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In the media

Odd bedfellows, Elon and Jimbo, reliable sources for divorces, and more

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By Lane Rasberry, Bri, JPxG, Kudpung, Sdkb, and Smallbones

The stories you are about to read are true, or at least they have been reported in sources we generally consider to be reliable. But on some of them you might think we are pulling your legs, or that we just made them up out of whole cloth. Is the WMF really climbing in bed with Google and Facebook? Do Russian troops in Ukraine really train by reading Wikipedia? Can you really announce your divorce in a Wikipedia article? Does Elon Musk really think that anybody will believe a word he tweets? Does a single Wikipedia article get 250 million pageviews each month? No, we didn't make these stories up. But please use your own better judgement in evaluating whether what the media writes about us is true.

Odd bedfellows, journalists, and the WMF

The proposed Journalism Competition and Preservation Act was defeated with the help of a dormitory-full of odd bedfellows including Alphabet (formerly Google), Meta (Facebook), the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and the Wikimedia Foundation. Editor & Publisher reported the defeat of the bill, which was not included in the final omnibus bill of the 117th US Congress.

The proposed act would have given news organizations the right to collectively bargain with social media organizations – by creating a four-year antitrust exemption – to get a share of the social media's advertising revenue for news posted on the platform (similar to the News Media Bargaining Code implemented in Australia). Meta responded that, rather than being forced to pay for news content that it did not post on their own platform, they would "consider removing news from our platform altogether rather than submit to government-mandated negotiations," according to CNN.

CNN and The National Review highlighted the WMF's participation. – Sb

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Rebecca MacKinnon, WMF's Vice President, Global Advocacy, and Phil Bradley-Schmieg, WMF Lead Counsel, point out in the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA):

The UK's proposed Online Safety Bill would require platforms to screen and monitor all activity and content when uploaded to predict whether it is illegal or harmful. Such a general monitoring obligation is prohibited in the European Union's Digital Services Act.

One may be forgiven for predicting that this is not a simple task, and probably not possible; accordingly, the authors urge the UK to reconsider the proposed bill. – Sb

Untrained Russian troops learn from Wikipedia how to use their guns

Men in civilian clothing standing in a military formation
Ruslan probably was mobilized in 2022 as a civilian into the Russian Army, as these men were.

According to an hour-long read in The New York Times on the way the combat in Ukraine is being managed [1], "Russian soldiers go into battle with little food, a few bullets and instructions grabbed from Wikipedia for weapons they barely know how to use." A printout of the Wikipedia article VSK-94 [ru] (probably from the Russian Wikipedia) was in the possession of a soldier named Ruslan, who "seemed to be learning to use his weapon on the fly" and "had little else besides the printouts" in his pack, which Ukrainian soldiers recovered with what they believed to be his body in September. The rifle next to him suggested he was a sniper. But while snipers in modern military units often go through weeks of additional special training, "Ruslan's teacher appeared to be the internet."

A banner article on banners

Prolific Wikipedia reporter Stephen Harrison turned his attention to Wikipedia's fundraising banners (covered in last month's issue) in his latest column for Slate, headlined "The Huge Fight Behind Those Pop-Up Fundraising Banners on Wikipedia".

Though "many people see the banner ads on Wikipedia as something like the site's version of a PBS fundraising drive – a bit annoying because they distract you from your regularly scheduled wiki browsing, but not particularly painful," for others, "many of Wikipedia's most dedicated contributors, this year's proposed banner ads presented something like a moral crisis," he writes. "The Wikipedia editing community recently held a poll rejecting the proposed banner ads, pressuring the foundation that supports the site into drafting alternative ads with softer language."

Harrison discusses the aforementioned RfC and the foundation's response, quoting extensively from well-known Wikipedians including Lane Rasberry, Jim Heaphy, and Ryan McGrady.[a]

Harrison explains to readers the difference between the foundation and the community, the latter of which CEO Maryana Iskander tells him produces "healthy democratic noise." He also traces the foundation's growth from its early days operating on a "shoestring budget" to its current status as a large, well-funded nonprofit.

On the question of whether or not those with means should donate, Harrison writes, "It depends. In my view, people who volunteer a lot of time improving Wikipedia's content have already made their 'gift' and should feel no obligation. For everyone else, the calculus is personal."

He concludes: "Clearly, Wikipedians are right to engage in vigorous discussion about how donations are solicited from visitors, and to oversee how those funds are actually spent." – Sdkb

  1. ^ Disclosure: all editors quoted by Harrison are present or past contributors to The Signpost.

How to get divorced on Wikipedia

"Hi Example! Thanks for letting us know that your last name contains two q's and a z rather than two z's and a q. But can you prove it with a reference to a reliable source?" This sort of interaction may be part of our daily grind, but the outside world still finds it more than a little perplexing.

Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel recently had this experience trying to get the article on her updated to reflect her divorce earlier this year. An unidentified IP, presumably Mandel, made a COI edit request for the update at the article talk page, surpassing the vast majority of COI requests by including a source in the form of a court record number. But it was declined, with the comment, "The requested edit violates Wikipedia policy as expressed in WP:NOR and more specifically in WP:BLPPRIMARY: 'Do not use trial transcripts and other court records, or other public documents, to support assertions about a living person.' Basically, Wikipedia should not be the place of first publication of any information that has not already been published elsewhere, particularly in WP:BLP articles. If this information is sufficiently public and important enough to be reported by reliable third-party sources, then it may be updated here."

Emily St. J. Mandel Twitter logo, a stylized blue bird

Friends, did you know that if you have a Wikipedia page and you get a divorce, the only way to update your Wikipedia is to say you're divorced in an interview?

December 17, 2022

Mandel then took to Twitter, tweeting, "Friends, did you know that if you have a Wikipedia page and you get a divorce, the only way to update your Wikipedia is to say you're divorced in an interview?"

She continued, "It sounds crazy, but wikipedia runs on citations! So anyway all I want for Christmas is for a journalist writing a story for publication (online-only is fine!) to ask me if I'm still married. Also if you're reading this and you're one of my girlfriend's friends, she's not actually dating a married woman, it's just that my wikipedia page is a time capsule."

Wikipedian Hayden Schiff replied to her that, per WP:ABOUTSELF, her tweet should be sufficient. But Mandel had been (mis-)informed by "a guy who's been a Wikipedia editor for a very long time" that nothing short of media coverage would do.

Thus, two hours after her tweet, Slate ran the article, "A Totally Normal Interview With Author Emily St. John Mandel," in which Dan Kois asked her, "So, are you married these days?"

"My Wikipedia entry was essentially a time capsule," Mandel told him. "It bothered me that it was no longer accurate, but also it was kind of awkward for my girlfriend. I didn't love that if her friends looked me up, they'd think she was dating a married woman."

The BBC, which had gotten scooped, ran their own article a few days later, which referenced a similar incident in 2012 with author Philip Roth. Business Insider also ran coverage, choosing to contact a Wikimedia Foundation spokesperson rather than learn to read a talk page. Upworthy arrived late to the party the next day with a GIF-filled article that nevertheless ran with "scoop" in the URL.

Back on Wikipedia, discussion has moved to whether we ought to modify WP:BLP (consensus is leaning no as of press time) and whether we ought to mention the incident in Mandel's bio (consensus is leaning yes). – Sdkb

Twitter files, tweet, tweet, delete, no keep, and Wikipedia is not for sale

A remarkable spat started on December 2 when Elon Musk promised an "awesome" announcement and then the Twitter files were released via a series of tweets, followed by a series of similar stories in cooperation with Musk, all critical of Musk's newly purchased Twitter platform and its reaction to a news story about Hunter Biden's laptop.

A Wikipedia article on the Twitter files was soon started and quickly nominated for deletion. An AfD participant called the story a "nothing burger". Musk was tweeted and he called the proposed deletion evidence of Wikipedia's "non-trivial left-wing bias" tweaking Jimmy Wales in the process. Another tweeter asked Musk if he was considering buying Wikipedia. Wales said that Wikipedia was not for sale.

Fox News, Metro (UK), Vice, Gizmodo and others noticed the Twitter spat between Elon Musk and Jimmy Wales involving the supposed offer from the former to buy Wikipedia. Fox characterized it as a "slam" against Wikipedia for considering deleting the article Twitter Files. Vice countered with the label "conspiracy theory" for reading left/right content inclusion intent into the deletion debate. Gizmodo, puzzlingly, says in a headline that Wales "Indirectly Tells Elon Musk the Site 'Is Not for Sale'" emphasis ours, but in the same article states that he's "going head-to-head with" the billionaire.

The deletion request was snow closed as "Keep".

In the meantime

Jimmy Wales, who has serious experience running a social media platform, is not likely to be foolish enough to apply. Neither would any other qualified applicant. So was this whole episode a charade or a publicity stunt right from the beginning? – B, Sb

In brief

Matteo Salvini, Silvio Berlusconi, and Giorgia Meloni
"The world's largest e-waste dump" (see 3:00 minutes)
March of the Volunteers, the national anthem of the People's Republic of China since 1982
External videos
video icon Glory to Hong Kong, written by "Thomas dgx yhl" and Hongkongers in 2019 on YouTube
The official Hong Kong anthem is March of the Volunteers – Mainland China's anthem. An alternative that has been used by protesters is Glory to Hong Kong.

The top results of an English search of "Hong Kong national anthem" on Google is the Wikipedia page for "Glory to Hong Kong" with text saying that some have dubbed it the "national anthem of Hong Kong." The next result is the Wikipedia entry for "March of the Volunteers"

See "Hong Kong demands Google bury protest song in online anthem search results", from The Washington Post via MSN.
Monthly pageviews were over 250 million in November (note logarithmic scale)

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Russian troops

No doubt many Russian soldiers are suffering from poor or absent training, but the presence of a Wikipedia printout seems rather slim evidence that the carrier of the sniper rifle knew nothing else about the weapon. Alternatives include his being a competent practitioner, and merely curious about what information was publicly available about his equipment. Had similar evidence been found half a century ago on my body, then indeed, I was briefly a soldier of very little military value, but in other parts of life I have been interested in what laymen knew about my areas of competence. Jim.henderson (talk) 07:08, 1 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Meloni article

The Giorgia Meloni Daily Dot article [4] was interesting. "The difference is especially glaring when compared to the English, French, German and Spanish versions of the same articles." It's not the first time media has noticed similar things. Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 19:38, 1 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Journalism Competition and Preservation Act

Odd that we don't have an article for the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act at the time of writing. We do have an article on the Australian version of the law, the News Media Bargaining Code – which unlike the US version was implemented. (The US bill was not taken forward at this time, but may make a comeback later this year.)

For what it's worth, The Intercept opined: Google and Meta are pouring money into two, seemingly contradictory messages in an effort to defeat it. The full-court strategy plays on left- and right-wing concerns about social media: According to the messaging, the JCPA is simultaneously a legislative proposal backed by liberals to “silence conservative voices” and a far-right effort that will fund pro-Trump voices that are the source of “dangerous misinformation.” The exaggerated rhetoric was part of a larger campaign to stop any proposal to share advertising revenue, the main source of income for social media and search engine tech companies. The message designed to orchestrate Republican opposition to JCPA is sponsored by NetChoice, and the message designed to whip up Democratic opposition to JCPA is sponsored by the Computer and Communications Industry Association. Both organizations are funded by Google and Meta, Facebook’s parent company, and serve to influence lawmakers and the public on behalf of shared concerns by the two megacorporations.

The Editor & Publisher (linked in our article above) took a similar view: The JCPA represented an acknowledgment that two of the world’s wealthiest companies have made billions of dollars off the work of journalists and their publications. It was a chance to offer an exemption to an antitrust law whose relevance is tied to a bygone era when profitable newspaper empires could threaten the flow of information. Today, the problem has shifted. A duopoly controls the flow of much of the free world’s information. Other countries are changing that. Why isn’t America? --Andreas JN466 20:15, 1 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Mandel story

Look ma, I made the Signpost! (I am "Wikipedian Hayden Schiff"). I didn't realize she had already attempted a COI request. I can see more clearly now how this one slipped through the cracks; the person responding to her request didn't know that they were talking to Mandel herself, so they couldn't know to provide the information that she could simply post a tweet or whatever. I'd sure like if we could somehow make this process better so a tough situation like this doesn't arise again (imagine if it had been a much less famous figure and/or one who didn't have a well-followed social media account), but I'm not sure what could have prevented this particular situation. –IagoQnsi (talk) 20:44, 1 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]

I've been thinking for a while that our instructions to BLPs looking to fix/update their articles leaves a ton to be desired. {{u|Sdkb}}talk 20:58, 1 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
LPs ... articles do not ask to be improved, the people they are about do. Daniel Case (talk) 22:05, 2 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Speaking as a Wikipedian who has been active here longer than over 98% of the rest of you, I would have handled the matter differently than it had been: the request was reasonably presented & I would have added this information, invoking WP:IAR if needed to quash this stupid editorial decision. Sheesh, how else is the average person supposed to prove to us that they've been divorced? The entire reason use of primary sources is discouraged is to avoid original synthesis or opinion, not to prevent providing a source for falsifiable statements. Someone who does not understand that distinction harms this project more than helps it.

And I would also go further to state that concerning a few details of a person's life -- including date of birth, educational history, marriage status -- the subject should be presumed correct unless proven to be an unreliable source. (Thinking here of George Santos, who may not even be an American citizen.) -- llywrch (talk) 03:15, 2 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
I don't think it was a stupid editorial decision/reply to edit request, since mine would have been much the same, though I like to think I would have mentioned a potentional WP:ABOUTSELF solution, since the requester hinted that they had (at least) some sort of contact with the subject. However, another editorial decision was soon made:[5]. Others followed. I don't know if a WP:VRT solution would have been possible, but the question became moot fairly quickly.
Personally I'm a bit unflexible about WP:BLP, and a suggestion to use WP:BLPPRIMARY is by default probably bad in my head. Others have mentioned that the request in itself made it reasonable to remove the marriage-info at least for the time being. That didn't occur to me, but I wouldn't have opposed it. I think WP:ABOUTSELF sources can be fine for DOB and marriage status, but I'm not at all sure about education. Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 11:11, 2 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@Gråbergs Gråa Sång and Llywrch: Date of birth is occasionally fraught. As it happens, just last week there was an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reporting that a lady claimed she was born in 1969, not 1964, and even had a lawyer send Wikimedia a letter saying so, claiming the "wrong" date infringed her personality rights. However, some years back, the FAZ says, she had stated in a CV appended to her dissertation—which in parts allegedly plagiarised Wikipedia—that she was born in 1964, completed school in 1982, and so on.
Still, sources can be wrong. I was reminded the other day of the discussion at User_talk:Jimbo_Wales/Archive_86#"Verifiability_and_truth", which in due course led to the phrase "verifiability, not truth" being removed from the WP:Verifiability policy. As in that case, one possible solution is often to just omit content that is questionable. Jimmy talked a lot of sense there, as he usually does on BLP issues.
"Everything you read in newspapers is absolutely true, except for that rare story of which you happen to have first-hand knowledge." —Erwin Knoll
"What people outside do not appreciate is that a newspaper is like a soufflé, prepared in a hurry for immediate consumption. This of course is why whenever you read a newspaper account of some event of which you have personal knowledge it is nearly always inadequate or inaccurate. Journalists are as aware as anyone of this defect; it is simply that if the information is to reach as many readers as possible, something less than perfection has often to be accepted." —David E. H. Jones, in New Scientist, Vol. 26 Andreas JN466 15:08, 2 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Sure DOB/whatever can be wrong in sources, WP:ABOUTSELF or not. But per Wikipedia_talk:Biographies_of_living_persons/Archive_48#Tweets_announcing_"Happy_birthday_to_me!_I'm_21_today!", it's not my default assumption that it's wrong. When you show me an article from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung saying that it's wrong, I'll probably change my assumption. Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 15:35, 2 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
I note that the German YOB-thing is mentioned in the German WP-article. Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 15:51, 2 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
The whole de.WP talk page reads like some sort of thriller novel. A source showing the 1964 birth date disappeared from the Internet Archive: "This URL has been excluded from the Wayback Machine." Another is still available here: [6] Tsk, tsk. Andreas JN466 16:18, 2 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@Gråbergs Gråa Sång:, the three items I mentioned almost always come ultimately from the subject, & in the vast majority of cases the subject has no reason to lie about those facts. An interviewer will ask the subject for these details, if relevant, or ask the subject's PR person -- who will receive the information from the subject. The same for a resume or CV: the subject will have generated the information. As for educational history, maybe an interviewer or researcher will verify the information. Or maybe they won't. And going beyond this source -- say investigating birth & marriage records -- is original research; so we are forced to trust the subject until a third party shows they should not be trusted on this subject. Nevertheless, you can be assured that for academics & politicians, their backgrounds are usually verified before they enter an election -- George Santos (whom I mentioned above) being an exception to this rule, & the truth of his background came out soon after his election. Some celebrities & businesspeople may get away with falsifying their past, but again that is beyond our scope to determine.

In short, unless a secondary source has shown the subject to be unreliable on those details, a person should be trusted on those details.

PS, I read the section Jayen466 linked to above in Jimmy Wales' talk archive, & I'm pleased to find his opinion is close to mine on this matter. The entire "Veracity not truth" slogan arose as a means to quash the objections of cranks who claim "Your published sources are not reliable. I want to include the truth!" As is the case with most, if not all, Wikipedia slogans it is an oversimplification that if followed literally leads to disastrous results. -- llywrch (talk) 07:04, 3 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]

If I then approach the education point from another angle. If you are writing a BLP, and come across the subject's education history at their official website (or an uploaded CV etc), would you then think it a good idea to include that history in the WP-article per WP:NPOV? Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 10:32, 3 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
I personally would accept anybody's statement of their own birthday, unless there is a reason that it seems suspicious (e.g. some actors or, with at least some evidence, that the person has misled the public before on any matter). In that case, I'd want to state in the body of the text that, "according to xyz they were born on DATE". But in general, as above, birthdays, education etc, are sourced by journalists to the person themself, with a thorough investigation seldom made. In some cases I'd say "according to xyz's official website (or CV) they earned the following degrees." Many journalist have some sense of when they are being lied to and may check in that case, that's part of the reason we consider their employers to be reliable sources. Or maybe an experienced editor will catch something that a newby journalist wouldn't. The old saying is "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out." But in practice most journalists just wouldn't have the time for that. Smallbones(smalltalk) 16:05, 3 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
I have been quick to correct reports of incorrect birthdates from the Olympians and Paralympians, as they can take this as Wikipedia accusing them of cheating. Hawkeye7 (discuss) 01:39, 10 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]


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