stand up? Still striving for that Nazi-free vibe on Runiversalis.
Euronews reports that Runiversalis, Russia's Wikipedia alternative, is now back online, having weathered cyberattacks. While "search engines are now forced to inform online users in Russia that Wikipedia violates the country’s legislation", Runiversalis "repeats the Kremlin's narrative that Russia wants to 'denazify' and 'demilitarise' Ukraine. The website also states that its authors will only promote 'traditional values' on subjects such as gender and sexuality, raising concerns from the LGBTQ community."

The Atlantic Council's abovementioned Digital Forensic Research Lab also reported on Runiversalis. Its article, published on Medium, described the new site as "an attempt to spread Russian propaganda and disinformation in the guise of a wiki. Beyond using the underlying software architecture employed by Wikipedia, it’s a wiki in name only." Runiversalis, meanwhile, has apparently repurposed Wikipedia's "Did You Know?" section into an "I Knew It!" section with trivia such as "American politicians, political scientists, and journalists admit that United States turned into empire of lies". The Medium article also states that Runiversalis, unlike Wikipedia, "does not provide editing options for the general public; when the site still allowed user registration, a message would appear after registration, informing the user, 'You do not have permission to create this page.' It openly acknowledges it operates under Russia's restrictive media laws."

The overarching pattern here, bearing in mind China's own huge internet encyclopedias, and Baidu Baike, is that governments everywhere – unsurprisingly, perhaps – take a keen interest in having user-generated encyclopedias that propagate their respective views of the world. Thank God the United States government has never done anything to mess around with Wikipedia... AK

Banned in Texas, or unregulated, or something

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Did judge Andy Oldham rule that WP can't monitor its content?

Wait, shit! Speaking of user-generated encyclopedias that propagate their respective views of the world, Judge Andy Oldham of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Texas House Bill 20 in mid-September. The law restricts some content providers' ability to moderate (or censor, depending on your point of view) public speech hosted on their sites based on viewpoint, with some exceptions for public safety and compliance with federal laws. Sites that are covered under the law operate in Texas, have "an Internet website or application that is open to the public, allows a user to create an account, and enables users to communicate with other users for the primary purpose of posting information, comments, messages, or images" and over 50 million active U.S. users a month.

The Techdirt analysis "Did The 5th Circuit Just Make It So That Wikipedia Can No Longer Be Edited In Texas?" questions whether Twitter – one of the three companies the state testified was targeted by the law – qualifies, with its many bot accounts. But then Techdirt speculates that Wikipedia might qualify. If so, according to the analysis, the site's owners – Wikimedia Foundation – may not be able to regulate some of the encyclopedia's content without violation of the Texas law.

Given that WMF so rarely directly interacts with site content it's not clear to this editor what the net effect of the ruling would be – assuming they don't block Texas editors to avoid running afoul of HB 20. It's also completely speculative that any judge would view the creation of a fact-based encyclopedia as protected viewpoint speech. – B

In brief

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Is the dissemination of free information "catnip for the Supreme Court"?

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Interesting to see mention of the Russian businessmen's death article, I commented in the AFD for it this summer. It came close to being deleted and after this attention, it could be nominated again. Liz Read! Talk! 01:04, 1 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Regarding "Runiversalis, Russia's Wikipedia alternative", it might have been worth mentioning Putin's longstanding plans to replace Wikipedia with the Great Russian Encyclopedia (earlier coverage: September, October, November 2019) or other such announcements (2014 coverage: "A Russian alternative Wikipedia"). Regards, HaeB (talk) 02:44, 1 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Speaking of Runiversalis's take on Ukraine ... Currently making the rounds on Twitter is a 2014 (!) article in The Guardian by John Pilger, titled, "In Ukraine, the US is dragging us towards war with Russia – Washington's role in Ukraine, and its backing for the regime's neo-Nazis, has huge implications for the rest of the world". Needless to say, the Guardian is publishing nothing like this today, and if it did, it would be accused of spreading Russian propaganda. Pilger, however, still seems quite convinced he got it right then. Andreas JN466 10:09, 1 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Maybe such decisions by the Guardian and other RS have less to do with censorship than with the fact that John Pilger's conspiratorial thinking has been proven so obviously and disastrously wrong earlier this year (see e.g. this summary from March 2022: "Pilger has not once, not twice, not three times, not four times but five times mocked the idea that Russia would invade Ukraine in recent months — as well as spelling out in an article two weeks ago that claims of an imminent invasion were pure hysteria. Indeed, a month ago Pilger claimed “the war mongering of Biden and his UK echoes is exposed, like Blair’s, as a crime”, and followed that up just a fortnight ago with the sneer “the absence of a Russian ‘invasion’ a bitter disappointment to its most avid promoters in London” and compared the Biden administration’s rhetoric to the Bush administration’s lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.").
Back to the Euronews statement you quoted in the article (that Runiversalis "repeats the Kremlin's narrative that Russia wants to 'denazify' and 'demilitarise' Ukraine"), are you saying it would be wrong to characterize the argument that Russia had to invade Ukraine to topple a neo-Nazi government as propaganda? (cf. Denazification#Russian_invasion_of_Ukraine: "The US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem condemned Putin's misuse of Holocaust history; Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish, with much of his family being victims of the Holocaust, and a native Russian speaker. The organisations described Ukraine as 'democratic' and the Russian claims of Nazism and genocide as 'imaginary'.") Regards, HaeB (talk) 21:08, 2 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Well, have a look at what The Nation reported in 2019: Neo-Nazis and the Far Right Are On the March in Ukraine – Five years after the Maidan uprising, anti-Semitism and fascist-inflected ultranationalism are rampant. ... These stories of Ukraine’s dark nationalism aren’t coming out of Moscow; they’re being filed by Western media, including US-funded Radio Free Europe (RFE); Jewish organizations such as the World Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center; and watchdogs like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House, which issued a joint report warning that Kiev is losing the monopoly on the use of force in the country as far-right gangs operate with impunity.
Of course Putin uses this as propaganda to justify his war but I don't agree with your airbrushing any such concerns out of history, dismissing them as nothing but Russian propaganda. It's just not borne out by the pre-2022 historical record.
People like to have things black and white, especially during a war; they rarely are. Best, Andreas JN466 03:41, 3 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I wasn't expressing my own opinion, but quoting the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem - it's them that you are accusing of "airbrushing any such concerns out of history." And I find that accusation unconvincing based on the Nation quote that you are offering, which after all stresses the distinction between those far-right gangs and the government ("Kiev").
I sympathize with the notion that it's important to retain a reasonable level of skepticism during wartime, and for sure things aren't always black and white - but they also aren't always the same level of grey. Regards, HaeB (talk) 06:34, 3 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
When I offered the Nation quote and link, I was hoping you'd read the entire article. The Nation piece also mentions, for example, that—
In 2015, the Ukrainian parliament passed legislation making two WWII paramilitaries—the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)—heroes of Ukraine, and made it a criminal offense to deny their heroism. The OUN had collaborated with the Nazis and participated in the Holocaust, while the UPA slaughtered thousands of Jews and 70,000-100,000 Poles on their own volition.
The government-funded Ukrainian Institute of National Memory is institutionalizing the whitewashing of Nazi collaborators. Last summer, the Ukrainian parliament featured an exhibit commemorating the OUN’s 1941 proclamation of cooperation with the Third Reich (imagine the French government installing an exhibit celebrating the Vichy state!).
(This was the government preceding Zelenskyy's.)
When you asked me above whether "it would be wrong to characterize the argument that Russia had to invade Ukraine to topple a neo-Nazi government as propaganda", accompanied by that quote, I understood you to be daring me to disagree with what I assumed was your view, i.e. that it was propaganda, and nothing but propaganda. I agreed it was propaganda but not nothing but propaganda.
English-language mainstream media reports expressing concern about neo-Nazis in Ukraine continued right up until last year: see this January 2021 TIME report for example ("The main recruitment center for Azov, known as the Cossack House, stands in the center of Kyiv, a four-story brick building on loan from Ukraine’s Defense Ministry. ... On the ground floor is a shop called Militant Zone, which sells clothes and key chains with stylized swastikas and other neo-Nazi merchandise."), or see the Jerusalem Post's Western countries training far-right extremists in Ukraine, published in October 2021 based on a report from George Washington University. I'd argue that the portrayal in the Wikipedia section you linked to, Denazification#Russian_invasion_of_Ukraine, is substantially misleading when compared to such earlier reports and I wouldn't quote it approvingly. I say this as someone whose sympathies are more with Ukraine than with Russia in this conflict. Best, Andreas JN466 10:57, 3 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Curious about the last sentence here:

The overarching pattern here, bearing in mind China's own huge internet encyclopedias, and Baidu Baike, is that governments everywhere – unsurprisingly, perhaps – take a keen interest in having user-generated encyclopedias that propagate their respective views of the world. Thank God the United States government has never done anything to mess around with Wikipedia... AK

Andreas, which actions of the US government "to mess around with Wikipedia" do you think are comparable to the control the Chinese government is exerting over the content of and Baidu Baike? Regards, HaeB (talk) 21:08, 2 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

I think he was referring to HB 20 in Texas which is part of the United States last time I checked. ☆ Bri (talk) 22:24, 2 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Yes, it seems so from Andreas' wording, but in that case it was a very misguided comparison. A state's legislature creating a bad law that may restrict user-generated encyclopedias from moderating (removing) content posted by individual users is very different from a state's government (executive) forcing such user-generated encyclopedias "to propagate [that government's] views of the world" (which China's case is actually mainly done by requiring them to remove content that is not in line with these government views, i.e. pretty much the opposite of what HB20 does). Regards, HaeB (talk) 23:49, 2 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I didn't actually write that sentence. It was added here by JPxG: [4] I'm pretty sure he just meant it to function as a bridge to the next piece.
This said, Hillary Clinton's US State Department made an open approach to Wikipedia at Wikimania 2012; a close Clinton associate was chosen to guide the 2017 strategy process, another advises the WMF on PR, etc.; so while there are no government-imposed limits on content here, we can't really say the US government has never expressed an active interest in Wikipedia either. See Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2021-06-27/Forum for links. Andreas JN466 04:13, 3 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
My bad, I was relying (as did Bri, presumably) on the "AK" section byline. (JPxG: I think these should be updated when making such additions, I've been trying to do that with the section bylines in RR too in that kind of situation.)
But, to address just the first of your tenuous examples here, if a representative of the hosting country's government offers a brief address at the opening session of Wikimania (on the invitation of the organizing team of volunteer Wikimedians) and reads out a letter from a minister who regrets not being able to attend in person etc., that's not "messing around with Wikipedia". (It's routine at Wikimania and indeed many large international conferences; I guess you are not leveling such charges at the governments of any other past Wikimania-hosting countries. I do understand that Hillary Clinton is unusual as a politician in that there is an exceptionally large amount of conspiracy theories surrounding her, I sincerely hope you are not getting sucked in by them.)
Regards, HaeB (talk) 06:34, 3 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
@HaeB: If you'd like to know what I think of QAnon, please just ask me rather than blowing into a dogwhistle. I have no interest in QAnon, and what little I've read of it makes it fairly obvious to me that it's nonsense. (And for good measure, if I were a US citizen, I'd have supported Sanders over Clinton and Clinton over Trump in 2016.)
Now, I won't repeat the entire argument I made in the Signpost piece last year, but the representative of the Office of eDiplomacy who gave that speech at Wikimania 2012 literally had "advancing US foreign policy interests" in his job description. Tech@State was an official partner of Wikimania 2012 and there was a whole "Tech@State: Wiki.Gov" track at the conference that people could register at via (I recall zero messages from UK politicians or the UK Foreign Office at Wikimania 2014 in London, the only Wikimania conference I went to. If there had been, I would have found them profoundly distasteful.)
I am generally not a fan of government involvement in the media. And Wikipedia to me should be part of the media rather than a "". I have said exactly the same when it was the Azeri, Kazakh, or Iranian government muscling in on communities at Wikiconferences and take exactly the same dim view of the Russian, Chinese or any other government wanting to exercise organisational or editorial control over wikis. Andreas JN466 13:13, 3 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Russia, China and Texas

I made the same error – although I knew the bridge was added during pre-publication workup, I got the authors switched in my mind. I think an editorial insertion for a bridge is pretty harmless, though in this case the geopolitical (?) overtones may have gone a bit too far for attribution to the original author. I had a longer reply prepared but it got discarded in a session reset or something, so I'll just conclude by saying this is a pretty touchy subject and I expected strong opinions to it and understand where people are concerned about upsetting the delicate balance of government-media owners-the public that makes democracy possible. Readers should also understand it's concern over exactly that same balance that led to the adoption of the Texas bill in the first place. Finally, I think normal readers will understand the State of Texas isn't China CCP, editorial injection to juxtapose the two was for interest/impact that is part of newspaper writing, and we should take care with attribution going forward but this isn't really a big deal. ☆ Bri (talk) 15:55, 3 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]


I really don't know what we were thinking here. An entire section I spent weeks researching was cut in an attempt to protect McCullogh's Wikipedia username from coming out - while linking all the sources that included it - and then we decided the opening should make it very clear he did edit Wikipedia, while the closing acts as if it's in doubt as to whether he was a Wikipedia admin. That's a lie, and we knew it was a lie when we published, and worse, it didn't even serve a purpose to lie because we link all the sources that show what his account was. In the first sentence, state he was a Wikipedia editor, and state the image was by him. And this can be confirmed by looking at any of the POTD attributions. In fact, the identification is all over early Wikipedia, and I also checked an archived copy of his userpage to make absolutely sure he was self-outed (and, suffice to say, he was very, very open about it). Further, we later link the first J.J. McCullough deletion debate, which starts off calling him out for being an admin writing an article about himself.

Given WP:RTV states " It is not a way to avoid scrutiny or sanctions. It is not a fresh start and does not guarantee anonymity." - and given we outed him anyway, and link to pretty much every page I quote from anyway, here's my research, which was cut:

J.J. McCullough was in fact a Wikipedia editor and was made an admin in 2003 when the Request for Adminship process was a lot less onerous.

He had at least three (now-former) featured pictures based on vectorised versions of his art. The one next to this article was a featured picture 2004 to 2007, appeared on the Main Page three separate times as Picture of the Day, and proved horribly controversial as to copyright status as everyone - including the copywriters for two of those main page appearances - presumed it was meant to be Snidely Whiplash. Less controversially, File:Mad scientist.svg also appeared on the main page three times, and File:Piratey.jpg only once, but also lasted the longest, only being delisted in 2012. All the main page appearances attributed under his full name, which was never redacted. A check of archive sites confirmed that he was the one who linked his account to his name.

However, around 2008 things soured with two big deletions: Filibuster Cartoons, his website, and J.J. McCullough, following a deletion debate in which Laval stated:

This led to four further attempts to recreate his article, either as J.J. McCullough or J. J. McCullough (note the extra space). After the last of these was deleted in 2020, the creation of new articles by those titles was blocked. His contributions, at least the ones that haven't been deleted, slowed after 2008, finally stopping in 2011.

The video has attracted a lot of speculation at the Village Pump, which has proven a valuable source for this article, and where it is speculated that McCullough is angry that the biographies of him have been deleted. As previously mentioned, he claims in the video that "well over a decade ago" he set up a website-blocking app to stop him from being able to go to Wikipedia, which, if accurate – humans are not good at remembering exactly when they did things – would be just after his last known contributions. Given the second of the deletion discussions happened in 2017, this might absolve him of the article recreations, at least. Adam Cuerden (talk)Has about 8.1% of all FPs 04:57, 1 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Hearing him repeatedly say "aboot" I thought, "Eh? How does this fellow know this cartoon character? Wasn't Snidely Whiplash banned in Canada?" Anyway despite his polite demeanor the video is mostly a rant, presumably trying to stand out in the noisy Youtube marketplace. However, it contains a few valid points, such as that the prose in our articles tends to an awfully leaden style, laden with jargon and failing to organize paragraphs and sentences for readability. I recall that many years ago our biographies of Audrey Munson and Truman Capote had bits of sexual innuendo that actually contributed to understanding but were edited out as POV or some such thing. And look into articles about education in the United States. Most are eager to use a long paragraph to express an idea that could be handled by a short sentence. So, swept along with our foe's flood of foolishness we can find wisps of wisdom. Jim.henderson (talk) 15:15, 1 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Surprisingly, the comment section for that video is overwhelmingly in Wikipedia's favor; usually on Wikipedia criticism videos it's much less complimentary (and boils down to "NPOV is a fucking sham, everything is wrong"). I suspect it both has to do with his existing viewer base, and the video's acrimonious title. But even with all the flaws of YouTube's comment system, I think it's still a net positive for honest discussion. Ovinus (talk) 19:30, 2 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]


Must say, the Slate article on the Fox News RfC is pretty nice. Good to see well-researched articles in the wild. And props to Kevin for being a good representative. Ovinus (talk) 11:10, 1 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Yes, brilliant work from Breslow and well done to Kevin. Some of the kudos has to go to Slate for publishing accurate accounts of Wikipedia, a rare thing even in the RSP-green press. — Bilorv (talk) 18:45, 1 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]


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