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In the media

Court orders user data in libel case, Saudi Wikipedia in the crosshairs, Larry Sanger at it again

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By Adam Cuerden, Andreas Kolbe, Bri, Smallbones and JPxG

Media coverage of Arabic Wikipedia bans reveals two Wikimedians are serving long prison sentences in Saudi Arabia

Osama Khalid (left) and Ziyad Alsufyani, the two Wikipedians jailed in 2020 for 32 and 8 years respectively

Last month's global bans of sixteen users in the Middle East/North Africa region, including over a quarter of Arabic Wikipedia admins and three of the four founders of the Saudi Wikimedia User Group, sparked a spate of press coverage over the past two weeks.

During the fracas, there was much coverage of a seemingly unrelated event that came to light during investigation: that two Wikimedians with a long history of editing in medical topics, Osama Khalid (User:OsamaK) and Ziyad Alsufyani (User:Ziad), had been serving long prison sentences in Saudi Arabia since 2020. For detailed coverage see our Special report. AK, J

Paris court orders Wikimedia Foundation to hand over user's data

A French court has ordered the Wikimedia Foundation to hand over user data of a banned French Wikipedia user, a French site specializing in legal news in the tech sector, reports that a Paris court has ordered the Wikimedia Foundation to hand over a user's data, under article 145 of the code of civil procedure – with a penalty of 500 euros for each day of noncompliance. Previously, the WMF had refused to provide the information, prompting the plaintiff to seek a court order. The editor in question, Sulpyensid, is a banned user accused of creating an attack article on a French businessman.

For discussion of the case in the French Wikipedia community, see fr:Wikipédia:Le Bistro/6 janvier 2023#Laurent de Gourcuff. Opinion there seems divided: one user, says: "In my opinion, this is something that had to happen. In this case, it affects a user already banned by Wikipedia. For the rest, we'll see." However, asks: "So is the end of the protection of IP addresses by the WMF for France? (Even if here, the request is quite justified) What obliges an institution under American law to obey a French summary?"

One point made in the discussion is that the user was banned in May 2022, so the IP data – usually only kept on WMF servers for 90 days – ought to no longer be available. Given the speed at which courts operate, this may well be a common occurrence. AK, J

Tired of the libs?

Larry Sanger, known to some as the co-founder of Wikipedia, prefers to be called the "ex-founder". He's announced – well, he's announced a lot of things, and we've covered most of them: Digital Universe in 2005, Textop in 2006, the Encyclopedia of Earth (also in 2006), Citizendium (also also in 2006), WatchKnowLearn in 2008 (which we missed), Everipedia in 2017, and Encyclosphere in 2019. Time has not been kind to them: Digital Universe and Textop are deadlinks; Encyclopedia of Earth and Citizendium are basically zombies if their recent changes are any guide; WatchKnowLearn was last updated in 2020 (but wished Wikipedia a Happy Birthday on its main page back then. How nice!); and Everipedia... "rebranded" into IQ Wiki and now exclusively covers Cryptocurrency and NFT scams. The jury is still out on this latest thing, a browser plug-in that may be the solution to your tiredness. It lets you see articles from the multi-headed mega-'pedia known as Encyclosphere. You can even block Wikipedia articles from your searches. His general take is that our project has overrun the net, squashing out other perspectives in favor of a biased view run by a cabal of libs. Sanger's 'sphere allows those other perspectives to write their own articles in their own encyclopedias, which are then collected in the 'sphere, where you can choose an article in whatever flavor you like best. And now there is a browser plug-in to display them when you search at Google and DuckDuckGo. There is even an option to rinse the taste of Wikipedia out of your mouth by automatically removing our articles from results. It only works with Chrome and Brave, though (no Firefox compatibility – ouch!).

Larry Sanger has announced a browser-plug-in for Encyclosphere

That is the idea, anyway. Encyclosphere's main page looks fairly impressive (nice gradients!) but The Signpost couldn't find a way to search for articles there (or a link to the aforementioned plugin). Homesick Wikipedians will be relieved, however, to see that they are also asking for donations. The list of projects has some neat links, but no articles. If you actually want to use Encyclosphere, you need to do some scrounging – or read the results of our scrounging – to wind up at Encyclosearch. As of press time, searching here resulted in a HTTP 500, although they were helpful enough to return a stacktrace: java.lang.RuntimeException: /mnt/sdd/encyclosearch/encyclosearch/public/index.html (Too many open files). When they're back, have a look at the results for "Larry Sanger", "Gilbert and Sullivan", or "Fermat's Last Theorem" – all of which rapidly go off-topic within a handful of results. Trying a few subjects that are more difficult to explain well, the first relevant result (after a bunch on software, games, and a dictionary definition) for "Evolution" comes from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia and is barely comprehensible. Another way of searching for articles is the Encycloreader, a web application that is operational as of press time; it uses a different configuration and includes Wikipedia (as well as Citizendium) by default in its searches. Feel free to report your results in the comments.

This is being advertised with Sanger's usual bluster: according to his Knowledge Standards Foundation, "If you want to participate in the world's largest encyclopedia, you must collaborate with a shadowy group of anonymous amateurs and paid shills on exactly one article per topic." He adds, "No small group of elites deserves the power to declare what is known for all of us." However, Encyclosphere does not really seem to provide a vastly different viewpoint – there aren't any pages endorsing Qanon, or slobbering over Donald Trump. Encyclosphere, in the end, seems to consist of at least somewhat decent, somewhat neutral, and somewhat reliable sources: it seems Conservapedia didn't make the cut, and there is no weal of Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About. The worst you can say about the encyclopedias it draws from is that they aren't necessarily as well-written, well-polished, in-depth, or as consistent as Wikipedia. Well, that and they use Java. AC, Sb, J

Happy birthday Wikipedia!

Wikipedia is turning 22

Wikipedia's twenty-second birthday was celebrated by the multilingual news site Pressenza. They quickly review Wikipedia's founding with the roles played by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger; the movement's cumulative achievements; and the idealistic motives behind what we do. "It shows the strength of voluntary, collective, and collaborative action dedicated to the common good and shared knowledge, [which is] far superior to the pettiness of the private, the restricted, the exclusive, and the paid." While these motives may seem simplistic or naïve to those who have struggled to build our encyclopedia over two decades, we should never forget that these ideals are the rock that supports the encyclopedia.

Pressenza may be biased toward Wikipedia, however. They were founded in 2009 and publish multilingual news and commentary with unpaid contributors. Their articles are all published under a Creative Commons license.

Other media noting the anniversary include Wired Italia, Firstpost, and an Argentinian website called Tecno.

Congratulations to all who have helped build our encyclopedia! – Sb, B

In brief

Solanum mammosum has some colorful nicknames.

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Just because Wikipedia is a big success story doesn't mean that it is perfect. We do have a systemic bias. The fact that the our reaction to somebody saying that is to mostly ignore (rather than review) what they say and instead put the main effort into trying to deprecate the messenger is an illustration of that. North8000 (talk) 17:47, 16 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]

A quick honest gut check would be a good. Is the reason for the negative opinions that stuff or is it because he's saying we have a left bias? North8000 (talk) 20:31, 16 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@North8000: Honestly, here's the thing. I know that Larry Sanger, when he was in charge of Citizendium, "countered the bias of Wikipedia" by handing over the homeopathy article to be put solely into the care of homeopath Dana Ullman, and wanted "both sides" of the intelligent design "debate" to be included. I don't think a word of complaint he says about Wikipedia is valid, because he's demonstrated such poor judgement.
Wikipedia is almost certainly biased, I don't see how it can't be given it's run by self-selecting volunteers. But to class it on a simplistic left-right axis seems distinctly unhelpful. Adam Cuerden (talk)Has about 8.3% of all FPs. Currently celebrating his 600th FP! 21:33, 16 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Also, the article he links in that comment above is this article, and also advocates for including discussion of holocaust denial "neutrally" and all sorts of things. He seems to go with the idea of if a lot of people believe it, report it neutrally:
"Climate change scientists and activists have dismissed the idea that journalists ought to report neutrally on climate change skepticism by arguing, “If you’re going to give equal space to climate change skepticism, you should also give equal space to Holocaust denial — which is absurd.” But I hope it’s clear how I would respond to that argument: while among the American population, climate change skepticism appears to be a (large) minority position, Holocaust denial is a tiny fringe phenomenon. In an American context, reporting neutrally about the climate change debate does not entail that reporters must so much as mention Holocaust denial. In certain other countries, however, things might be different."
Or, on Creationism, "the people of Texas (and other such places) have the right to insist, not that the science be taught a certain way, but that students be informed that a large number of citizens disagree with the science."
He has this weird populist view of neutrality. Adam Cuerden (talk)Has about 8.3% of all FPs. Currently celebrating his 600th FP! 21:41, 16 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Bias can be in many areas, but the main discussion on it in English Wikipedia is regarding the two main "sides" in US politics / culture wars. Zero bias is impossible to achieve or even define. I set a lower bar where it doesn't sink to where it damages the informativeness of the article/Wikipedia. Which unfortunately does happen. BTW I think that it is 80% fixable through policies and guidance. North8000 (talk) 21:56, 16 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
I'd probably agree with you there, and only saying "probably" because I don't really do much on Wikipedia related to things happening in the present day, so, y'know.
Now, moving a bit off-topic, I will say that, as a European - the British Conservative Party is left of the American Democrats at a rough evaluation... some claims of left bias are kinda... eyeroll-worthy, when it's someone from America acting as if something couldn't work (like free healthcare) that the rest of the developed world has been doing for decades. And the claims that Wikipedia as a whole is biased aren't really proven by focusing on one or two very few high traffic articles like, say, Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden.
But, y'know, even if I don't agree with them after evaluation, specific claims deserve evaluation. And I'm sure it's entirely possible to make a claim of left bias on Wikipedia that's worthy of discussion, but a known gadfly like Sanger who's fundamentally opposed to WP:NPOV, and has shown appalling judgement? There's only so many times we can take his claims seriously. If he's right, for once, someone else will say it in an actionable way. Adam Cuerden (talk)Has about 8.3% of all FPs. Currently celebrating his 600th FP! 22:32, 16 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@Adam Cuerden: The current Tory government is not to the left of the Dems but is taking from the Republican playbook - voter suppression by bringing in a requirement for photo IDs in time for council elections in May which councils say can't be done in time, laws to suppress protests and deny unions the right to strike, etc. Interesting that a Tory MP justifying voter ID could only bring up one tiny 7 year old incidence of fraud and that was by the right wing UKIP party. Doug Weller talk 09:11, 17 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Point. But elected Tory governments... Adam Cuerden (talk)Has about 8.3% of all FPs. Currently celebrating his 600th FP! 12:15, 17 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
I don't think I'm going to go there. One quick note, you really don't have a worldwide right/left gauge because the terms have different meanings, e.g. in the US vs. Europe. My own gauge of when wiki bias has gone too far is when it hurts informativeness. Useful, factual information gets wiki-lawyered out, and useless POV and characterization type info and trivial negative or positive info gets wiki-lawyered in so much that it floods the article. North8000 (talk) 17:30, 17 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Fair point. Adam Cuerden (talk)Has about 8.3% of all FPs. Currently celebrating his 600th FP! 00:42, 18 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
That doesn't narrow it down much. Most criticism of Wikipedia - inherently a libertarian project - comes, obviously, from authoritarian governments, parties, and their supporters. And since the 1990s, left-wing authoritarianism has been on the decline (even China is not so communist anymore), so most authoritarians today are right-wing. In any case, my reaction would be the same if it was a CCP official, Pedro Castillo, or Kim Jong-un criticising Wikipedia - dismissal. Wikipedia should take criticism from those who want to improve it, not from those who want to destroy its very essence. W. Tell DCCXLVI (talk to me!/c) 04:52, 18 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
You're braver than I am. It was so appallingly written that I just noted it didn't seem to be outright denying evolution and gave up. Adam Cuerden (talk)Has about 8.3% of all FPs. Currently celebrating his 600th FP! 14:36, 17 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Ironically, each side of the argument claims their sources are the only reliable ones, and criticize the beliefs of the opposing side who believes their sources are the only reliable ones. The irony begins to unfold when the realization hits that none of us were eye-witnesses to anything that happened before we were born. It boils down to opinion, belief, and epistemic differences of what we choose to believe, and to that I point to science. WP:NPOV tells us to include all significant views published by RS - objectivity factors in our choice of sources and the material published in those sources that we choose to include. Some problems arise when that material is taken out of context. Too few actually take the time to read the context of the paragraph, chapter or book from which the context was extracted. Result: bias, a touch of OR, and/or misunderstanding. I have also seen sentence comprehension issues, and Use-mention distinction issues. j/s Atsme 💬 📧 13:53, 18 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]

French court case

  • I'm not sure why you're bringing up French regulations that require saving user data for a year. Do you mean WMF ought to change configuration of its US servers to retain IP addresses for a year instead of 90 days, to facilitate compliance with future French court orders? ☆ Bri (talk) 15:18, 16 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
  • Just reporting what is written in the référé since someone above asked about French law, not making any value judgments concerning what "should" be done. I do think the nearest servers may actually be in the Netherlands, based on my memory and comments in the fr.wp discussion Andreas linked to. FWIW, I was aware that the banned contributor had issues with BLP (§) and sought to curb their problematic contribs, but was unaware of the full degree of the problem. -- SashiRolls 🌿 · 🍥 18:48, 16 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
  • You're probably refering to the esams host in Amsterdam. According to m:Wikimedia servers, last updated in November, esams is for caching only, and the application services which include session state are in the core cluster in the U.S. WMF may have deliberately chosen this architecture, for all I know, specifically to avoid jurisdictional issues over demands for user data, as well as alleviating the impact of data privacy regulations which are very different in the EU. If so, I applaud their foresight as this kind of court paper served to the Foundation can be round-filed.
In fact the Foundation is going even further than that, potentially removing even the 90 day IP address retention through implementation of the new IP masking scheme. The implementation details talk about retaining a hash of the address, which wouldn't do an investigator a whole lot of good if it was done properly. If you didn't read about it before, I suggest starting with The Signpost's "Anti-vandalism with masked IPs", contributed by WMF rep Johan Jönsson in 2020. ☆ Bri (talk) 01:44, 17 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
  • Hi Bri. I'm dimly aware of that planned change. Here, though, the more pertinent issue could potentially be that the account mentioned has raised eyebrows concerning the quality of their BLPs and their penchant for attack pages by getting banned from fr.wp and by causing the WMF grief. This being a potentially "controversial" topic, I haven't looked into it in any great detail, but what I have seen, e.g. Allary_Éditions, suggests that some of their en.wp mainspace productions may need deleting as attack pages or significant rewriting. -- SashiRolls 🌿 · 🍥 04:23, 18 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@SashiRolls: Nice to see you here. I didn't check with Legal; as far as the 90 days are concerned, I just went by the Privacy Policy. Pyb might know more. Andreas JN466 20:00, 16 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]

I've wondered, do we have to be in compliance with the laws of all 190+ counties? I can't wait to see the rules from Russia and North Korea for tracking and reporting dissidents. North8000 (talk) 20:41, 16 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]

  • North8000, if we become the global society that has been proposed, we will be subject to the rule of whoever controls the money, the property you won't own, and the food we won't grow because there won't be any farmers who own land to grow food, or raise beef cattle. McDonald's & Burger King will disappear unless they resort to veggie burgers. Say goodbye to the Big Mac & Whopper. We may even have to resort to human breast milk for our cereal in the morning. ^_^ j/s Atsme 💬 📧 14:53, 18 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]
    @North8000 and Atsme: soon even the English Wikipedia's lex loci protectionis doctrine of applying U.S. architectural freedom of panorama to the photos of copyrighted architectural works from no-FOP countries may also be tested. Perhaps by French authorities too? Things get crazy in the application of prevailing rules or laws between international borders. Whether the laws/rules of the country where Wikimedia servers reside (the U.S.) will ultimately prevail or the laws/rules of the 190+ countries will gain the upper hand, as long as Wikimedia sites (English Wikipedia, French Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons et cetera) are being accessed in those countries and their content being accessed or used in those countries. JWilz12345 (Talk|Contrib's.) 23:36, 20 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]


In brief


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