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In the media

An accusation of bias from Brazil, a lawsuit from Portugal, plagiarism from Florida

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By Andreas Kolbe, Adam Cuerden, Bri, and JPxG

Glenn Greenwald on Wikipedia's neutrality

Glenn Greenwald is one of the three journalists who broke the Edward Snowden story that won The Guardian a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2014. Living as an expat in Brazil, he has been a vociferous critic of many things over the years, including both major United States political parties, and was one of the founders of The Intercept – a publication he left in 2020, saying that its editors had demanded he redact an article about media coverage of that goddamn Hunter Biden laptop thing.

In a video on YouTube – an excerpt from a much longer (almost two hours long), paywalled episode Greenwald has published on Rumble (transcript here, also mostly paywalled) – Greenwald talks with Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger, and says that his Wikipedia biography changed in surprising ways after he angered the libs:

I really started noticing things going completely awry when I really started to have what was perceived to be a breach with the political faction with which I had long been associated, at least in the public mind, which was kind of American liberalism [...] I kind of became an opponent of the liberal establishment and its orthodoxies and tactics and what I began to notice was that things that were on my Wikipedia page for over a decade with no change things about events in my life from 10, 20, 30 years ago that had never been altered, suddenly every sentence became a war to try and insert negative insinuations or all kinds of innuendo, all sorts of incredibly tendentious characteristics and descriptions about my work that were designed to be negative to the point where my entire page became an ideological war because of the fact that my perceived political place in the ecosystem had shifted.

It is certainly true that his biography in late 2015 was by and large celebratory, and today is considerably less so. The early life and career sections preceding the discussion of what many people would consider Greenwald's finest hour and his main claim to fame, the Snowden story, today run to a huge 1,720 words (versus 1,043 words back then).

Here are a couple of the passages that have been expanded:

(2015:) While a senior in high school, at 17, he ran unsuccessfully for the city council.[37]

Boy, what a go-getter! The 2023 version reads very differently:

(2023:) Inspired by his grandfather's time on the then-Lauderdale Lakes City Council, Greenwald, still in high school, decided to run at the age of 17 for an at-large seat on the council in the 1985 elections.[17] He was unsuccessful, coming in fourth place in the race with only 7% of the total vote that election.[18] In 1991, Greenwald ran again for the at-large seat on the council at age 23, coming in third place but losing once again with less than half of the total votes of his other two opponents.[18][19] After two losses during his campaigns for the city council, Greenwald stopped running for political office and instead focused on law school.[13]

Sure, it is a neutrally phrased expansion from reliable sources, but doesn't he sound like kind of an asswipe?

Here is another section that has been expanded:

(2015:) Greenwald practiced law in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (1994–1995); in 1996 he co-founded his own litigation firm, called Greenwald Christoph & Holland (later renamed Greenwald Christoph PC), where he litigated cases concerning issues of U.S. constitutional law and civil rights.[8][31] One of his higher-profile cases was the representation of white supremacist Matthew F. Hale.[38] About his work in First Amendment speech cases, Greenwald told Rolling Stone, "to me, it's a heroic attribute to be so committed to a principle that you apply it not when it's easy...not when it supports your position, not when it protects people you like, but when it defends and protects people that you hate".[39]

(2023:) Greenwald practiced law in the litigation department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz from 1994 to 1995. In 1996, he co-founded his own litigation firm, Greenwald Christoph & Holland (later renamed Greenwald Christoph PC), where he litigated cases concerning issues of U.S. constitutional law and civil rights.[11][12] He worked pro bono much of the time, and his cases included representing white supremacist Matthew Hale in Illinois, who, Greenwald believed, was wrongly imprisoned,[21] and the neo-Nazi National Alliance.[22]
About his work in First Amendment speech cases, Greenwald told Rolling Stone magazine in 2013, "to me, it's a heroic attribute to be so committed to a principle that you apply it not when it's easy ... not when it supports your position, not when it protects people you like, but when it defends and protects people that you hate".[23]

Another difference between the 2015 and 2023 versions is that the 2023 version contains a prominent, 400-word paragraph titled "Israel and accusations of antisemitism". Even though this paragraph is based on sources dating as far back as 2012, the word "antisemitism" did not occur in the 2015 article, which merely noted that –

(2015:) Greenwald is critical of Israel's foreign policy and influence on U.S. politics,[102] a stance for which he has in turn been the subject of criticism.[103][104]

Patriotic hero, or despicable scum?

The answer is really a matter of opinion. Greenwald's own writing has shifted tone in the last few years. So has the tone of much journalistic output. While it's clear the article in 2023 takes a few jabs — and maybe unfairly so — who's to say that the article in 2015 wasn't unfairly pulling punches? Maybe this is bias and maybe it isn't. Ultimately, Wikipedia processes derive their just powers from the consensus of the governed, et cetera, which means "who the hell knows?"

Certainly, the distinguished editors of the Signpost (hopefully) have better things to do than get dragged into spittle-flecked noticeboard threads about American Punchfest 2, so not us.

The Australian's Adam Creighton picks up on Greenwald's video and adds a few Wikipedia criticisms of his own that are again likely to inflame the noggin and stir the passions. – AK, AC, JG

Portuguese lawsuit

Techdirt and the Wikimedia Foundation report on a lawsuit in Portugal brought by Caesar DePaço. As the Wikimedia Foundation's article says:

The case started in August 2021 with a complaint that de Paço was upset about the Portuguese and English language versions of the articles about him. These contain information about his right-wing political affiliations and past criminal accusations, topics that had been reported in reliable sources as publicly relevant. The lawsuit went to court in Portugal, and the Foundation won the preliminary case. Like most courts around the world, the lower court’s decision protected the ability of volunteers to research and write about notable topics, including biographies. However, the case took a strange turn on de Paço’s appeal. We are filing a series of appeals of our own in Portugal to protect the safety of users who contribute accurate and well-sourced information on important topics to Wikipedia. In our 5 July filing, we asked the Portuguese appellate court to refer several important legal questions to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). However, the Portuguese court ruled against us on 13 July, and demanded that the Foundation turn over personal data about multiple users who worked on the article.

Techdirt's Tim Cushing defends Wikipedia in his piece:

Whatever anyone's concerns are about the ability of Wikipedia to deliver facts, it should never be assumed false information will be given a tacit blessing to remain online. The normal moderation issues are present at Wikipedia, which cannot possibly afford (like any other major internet player) to physically backstop all content creation.

But that doesn’t mean Wikipedia doesn’t care whether or not pages are factual. It does. And that’s why Wikipedia (or its founding entity, Wikimedia) has rarely been sued (and never successfully) over information posted to the site by its users.

However, Cushing's statement that the Wikimedia Foundation has never been successfully sued is incorrect. There have been European court decisions ordering the Wikimedia Foundation to remove content from Wikipedia – examples from the German Wikipedia include the Kessler cases (court documents 1 and 2) and the Waibel case (see also English-language case summary by the plaintiff's lawyers). – AK

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Sanger misrepresented

Sorry to be blunt, but it seems like the editors either did not read the ID Talk and/or Medium essay they linked, or else grossly misrepresented it. ... Larry Sanger supports Intelligent Design, and fought to make Wikipedia handle it more favourably. This is true: Sanger has been very vocal with his views.: First off, the discussion and essay are nearly 6 years old now, and Sanger deleted the essay 5 years ago, so you don't link any evidence that this is true in the present tense. Second, as Sanger opens his ID Talk thread with As ... an agnostic who believes intelligent design to be completely wrong...., and as the thread and the essay are entirely about neutrality (and to a lesser extent, suggesting moderate policies with respect to significantly large populations in democratic societies) and explicitly neither "support" ID nor its "more favourabl[e]" coverage. Exact words from Sanger's ID thread opener, which are basically just reiterated throughout with no further reference to ID: I just have to say that this article is appallingly biased. It simply cannot be defended as neutral. ... I'm not here to argue the point.

Perhaps the editors can direct this reader to where Sanger actually definitively "supports ID", moreover in a manner that is "very vocal". SamuelRiv (talk) 15:48, 15 August 2023 (UTC)[reply]

I agree you have a point and have edited the entry (I didn't write it). Andreas JN466 17:57, 15 August 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Be that as it may in this specific case (ID). But Larry Sanger had a long history of espousing fringe views. Adapted from a comment I wrote in 2021 about a Signpost story about Sanger similarly failing on his 2013 resolution ("I am finished with Wikipedia criticism. Quote this back to me if I happen to lapse."): Larry Sanger has
Those quotes are from around 2019-2021, but it had become evident years earlier that Sanger's strong belief in his own epistemological supremacy would set him up for such failure modes. See for example RationalWiki's detailed description of how Citizendium (the Wikipedia competitor Sanger launched in 2006) devolved into promoting pseudoscience and "crank magnetism", thanks in large part to Sanger's leadership. I myself had highlighted that aspect of Citizendium in a presentation at Wikimania 2009 ("Several observers have voiced concern that the mainstream scientific view is under-represented on Citizendium in topics such as homeopathy, water memory, global warming and chiropractic." etc).
Regards, HaeB (talk) 11:57, 17 August 2023 (UTC)[reply]
That's all fine. So why can't the writing in the Signpost accurately reflect the sources being linked? The new revisions by @Adam Cuerden -- he feels they should be presented as equally valid, then let the reader decide, as per previous link -- again misrepresents what he wrote in the link cited. This kind of writing is simply sloppy and insulting to the reader, especially following the effort made in providing citations and quotations that both you and I made. (This editor did not respond to my request to comment.)
And shouldn't this popular WP newsletter be setting an example to editors to take special care that their text is faithful to their citations? This obviously does not preclude their own use of style, the writer's ability to give their opinion, or the newsletter from taking an editorial stance. SamuelRiv (talk) 21:43, 17 August 2023 (UTC)[reply]


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