The Signpost

In the media

Scribing, searching, soliciting, spying, and systemic bias

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By OwenBlacker, Lane Rasberry, Bri, Andreas Kolbe, Sdkb, and Smallbones

Jessica Wade

Jess Wade, a scientist and Wikipedian

Jess Wade, a scientist and Wikipedian, had several media reports appear about their article-writing prowess this month:

The deletion debate for Clarice Phelps, a scientist whose biography was created by Wade, was covered by Today and in readers' comments on a previous Signpost's Community view "The Incredible Invisible Woman" by Megalibrarygirl, and an Op-ed by Wade herself. – B

Growing attention for Growth features

Screenshot of suggested edits module in Czech Wikipedia

The Wikimedia Foundation has decided that the Growth Team features are ready for the public spotlight. Adi Robertson, a reporter at The Verge, Vox Media's technology news outlet, picked up the pitch, running with the headline "Wikimedia is adding features to make editing Wikipedia more fun".

"Wikipedia is one of the sturdiest survivors of the old web, as well as one of the most clearly human-powered ones, thanks to a multitude of editors making changes across the globe," she writes. From there, the article provides a straightforward overview of the new mentorship system and suggested edits tool. It is mostly deferential to the foundation's perspective, although Robertson notes that gamified interfaces have been criticized as addictive, and that "the algorithm's own accuracy rate isn't exemplary: editors deem about 75 percent of the link recommendations accurate". (After the newcomer chooses which recommendations to adopt, 10 percent of edits have been reverted.)

The Indo-Asian News Service published a short, thinly reported version of the same story. – Sdkb

You can ignore whatever you'd like

The time draws nearer for the WMF's annual plea to donate, accompanied by a plea from Andrew Orlowski to not donate. This year, appearing in Unherd, he argues that –

These banner ads have become very lucrative for the NGO that collects the money – the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit based in San Francisco. Every year the NGO responsible for the fundraising adds tens of millions of dollars to its war chest. After a decade of professional fund-raising, it has now amassed $400 million of cash as of March. [...] Wikipedia’s Administrators and maintainers, who tweak the entries and correct the perpetual vandalism, don’t get paid a penny — they’re all volunteers. What has happened is that the formerly ramshackle Foundation, which not so long ago consisted of fewer than a dozen staff run out of a back room, has professionalised itself. It has followed the now well-trodden NGO path to respectability and riches.

Much to think about. For additional coverage on the subject, see this month's News and notes. Orlowski has been a harsh critic of the project since at least 2004, when he described Wikipedians as "the Khmer Rouge in diapers". – AK, S, J

French wiki editors and BLP subjects demand trans rights

Wikimedia LGBT+ organized an open letter of support for Les sans pagEs

In June, trans comic artist Jul Maroh, the French creator of the graphic novel Blue Is the Warmest Color posted to Instagram about the turmoil they were experiencing as a result of discussions on fr:Discussion:Jul' Maroh around misgendering and the repetition of their deadname on their French-language biography. They also posted to Instagram Stories asking for support from Wikimedians. This was lightly covered in the media at the time, mainly by French-language online magazine ActuaBD. After the discussion, they posted a toolbox for other trans BLP subjects and attended the annual general meeting of Les sans pagEs, the French-language equivalent to Women in Red.

After that AGM, Les sans pagEs announced that they were professionalising, having secured funding from the French national chapter (with grants proposals under review with WMF and Wikimedia CH) to employ project founder Natacha Rault as a director, causing several days worth of heated discussion on Le Bistro, the Francophone equivalent to our Village pump. As a result, Wikimedia LGBT+ organized an Open letter of support for Les sans pagEs, criticising "bad-faith arguments" and "harassment" that included calls for the disestablishment of the project. The open letter has been signed by 77 wikimedians, including representatives of affiliates such as AfroCROWD, Art+Feminism, Noircir Wikipédia, Whose Knowledge?, WikiDonne, Wikimedians of Slovakia and the Wikimedians in Residence Exchange Network plus national chapters including Wikimedia Belgium and Wikimedia UK, as well as individuals. (Note: the author here was lead organiser on the Open letter.)

Les sans pagEs came back energised from the controversy, with Natacha presenting with Wikimedia LGBT+ to promote Queering Wikipedia 2022 at Wikimania before working on gaining a consensus update to frwiki's MoS guidelines on trans biographies and being featured in young-women's magazine Madmoizelle, headlined " 'Wikipedia reproduces the sexist bias of our society': Les sans pagEs, the collective filling in the encyclopedia's gender gap".

Which brings us neatly back to Jul' Maroh, who in October led an open letter in French news-weekly L'Obs, reported in literary news magazine Actualitte denouncing insensitive coverage of trans, nonbinary and intersex biographies on the Francophone Wikipedia and crediting the efforts of Les sans pagEs and Noircir Wikipédia in countering systemic bias. – O

Down with the middlemen, or factoids over ad-cruft: Wikipedia as a better search tool (except for some pirates)

Some folks think Wikipedia is a great search-engine replacement. Some don't. Oh, were you looking for a frog in a clown suit?

James Vincent in The Verge offers a hearty recommendation of Wikipedia's mobile app as an alternative to Google Search. He says it's more useful, less bloated, and more fun.

After a frustrating search session blighted by nearly a full page of ad-cruft, the author sums up their experience: "why the hell am I Googling this stuff anyway? If half of my Google searches on mobile are just Wikipedia lookups, why not cut out the middleman altogether?" The Wikipedia app goes straight to the juice and provides diverting and illuminating side trips for "a nerd with an affinity for factoids" in the bargain: "Wikipedia is actually one of the true wonders of the internet", they say.

"Up with the knowledge keepers and down with the middlemen," he concludes. We're blushing.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette also acknowledged that "some people" use the Wikipedia app instead of searching with Google, but found an error in a pirate-related search that resulted in the answer Alexander von Humboldt – who, the Democrat-Gazette reminds us, "was not a pirate". – B, Sdkb

Wikipedia as a military target for disinformation

Cover page of The Spy by James Fennimore Cooper, in Russian for some reason

Think tanks Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Centre for the Analysis of Social Media presented a report discussing the possibility of state-sponsored bad actors using Wikipedia as a channel for disinformation, propaganda, or as part of an information warfare campaign. Various media sources reacted. El País in particular called out the study's concern over "long-term infiltration by state-sponsored actors" to take over Wikipedia's "underlying policies and governance processes". Later, an ISD employee was able to add enough citations to the organization's article to save it from a nomination at Articles for Deletion. – B, BR, J

See also Disinformation report and Recent research in this month's Signpost.

In brief

The world's most popular reptile is the Komodo Dragon.
Wikipe-tan supports everyone's right to access restrooms and, uh, litter boxes.

Do you want to contribute to "In the media" by writing a story or even just an "in brief" item? Edit next month's edition in the Newsroom or leave a tip on the suggestions page.

In this issue
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Open letter of support for Les sans pagEs

@OwenBlacker: Hold on, it appears that you were a lead author and/or main organizer of the open letter about whose success and claimed positive impact ("energised") you are reporting on here as Signpost writer, no? That should have been disclosed at least. Regards, HaeB (talk) 05:29, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

I was indeed. I wasn't asked to make that explicitly clear here, but I'm happy to do so (and will go do so now) OwenBlacker (he/him; Talk; please {{ping}} me in replies) 12:40, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Incidentally, I didn't mean to imply that the Open letter is what energised LSP, so much as that they came back from the controversy and got on with further work, rather than licking any metaphorical wounds.
@HaeB: In any case, are you happy with the disclaimer I've added, or is it still not quite clear? — OwenBlacker (he/him; Talk; please {{ping}} me in replies) 12:44, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for adding the note. Regarding "I wasn't asked", I understand this was because you didn't disclose this to the Signpost's editor-in-chief or the rest of the team in the first place. Regards, HaeB (talk) 15:54, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Yikes. @JPxG, in the professional world, something like this would be regarded as a major ethical breach. I know it can be hard to find Signpost contributors, but having independent authors without a conflict of interest writing news reports is main thing that distinguishes the Signpost from just a batch of press releases. If that goes away, so does the Signpost's credibility. I pointed out another instance of this same thing happening a few months ago, and that should have been a wake-up call. With where we are now, two suggestions:
  • There needs to be clear documentation around the Signpost's COI policies — what is considered enough to mandate a disclosure (the WP:INVOLVED standard might be a good benchmark), and what is considered enough that the author should be writing in opinions instead? Those policies then need to be enforced by the editors.
  • The disclosure added here is insufficient. The entire contribution is affected by the COI, not just the part directly about the open letter, so the disclosure should happen at the top. And since it was added post-publication, it should ideally take the form of an editor's note explaining what happened.
There will always be COI pressure on the Signpost just as there is always COI pressure on Wikipedia content, and to combat it we need to treat failures here as seriously as we do when they happen in encyclopedia articles. {{u|Sdkb}}talk 16:35, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Also, while we're talking about transparency, I agree with the concerns voiced independently here and here by uninvolved Wikimedians, who pointed out that your open letter does not provide any links or other details that would enable readers to understand what the "continual bad-faith argument[s]" and "hostile reception"/"harassment" (that the affiliates' formal statement centers on on) actually consisted of. (It does get more concrete elsewhere at one point, when explaining why the project at the center of the controversy does not involve paid editing, contrary to what some French Wikipedia editors had assumed apparently. But that kind of clarity is missing from the rest of the letter.)

Honestly, this also devalues the weight of the signatures, as it makes it appear likely that the majority of them were mere pile-ons ("Yes, Les sans pagEs are great and harassment is bad, so let's sign this") rather than informed endorsements of the assessments expressed in the letter.

This kind of pile-on vagueposting has been a problem with some other open letters in the movement too (in the comments to last month's Signpost issue I called it out in context of the NPP open letter to the Foundation; on the other hand the more recent open letter criticizing the Foundation's lack of technical support for Wikimedia Commons does a better job of actually explaining what the problems are). But it seems particularly problematic with a letter that is directed against specific community members, accusing them of major wrongdoing that should generally entail bans or other administrative sanctions. While they are not named in the letter, many presumably know who they are. (I'm writing this without having tried to form an opinion myself on whether harassment took place in this case; fwiw I do recall having read some community conversations in context of this incident some years ago - which incidentally also involved paid editing concerns, but in a quite different constellation - and coming away with the impression that Nattes à chat had indeed be the target of highly problematic comments in that case.) On a deeper level, there are good reasons why the Wikimedia movement generally discourages polling and voting in favor of the exchange of informed arguments (in !vote formats such as RfCs), and I think they also apply to openlettering.

Regards, HaeB (talk) 15:54, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

By which I mean, I went looking with the initial expectation that I could find some sort of blanket statement of editorial policy at the Signpost's project pages (Submissions, Content, Style, etc.) which stated the requirement that, and perhaps also detailed exactly how, contributors must disclose any ties they have to at least the subjects of their own submissions. Or even, out of an abundance of caution and transparency, whatever ties they have to any subject covered in a Signpost issue where their submission appears, even when someone else does the reporting. And I failed to find anything of the sort. Nothing whatsoever.
For professional journalists, standards of self-disclosure are understood so fundamentally that it probably can be claimed to "go without saying" that such things are required. But Signpost contributors are not professional journalists.
I realize the editorial team is plenty busy as it is, and that "suggesting" things to add to anyone's already-overfull plate falls somewhere between somewhat insensitive and wildly unreasonable. But given the current situation, it seems extremely prudent for the Signpost to have an explicit set of rules and requirements governing contributor conflicts, including disclosure thereof. (And given that Wikipedia itself has a very explicit WP:COI policy, one nice thing is that the Signpost shouldn't have to look very hard to find ample guidance regarding what those rules should be.) FeRDNYC (talk) 20:14, 3 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]

English Wikipedia fails the test

If deadnaming is an issue, why is it practically English Wikipedia policy? Wendy Carlos hasn't had anything released under her deadname in about 50 years, and, while mentioning it might be appropriate somewhere in the article, the article literally starts with her name, the word "born", and then her deadname. That's the most efficient outing of a person's deadname possible. Adam Cuerden (talk)Has about 8.1% of all FPs 17:11, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Because, in that case, people who (say) watch A Clockwork Orange are otherwise going to be very confused as to why the credits give a different composer than the encyclopedia article about said composer. I think you're aware of that. It's no different from clarifying that Dickey Betts used several names and spellings early in his career, even though he's gone with the spelling Dickey for 40+ years, or Emomali Rahmon changing his name from Rahmonov so it looked less Russianized. The Blade of the Northern Lights (話して下さい) 15:01, 2 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
But does it need that level of emphasis? If it was merely mentioned, that would be one thing... Adam Cuerden (talk)Has about 8.2% of all FPs 17:19, 2 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I don't think there is a "one size fits all" solution for dealing with deadnames of trans people. Wendy Carlos' circumstances are akin to Caitlyn Jenner whose birth name (the name they used when they became famous) is also included in the lead sentence. By the way, @Adam Cuerden: you should check the archives of Talk:Wendy Carlos, especially this discussion from 5 years ago where you participated. Perhaps it is time to accept consensus and move on? Poundland Oximeter (talk) 19:26, 2 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
The problem is that people won't otherwise know they're in the right place. To cite another example, someone who gets an old Against Me! album, reads the liner notes, and searches for Tom Gabel is going to be very confused to end up at an article titled Laura Jane Grace; there's not any other great way to clarify it. Wikipedia does this all the time for people, see where Lindsey Kildow redirects, and even where it's of minor importance usually includes a previous name (see Nathaniel Branden). And Wikipedia is for some reason much less jumpy about people who change their names for any other reason, including things just as personal as gender identity; contrast this with the methodical way editors approach peoples' religious name changes (without looking tell me who Shuhada Sadaqat is), the lack of headless chicken mode around those discussions makes things vastly easier to flesh out. The Blade of the Northern Lights (話して下さい) 19:33, 2 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Not to mention Steven Demetre Georgiou. ☆ Bri (talk) 22:54, 2 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Why I sued Wikipedia/Tuhin Sinha lawsuit

I wonder how the lawsuit will pan out now that there is a new version of the article in place. – robertsky (talk) 06:50, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

A strange legal theory that for a given source to stop publishing an article about you is a valid cause of action.

Also, I see the article is up now. I take it the consensus on the subject's notability has changed? CharredShorthand (talk) 09:21, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

…yeah, what the hell happened there? Doesn’t this come under WP:NLT? If so it ought to have been deleted until the legal action ended. 2600:1011:B13B:392E:F01A:9AFD:55AD:DE42 (talk) 12:10, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Also at Wikipedia_talk:Noticeboard_for_India-related_topics#An_interesting_lawsuit. Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 12:14, 1 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Growing attention for Growth features

The Growth team has spent millions developing this hugely complex mentorship programme (I've been lurking). It's not going to stem that viscous stream of hundreds of barely relevant so-called articles that ooze along in NPP's Special:NewPagesFeed on their inevitable route to deletion or draftifying. All it would need is a decent landing page that provides some proper, clear information before they put their fingers any further to their keyboards (or smart phones), instead of having it rammed down their throats what they can do to help the Wiki further maintain the job slots for the devs. But of course, the WMF has its special galley slaves to do the cleaning up who are told if they want new oars, they best go cut down some trees and make them themselves. Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 08:25, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

KitTEN on the prowl

So the Signpost links to TV station KTEN on the litterbox issue. MORE THAN A COINCIDENCE??? EEng 03:38, 7 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]


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