Taking it sleazy: "Poli", which means "many", and "tics", which means "under-the-table Wikipedia article whitewashing campaigns".
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By Adam Cuerden, Andreas Kolbe, Bri, JPxG, and Claude Anthropic II

Hunter Biden again

Reputation management seems to come up in this column a lot

Events are events, and reporting is reporting. Some sources are biased in what they choose to cover, some are openly partisan, and some make suggestive innuendo to imply more than they can prove. Indeed, some sources do so with such fervor that they are not considered reliable for general use on Wikipedia.

But things that happened happened, and things that didn't didn't, and sometimes there really is a wolf, and sometimes businessmen really do sleazy stuff on Wikipedia.

In "Emails Show Hunter Biden Hired Specialists to Quietly Airbrush Wikipedia", investigative journalist Lee Fang asserts that reputation management consultants for Hunter Biden have edited the Wikipedia biography. The Federalist's staff writer Jordan Boyd says that the "the company's [sic] host of left-leaning administrators" are effectively in cahoots, or at least turning a blind eye [1]. Maybe more helpfully, Boyd points out the "effectively unenforceable" policies like Wikipedia:Conflict of interest#Paid editing that are supposed to prevent just this scenario, or at least keep it from going unnoticed for years.

But were the edits justified?

The Federalist also links to a copy of the email correspondence between Hunter Biden, his confidant Eric Schwerin, and Ryan Toohey of FTI Consulting, as uploaded to DocumentCloud by Lee Fang. These show the passages Hunter objected to, and his and Schwerin's comments. For example, the Career section of his article began with an unsourced sentence that read:

Biden is a lawyer with insider connections to the financial industry and government.

According to Fang's email document, Schwerin commented:

If there is a way to delete this sentence that would probably be good.

The sentence was duly removed. The relevant edits were performed by the user AmeliaChevalier in May 2014: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

The first and third of these edits removed large chunks of content about Burisma, a holding company of Ukrainian energy business Hunter has had associations with in the past.

Some of the other changes look, prima facie, like good-faith corrections of factual errors. Toohey comments in one of the emails:


We will make additional edits once you deliver a revision.

And, yes, some of the misstatements are crazy.

There is another notable deletion. According to the email document, Hunter commented as follows on a sentence claiming that he co-founded the "PARADIGM Global Advisors" fund (along with James Biden and disgraced financier Allen Stanford):

I did not co-found- it was founded in the mid 90s by James Park- I acquired a controlling interest

Stanford had nothing to do with the fund- Paradim was one of hundreds of alternative asset managers that were offered to Stanford clients for investment in their portfolios- any money, which was small relative to our fund's total AUM, invested on behalf of Stanford banking clients was fully returned to those clients at a profit based upon Paradigm's performance. No one from Paradigm ever met Alan Stanford or had any dealings with him.

While the Wikipedia sentence (added in 2013 by EllenCT, citing a 2007 Bloomberg source whose pre-2014 status is not available in the Internet Archive) does appear to have been incorrect as far as the co-founding is concerned, Biden's assertion that "Stanford had nothing to do with the fund" is also contradicted by sources. A 2009 Wall Street Journal report (archive), for example, says:

A fund of hedge funds run by two members of Vice President Joe Biden's family was marketed exclusively by companies controlled by Texas financier R. Allen Stanford, who is facing Securities and Exchange Commission accusations of engaging in an $8 billion fraud. The $50 million fund was jointly branded between the Bidens' Paradigm Global Advisors LLC and a Stanford Financial Group entity and was known as the Paradigm Stanford Capital Management Core Alternative Fund.

Other quality sources commenting on these alleged links include a 2009 Reuters report titled "Stanford had links to fund run by Bidens" and a 2019 Financial Times article (archive). The sentence about Stanford was duly removed. According to WikiBlame, this removal was never reversed, and there is no mention of links between Biden and Stanford in the article today. – AK, B, JG

Edit not, lest ye be edited

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Newsweek report on Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley (User:Rlgbjd)'s recent defense of editing her own Wikipedia page, in which she claimed she needed to correct "distorted" information and made several changes to her biography, leading editors on the site to reprimand her. She only made five edits, all to this page; two of them were pretty straightforward. The other three (this one, this one, and this one) touched on a controversial subject: her article's coverage of comments she made in 2020 about COVID-19 lockdown orders. The sentence in the article was cited to this Star Tribune article, and said that she "compared the stay-at-home orders to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II". She amended this to include the full quote from her concurring opinion:

Although headlines may sensationalize the invocation of cases such as Korematsu, the point of citing them is not to draw comparisons between the circumstances of people horrifically interned by their government during a war and those of people subjected to isolation orders during a pandemic. We mention cases like Korematsu in order to test the limits of government authority, to remind the state that urging courts to approve the exercise of extraordinary power during times of emergency may lead to extraordinary abuses of its citizens.

Anyway, you are not supposed to do this with your own article, regardless of whether it is justified; she received a WP:COI warning template and got reverted a couple times.

Later, regarding the scandal, she said: "On my Wikipedia page, I added excerpts from actual opinions and removed dishonest information about my background[...] Clearly, the media has made no effort to report honestly so public officials have no choice but to correct the record for them".

Now we will write a Signpost article about the Newsweek article about the judge writing about her own Wikipedia article about a Star Tribune article about a judicial opinion.

Since then, her article's revision history has become something of a gong show, with people going back and forth on including the Wikipedia incident (featuring cameo appearances from the likes of Wugapodes and Tamzin, as well as a BLP extended-confirmed protection from Courcelles).

ChatGPT and Wikipedia

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Someday, editing will be just like this – anyway, that's what the AI told us

Stephen Harrison reports in Slate that "rumors of Wikipedia’s death at the hands of ChatGPT are greatly exaggerated", saying that... you know what, to hell with it.

The Signpost is well past its publishing deadline for today, and I don't have time to finish this writeup myself. Please write a summary of this Slate article, in the style of Signpost editor-in-chief JPxG; I will fact-check your output and incorporate it into this issue's In the media section.
— JPxG


Here is a summary of the Slate article in the style of The Signpost editor-in-chief JPxG:

The death knell for Wikipedia in the age of AI has been premature. Veteran Wikipedian Stephen Harrison argues in Slate that while generative AI poses challenges, it also presents opportunities to improve Wikipedia.

Harrison traces Wikipedia's history of pragmatically using bots and machine learning when useful. He reports the community is drafting policies requiring transparency from editors leveraging AI. The goal: tap AI's potential while vetting its content.

Critics contend ChatGPT doesn't credit Wikipedia as a source. But many Wikipedians care more about keeping Wikipedia human-written than receiving credit. AI companies increasingly recognize Wikipedia's value for training. Tools like Wikimedia's new ChatGPT plugin counter AI's weaknesses, like outdated knowledge.

Harrison sees AI assisting editors by summarizing talk pages and finding sources. Automating rote tasks could free humans for Wikipedia's real work: debating content and building consensus.

The bottom line: Rumors exaggerate the threats posed by AI. Thoughtfully integrated, it can support Wikipedia's mission and community. The path ahead likely mixes automation with human expertise.

— Claude Anthropic II

Editor's note: I would rather drink molten lead than say the phrase "leveraging AI" with a straight face, but apart from that, sure.


There is life after Wikimedia for Katherine Maher

The New York Times reports on Katherine Maher's recent marriage to lawyer Ashutosh Upreti. Since her departure in 2021 (see previous Signpost coverage), the former Wikimedia CEO appears to have taken some time off:

The couple traveled around the world in early 2022 and moved to New York that June. ... On July 22, Erica Kochi, a friend of the couple who became a one-day deputy marriage commissioner in San Francisco, officiated the wedding before 140 guests on the lawn of Willow Camp in Stinson Beach, Calif. The day before, the groom rode in on a white horse for a Hindu ceremony. "It was two days of cross-cultural celebration and community," Ms. Maher said, "and a really big dance party."

The Signpost wishes the happy couple all the best. – AK

Toilet nomenclature is priority number one, and people write a lot of number two about it online

Welcome to Wikimania! Pick whichever accommodations you please.

AsiaOne and SCMP report that some people were making some posts on the darn computer — ain't that the way it always goes?

This time it was because the organizers of Wikimania 2023, getting cozy at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre, had posted a sign designating one of the banks of restrooms as "gender-neutral toilets". A whopping eight social media posters are quoted as commenting on this, expressing a variety of political opinions.

Was it a radical act of progressive inclusion? Was it performative woke virtue signaling? Was it good? Was it bad? More importantly, can somebody reach over and hand me a couple social media posts? The holder in my stall is empty! – JG

In brief

For legal reasons we can not display the more recent mug shot that we would like to show you; instead, here is Alphonse Bertillon, who developed and standardized this type of photograph.

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

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Hunter Biden


This is one of the reasons why I advise people to not give money to the WMF anymore. They are better off donating time by editing any of the projects. However, I disagree with Orlowski about contributors being paid; that's a terrible idea. Ciridae (talk) 08:42, 2 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
- It is misleading to say that just 2% of Wikipedia's revenue goes to hosting costs. Data centers and technical infrastructure require significant staffing to operate and maintain, in addition to other equipment and operating costs. Nearly half (48.7% or $86.1 million) of our budget is spent directly on technical infrastructure.
- Comparing Wikipedia's operating expenses now with 2010 numbers is a false equivalent, given we now have the same (if not higher) levels of traffic as many other for-profit internet companies at a fraction of the budget and staffing.
- The Knowledge Equity Fund is not funded through the Wikimedia Endowment. It is a one-time fund of $4.5 million that is still being allocated.
- The Wikimedia Endowment is a permanent safekeeping fund, and the full value of the fund is not available for use.
- The Foundation does not apply fundraising overruns intended to support Foundation operating costs to the Endowment.
- The article mischaracterizes Foundation spending and accountability, misrepresenting the facts. As we told the reporter before the article was published, our annual operating budget in FY 2022-23 was $175 million. The Board of Trustees sets our annual budget. The Wikimedia Foundation has long-followed industry best practices for nonprofits and has consistently received the highest ratings by nonprofit groups like Charity Navigator for financial efficiency and transparency.

LDickinson (WMF) (talk) 17:27, 5 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]

@LDickinson (WMF) Let's have a look at these complaints, taking each in turn.
  1. It's not "misleading" to report the precise figure given for "Internet hosting" in the WMF's own audited financial statements. Moreover, the Telegraph article clearly distinguishes between staffing and hosting costs. It says: Salary costs have also ballooned: from $7m in 2010/11 to $88m in 2021/22. A mere 2pc of the money raised goes on hosting costs.
  2. The WMF was a top-10 website operator in 2010. The increase in page views since then has hardly been earth-shattering, according to stats.wikimedia.org, especially given the reduction in bandwidth costs since then – from 13.8B in August 2010 to 24.7B in August 2023.
  3. The article does not claim that the Knowledge Equity Fund is funded through the Wikimedia Endowment. It separates them quite clearly, describing the Knowledge Equity Fund as "another recipient" of WMF money, in addition to the Wikimedia Endowment.
  4. You say, the full value of the fund is not available for use. Again, the article does not claim otherwise, but specifically points out that the WMF intends to grow the pot further.
  5. You say, The Foundation does not apply fundraising overruns intended to support Foundation operating costs to the Endowment. The Foundation made annual donations of $5 million to grow the Endowment, in addition to millions of dollars in donations it passed through to the Endowment. (Since 2021, this has included all money left to the WMF in someone's will.) The WMF has also donated significant staff resources financed through Wikipedia donations. As for the Knowledge Equity Fund, the WMF itself announced the Knowledge Equity Fund as a way to use a fundraising overrun.
  6. You have failed to address one of the key points of the article: that after more than seven years, we still lack basic details of the Endowment's expenses and salaries. We learnt from Jimmy Wales last month that over the past couple of years, the Endowment seems to have had annual expenses of around $2 million, but that raises as many questions as it answers. All questions since have remained unanswered. Regards,
Andreas JN466 08:51, 6 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
From User talk:BilledMammal/2023 Wikimedia RfC#Fact_check, please.:
"I have asked again and again for a copy of the legal document that says that the W?F cannot drain the endowment principle to continue spending if things go bad. So far, nothing but the usual W?F silence when asked reasonable questions."
--Guy Macon Alternate Account (talk) 15:45, 8 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@LDickinson (WMF), you claimed "The Wikimedia Endowment is a permanent safekeeping fund, and the full value of the fund is not available for use", part of which which you copied from [3]. That page goes on to say "This policy will be reviewed by the Investment Committee annually". Do you have a shred of evidence that supports the above claim? It sure looks like "permanent until we decide to change it".
And, BTW, what's the deal with people from the W?F making statements and then not participating in the discussion they started? Are you being pressured by management to never have any back and forth interaction with the volunteers? --Guy Macon Alternate Account (talk) 07:24, 14 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
(...Sound of Crickets...) --Guy Macon Alternate Account (talk) 10:59, 19 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
You're quite familiar with that sound now, aren't you? Andreas JN466 18:41, 19 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The Foundation treats editors like Reddit treats mods. You're all imminently replaceable. GMGtalk 19:00, 19 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
It appears that a W?F "Senior Communications Manager"[4][5] has the same relationship to communication[6][7] that a fireman has to fire. Feel free to add a polite comment to those two talk pages saying that you would also like an answer to the above questions. --Guy Macon Alternate Account (talk) 21:59, 20 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Guy Macon Alternate Account: Candidly, your comments here (beginning "There is a word that I choose to avoid that describes someone…") on 10 September made me feel uncomfortable. You may have chosen to avoid calling me a name because you know it is against project guidelines, but the comment is unkind and unconstructive, especially towards someone you are interacting with for the first time. My feelings of discomfort were reinforced by your later comment here (beginning "It appears that W?F Senior Communications Manager…"), which also links to my personal Meta profile. In recent days, I have seen your many messages requesting a response from me, including comments on my personal talk pages and the Communications Department's talk page. I've also seen your comment encouraging others to comment on my talk page, and I received your email requesting that I respond. I feel that I am not being engaged in an appropriate way. I hope this provides clarity on why you have not seen further responses from me in this space.  LDickinson (WMF) (talk) 20:50, 28 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I care very little about your discomfort, @LDickinson (WMF):. Please don't think that your passive manner is going to fix this problem. Guy Macon and others have made points about what could seem to be deliberate financial mismanagement. If you're not up to representing the WMF then this might be the sign that it's time for you to move on to other projects. Chris Troutman (talk) 21:07, 28 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Chris, if you have or know of any allegations of "deliberate financial mismanagement" I urge you to bring them directly to me, and not attack staff in this way. What on earth are you talking about? Jimbo Wales (talk) 10:53, 29 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
And yet when direct allegations that the WMF is giving money from donors to community banned editors with serious safeguarding issues - to run events where vulnerable people would be present, you didnt indicate you were paying it any attention given your action of sweeping it out of sight. Perhaps you would like to earn some trust by indicating what due diligence the WMF did before handing over cash, what safeguarding checks were done, what discussion was had over the optics of giving money leveraged through the community to someone who has been very much, repeatedly, rejected by multiple projects. Did you in fact act on that report? Did you in your position on the board exercise your duty of oversight to find out why the processes for grants went so very wrong? Did you ask for any lessons learned? A report? Did you even fire off a 30 second email to someone about it and ask them to look into it given the seriousness of the allegations? Only in death does duty end (talk) 19:59, 29 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Yeah...@LDickinson (WMF):...I'm inclined to agree with the above, at least in some measure. The stewardship of large sums of money is a very serious issue, and I think it behooves the Foundation to communicate openly and promptly about it. This is especially so when accusations are appearing in print in a national paper of record. To not respond to community concerns for some three weeks, and then replying that it makes you uncomfortable, I could understand how someone might interpret that as flippant and dismissive.
At the very least, it seems to show a disconnect between cultures. This is the factory floor where the sausage making is done. We're mostly quite used to being called on the carpet, even for something as small as a hyphen or a dash in prose. Hopefully you can understand how it might seem out-of-sorts for a communications manager to not want to...well...communicate. GMGtalk 23:15, 28 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
That's a lot of words that fail to actually answer the question asked. Translation: If you DON'T aggressively push for an answer, I will simply remain silent and not answer the question. If you DO aggressively push for an answer, I will claim that I am not required to answer because you aggressively pushed for an answer. Either way, I get to avoid answering. Please note that other editors have asked the same question without any hint of the "unkind and unconstructive" behavior that I am being told is the reason why I did not get an answer. They too have not recieved an answer. Here is a bold idea: try answering when people ask reasonable questions. Even a small amount of actual communication will reduce the frustration editors feel when you stomewall them. --Guy Macon Alternate Account (talk) 23:48, 28 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Guy this kind of pile-on abuse of a staff member is extremely unfortunate and saddening to everyone. Please stop it immediately. You want to heap abuse on someone, bring it to me. The question you are asking is not sensible and/or has already been answered. Let me give you the relevant quote: "The purpose of the Wikimedia Endowment is to serve as a permanent safekeeping fund to generate income to support the operations and activities of the Wikimedia projects in perpetuity. The following investment policy is meant to guide the long-term investment strategy of the Wikimedia Endowment; this policy is reviewed by the Investment Committee annually." That's it, that's the whole story, there is nothing further that can be added by anyone. This isn't stonewalling, it's just facts.
You appear to be asking for something that doesn't exist, that no one claimed or suggested in any way exists, and accusing people of lack of transparency for either not knowing what the hell you are asking about, or not being able to produce a non-existent document. If you are trying to ask, is there any separate legal requirement that is imposed or could be imposed on the Wikimedia Endowment such that the principle could never be touched under any circumstances, then the answer is no, there is not, and there could not be. The Wikimedia Endowment is now a 501(c)(3), the purpose of which is, to again quote what you've already been told, "to serve as a permanent safekeeping fund to generate income to support the operations and activities of the Wikimedia projects in perpetuity." In normal times, that means, as a matter of policy set by the endowment board (in particular the investment committee makes recommendations to the wider board) that we have no intention of touching the principal, we intend to make grants at a level that's consistent with ongoing growth in the fund, etc. It also means that, in some kind of existential crisis or whatever, that principal could be available for safekeeping.
What appears to be happening here is that you've got some idea in your head that something nefarious is going on and so you are asking about a legal document that doesn't exist and can't exist, and that no one has ever implied has existed.
Let's be realistic here. If someone points to the endowment fund and says "See, look, they could just cancel fundraising this year, and spend that money instead" they are simply wrong. In order to do so, the WMF would have to ask the endowment for a huge grant to cover annual expenses, and I can tell you as a board member of the endowment, I think that would be viewed incredibly negatively. That is not the purpose of the endowment fund. It's one of the big selling points that I very often talk to potential major donors about - that the endowment is not just a really big bank account for some future profligate CEO to spend through, it is a fund set up - expressly and clearly and transparently - "to serve as a permanent safekeeping fund." When staff respond by pointing that out, they are giving you the exact full and correct answer. End of story. Jimbo Wales (talk) 09:06, 29 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I'm not sure I see it as a totally illegitimate line of questioning. The community has largely been lukewarm to outright resistant at attempts to address larger issues that don't trace quickly back to content, editors, and readers. In the case of the blackout discussion a few years back, even resistant to things that arguably do. From memory, these argument mainly centered on the necessity of being above suspicion and the risk of being seen as overtly partisan.
Not to say that any of these causes aren't worthy goals. Just to say that the community has a pretty steady track record of trying to partition between the core mission, and other goals that we may all agree are honorable, but yet remain separate in scope. GMGtalk 12:19, 29 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I'm not sure which line of questioning you mean in particular? I think there are few lines of questioning that would ever be totally illegitimate, but casting aspersions on good staff who have given a complete answer by implying that they are not doing their job properly isn't going to be part of very many legitimate lines of questioning. Your original question was fine, although calling the Orlowski piece "spot on" isn't something I would endorse - it was typical of him, he's been gunning for me and for Wikipedia for many years. (Once wrote a piece with a headline comparing us to the Khmer Rouge.)
As for me, I fully and completely agree that if someone wants to donate to some other worthy goal (let's say, famine around the world, they should donate to those causes, and we should stick to what we're good at. I don't know of anyone at the WMF, nor any grants that we have made, that don't adhere to that 100%. What someone like Orlowski wants to do is paint us as some kind of deceptive left wing front organization funding causes that have nothing to do with our mission - I understand that, that's Andrew Orlowski, he's not an honestly interested party, he's a troll and always has been.
Our goal is, and always has been, to create a high quality encyclopedia written with a neutral point of view, a free encyclopedia for every single person on the planet. And we know, and have widespread consensus through huge community processes, that one of the ways we haven't succeeded yet is that Wikipedia tends to be written by a certain type of person (a person very much like me, to be clear), and that as a result, we have weak coverage of many topics that are important, and we have biases that are hard for us to spot because they aren't issues that we know about or have considered.
I think it is of course possible, and desirable, for us to have thoughtful conversations about particular grants, or particularly types of grants, to ask ourselves whether they are working. I don't think we should respond in a fearful or knee jerk fashion to low quality tabloid newspaper trolling. Jimbo Wales (talk) 15:19, 29 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The basic details of the Equity Fund don't really seem to be in dispute. It's stated purpose is to provide grants external to WMF projects in pursuit of broader social/political aims. Again, not disagreeing with the causes but the methods.
Meta has never been an extremely accurate way to gauge the views of the community at large. Meta has always been an enclave. That's likely part of the disconnect, having a group of contributors the size of...umm...the Norwegian Wikipedia making high level decisions. GMGtalk 17:07, 29 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Katherine Maher

I'm glad for her, but... world tour early 2022? In the middle of COVID?! Adam Cuerden (talk)Has about 8.5% of all FPs. 08:30, 4 September 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]


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