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Vivek's smelly socks, online safety, and politics

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By Andreas Kolbe, Bri, HaeB and Smallbones

A presidential candidate and undeclared paid editing

Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ramaswamy – a long-shot Republican candidate for the 2024 United States presidential electionpaid a Wikipedian to edit the article about himself, according to Mediaite (see also The New Republic, Forbes, and Yahoo!). The paid editor, Jhofferman, had earlier declared that he was paid, and even summarized two edits as "at subject's request." Jhofferman is the most active editor of the article, having made 97 (38.5%) of the edits. His most controversial edits removed Ramaswamy's role in Ohio’s COVID-19 Response Team, and Ramaswamy's receipt of the The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. Paul Soros was the older brother of George Soros, a perceived enemy of the MAGA crowd.

Ramaswamy's campaign, according to HuffPost, stated that the edits simply corrected "factual distortions" on "a number of topics, including family members’ names." Of Jhofferman's 97 edits to the article, The Signpost could only find 3 that "corrected" family member's names: two added "Ramaswamy" as his wife's family name, and one abbreviated his father's given name "Vivek Ganapathy" to V.G.

Even though Jhofferman is not an undeclared paid editor, he was reported at an administrators' noticeboard anyway. Commenters there seemed to be leaning toward an editing restriction for violating our rules, perhaps neutral point of view.

The Signpost can add that Ramaswamy appears to have repeatedly used undeclared paid editors on his biography article, and articles on two of his businesses, Axovant Sciences and Roivant Sciences. These 16 editors who have since been blocked as sock puppets include two members of the well-known Yoodaba sockfarm. One of those socks edited all three articles, the other only two articles. In total seven editors who were later blocked for socking edited the Axovant Sciences article; ten edited the Roivant Sciences article, and seven edited the Vivek Ramaswamy article. The biography article and the Roivant Sciences article were both created by now banned sock puppets from the Jbuffkin sockfarm. The Axovant Sciences article was edited by an anonymous account who declared a conflict of interest for the article and also edited the other two articles.

We remind our readers that the identities of an editor or their employer can not be definitively proven even with Wikipedia's near-complete record of edits, for example an editor may be intentionally trying to embarrass an article subject with a Joe job.

Political candidates who are considering editing articles about themselves through undeclared paid editors or sock puppets should consider themselves notified that these editors are fairly easy to track on Wikipedia. We expect to further report on paid editing and socking by presidential candidates as the campaign progresses. – S

Encyclopaedia exemption to online safety bill?

The BBC reports that Wikipedia will not perform Online Safety Bill age checks which will likely be required under a proposed UK online safety bill meant to protect children. See also [1], [2], [3], [4]

The two methods of protecting children on the surface are contradictory. The online safety bill could require children to register accounts with their names and age and store this data. According to Rebecca MacKinnon of the WMF, Wikipedia has a "commitment to collect minimal data about readers and contributors" which is a method of protecting all Wkipedia editors. Fortunately, the House of Lords has debated an amendment that would exempt encyclopaedias and other websites "provided for the public benefit". – S

Compromise with paid editors?

Wikipedia's influence grows in Axios discusses how companies can help write encyclopedia articles, showing the viewpoints of a reputation management company as well as from several unnamed Wikipedians. This is a couple of steps above how Entrepreneur used to write similar articles which didn't have input from Wikipedians.

Summarizing some of Axios's main points, they tell companies

And they say that Wikipedians say

There's some obvious tension in the two viewpoints. What would happen if a company maintained a presence on Wikipedia and tried to keep the article about their company up to date, while avoiding anonymous edits, disclosing their conflicts of interest, and adequately sourcing every edit?

It would be a great advance from the current conditions, of course. But what's going to happen when Wikipedians and the company representatives disagree? Wikipedians almost always disagree about major edits, even among ourselves. Some Wikipedians will want it one way and won't be shy about telling the company employees. The employees generally won't disagree among themselves. They will be thinking about their paychecks and what their bosses want. Who will win?

Axios seems to suggest that a compromise can be reached. The Signpost is skeptical. Would the companies really want to work this way? Would Wikipedians really be willing to compromise so easily? Perhaps more importantly, if everybody could agree on what not to include, we would end up having some really boring articles.

The "Wikipedia's influence grows" claim in the title rests on a recent report by the Washington Post, titled "Inside the secret list of websites that make AI chatbots sound smart". Axios summarizes it as saying that "these tools focused on three key websites — ' No. 1, which contains text from patents issued around the world; No. 2, the free online encyclopedia; and No. 3, a subscription-only digital library.'" However, it is worth noting that according to the WaPo's numbers this top position corresponded to Wikipedia contributing only 0.19% of the tokens in the text corpus in question - much less than e.g. the 3% of the training data for OpenAI's GPT-3 model that are said to have come from Wikipedia.

Axios also states that "According to Wikistats, the data gathering function within the Wikimedia organization, Wikipedia saw 26 billion total page views in March alone. In the last year, the site received 279 billion unique views [sic], which is a 22% increase year over year." However, as cautioned in the small print of Wikistats, "this data shows page views from automated traffic as well as human traffic." When switched to display "human user page views", the same site instead indicates a 4.5% drop from 2021 to 2022 (although for more recent months, the WMF's more detailed "Movement Metrics" analysis indicates a modest year-over-year growth again).

S, H

African Journalism Award: Open the Knowledge

Map showing Francophone Africa
Francophone Africa – too diverse for inclusion?

A number of African media outlets, among them the Nigerian Guardian, are reporting on the WMF's "Open the Knowledge" African Journalism Awards announced on 3 May 2023 in a WMF press release:

Africawide – The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that operates Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, is today launching the inaugural Open the Knowledge Journalism Awards. Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, this year’s awards celebrate the contributions of journalists in Africa who prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in their reporting.

African journalists living on the continent (including active Wikimedians, but excluding Wikimedia staff) can submit their articles from May 3 to June 30, 2023. Articles must have been published online between January 1, 2022 and June 23, 2023. Admissible topics are:

In what is surely a blow to diversity and inclusion, however, only English-language articles may be submitted. The WMF will not even accept translations of articles published in any other language.

This seems like an unfortunate exclusion, given that close to half of Africa by area is Francophone and there is a significant amount of African journalism in Arabic, Swahili, Portuguese, Afrikaans and many other languages. – AK

Wikipedia too powerful?

Former Arabic Wikipedia administrators Osama Khalid (left) and Ziyad Alsufyani (right), both in prison in Saudi Arabia (see previous Signpost coverage).

The UK Telegraph published a 3000-word article (archive copy) titled "How Wikipedia became too powerful". Featuring interviews with Wikipedians like Rich Farmbrough, WMF CEO Maryana Iskander, Wikimedia UK CEO Lucy Crompton-Reid and Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger among others, the article starts out by reminding readers of the two Wikimedians imprisoned in Saudi Arabia:

What is the price of information? For Osama Khalid, one of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who edit Wikipedia, the tariff was 32 years in jail – his punishment for 'violating public morals' by posting news 'deemed to be critical' of the Saudi regime. Ziyad al-Sofiani, his fellow 'admin' (as senior Wikipedia editors are known) was handed eight years. Their jail terms were reported by activist groups around the same time that Wikimedia, the online encyclopaedia's parent foundation, revealed that it had banned 16 users in the Middle East and North Africa region for 'editing the platform in a coordinated fashion to advance the aim of [external] parties'. Alleged spies for the Saudi government, in other words, trying to manipulate the truth. And these days, if you want to control 'the truth', you want to control Wikipedia.

The article goes on to say that Wikipedia gets almost as many visits as Twitter, about half as many as Facebook – and about ten times as many as the BBC. Wikimedia Foundation CEO Maryana Iskander however feels this level of influence is in good hands:

'There are enough checks and balances in the system,' she says. Chief among them, she notes, are the 'human army of truth tellers out there trying to ensure that information remains accurate and reliable and neutral'. And that means the volunteers like Osama Khalid.

The article goes on to provide a well-researched overview of Wikipedia topics such as edit wars, volunteer motivation, Wikipedia's gender imbalance and Wikipedia bureaucracy and ends with a summary of plans for the future growth of Wikipedia:

Iskander says that in future she wants to focus on Wikipedia becoming as comprehensive in its hundreds of other language versions as it is in English. The danger then might not be the danger of regulatory extinction, but of Wikipedia becoming too powerful – a ubiquitous single source of truth. It has already become, for example, the go-to source for smart speakers and voice assistants dishing out information on demand. And Wikimedia is keen to go further by vacuuming up the archives and data at specialist institutions. Iskander thinks it’s a good deal for such institutions, because the size of Wiki's audience brings such huge exposure. 'More eyeballs on your content is going to increase interest.'

It sounds like the take-it-or-leave it power play of information’s market leader. Iskander insists it's all for the greater good. But she does admit that the rapid growth, influence and reach achieved by Wikipedia's decentralised structure means it is a model that is being closely followed. 'I think more governments, corporations, organisations are heading in this direction,' she says. 'Wikipedia stands for a way of human engagement and a way of human interaction that the world would benefit from in other spheres, too.'


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Presidential candidate / paid editing

Jhofferman has provided some interesting context on their user talk page:

I agreed to take the job because I had done a previous revision of the page in June 2022, and his assistant asked if I could make a few updates. I was hired and began the revision in January, before he declared his candidacy (which I found out about the same way as everyone else). It mostly involved adding information about his books and about Strive Asset Management, but there were also some excisions made, including details about Roivant subsidiaries and some other past activities that seemed to be cluttering the narrative without adding anything substantive. Apparently, some of the requested deletions may have been less innocent. While I frequently had to explain to him and his press secretary about Wikipedia's guidelines and why I couldn't do some of the things they wanted, I guess I wasn't as diligent as I should have been. I wasn't hired to delete material about the Soros Fellowship and his Covid-era role, but it's not inaccurate to say that he "paid to have it scrubbed." Needless to say, I regret my role in this.

Assuming this is a truthful summary, this may also serve as a cautionary tale for other editors who find themselves being asked to make supposedly "uncontroversial" or "straightforward" changes for pay.

Regards, HaeB (talk) 04:44, 8 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]

That's interesting context, and given that it's the sort of statement that could easily jeopardize future paid gigs, I can't help but respect it. The most interesting thing here is I frequently had to explain to him and his press secretary about Wikipedia's guidelines and why I couldn't do some of the things they wanted. - I imagine as the election cycle continues to pick up, this is only going to become more common. ThadeusOfNazereth(he/him)Talk to Me! 14:52, 8 May 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Online safety

Open the Knowledge Journalism Awards


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