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Wikimedia Russia director declared "foreign agent" by Russian gov; EU prepares to pile on the papers

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By Andreas Kolbe, Smallbones and HaeB
Man wearing a suit.
Kozlovsky in 2021.

Russian government declares Wikimedia Russia's director a "foreign agent"

Wikimedia Russia Director Stanislav Kozlovsky was declared to be a foreign agent according to Meduza. In December, Kozlovsky had been forced out of his job as associate professor at Moscow State University in anticipation of the official statement and he had already started the process of closing Wikimedia Russia. See previous Signpost coverage.

Oleg Orlov, the co-founder of Memorial – which was awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize – was also named a foreign agent by the Russian government, along with four other individuals:

In a subsequent interview with Worldcrunch, titled "Is Wikipedia The Last Hope For Free Speech In Putin's Russia?", Kozlovsky stated

I will remain in Russia; it's my country. I am not a "foreign agent", and I hope charges never come to that. If they do, it would impact my ability to teach at universities, write popular science articles, and engage in the popularization of science. There's uncertainty about job prospects with the status of foreign agent.

I've edited around 40,000 Wikipedia article, not all could have a label stating "material created by a foreign agent." But it's unclear whether fines will be imposed or how long such offenses will last. Fifteen years at Wikipedia, 25 years at Moscow State University, and, in one day, it could all come to an end.

Yet I am hopeful that a new stage will begin. Wikipedia is a brilliant project, crucial for global development, and Russian Wikipedia is something our country should be proud of, despite the lack of support. I hope common sense will prevail.

AK, Smallbones, H

New EU laws should help protect editors from abusive lawsuits, but might grant problematic on-wiki privileges to news media organizations

In its latest EU Policy Monitoring Report, published on January 30, Wikimedia Europe highlights some "really, really intensive" legislative work ongoing in the European Union (ahead of a de facto February deadline in advance of the upcoming European Parliament elections in June). Some of them raise hopes and concerns regarding their possible impact on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects:

The anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) proposal, which was published in April 2022, aims at protecting persons who engage in public participation from manifestly unfounded or abusive court proceedings that present a cross-border aspect. [...] As you may be aware, our projects and communities are facing SLAPP cases across Europe, including in Portugal and Estonia. [...] Overall, the agreement can be considered satisfactory as it introduces some common safeguards that until now the EU lacked [as opposed to various other jurisdictions, including many US states]. There are nonetheless a few aspects on which Wikimedia Europe wants to focus at national level when Member States will transpose the Directive. Indeed, Member States can decide to offer further protection, for instance, on the early dismissal mechanism, the possibility to introduce the right to ask for the compensation of damages or the possibility to take into account the ubiquitous nature of the Internet as a relevant element to determine the cross-border nature of a case. We will prepare “transposition documentation” and work with interested communities across the continent.

Secondly,

The European Media Freedom Act is intended to boost media and journalistic freedom [1] across the bloc. It is a bag of very versatile measures that are intended to help protect a pluralistic media landscape. Things like rules on government spending on public service announcements and enshrining the protection of sources at the EU level. For Wikimedia this law is relevant, because it also wants to limit how online platforms moderate content provided by media providers, which are defined as media outlets but also individual journalists. [...]

The agreed text of Article 17 would require online platforms to accept self-declarations from media service providers who identify as such and warn such users ahead of moderating their content and to allow them a fast-track channel to contest decisions. All this can be problematic, seeing that disinformation is sometimes produced by media providers.

For example, Signpost readers may recall the protestations of the (then still EU-based) British tabloid the Daily Mail against its "ban" by the English Wikipedia in 2017. Will the new law enable such news publications to interfere with their deprecation or blacklisting, or with other community decisions? The authors of the report appear to be optimistic (although not certain) that this won't be the case, thanks to a carveout:

Despite the fact that Wikimedia projects were exempted from this provision in the Commission proposal, and that Parliament introduced Recital 35a explicitly recognising the role of online encyclopaedias and excluding them from the scope of the Article [2], the final version of the text contains a less clear carveout. This means that Wikipedia is in scope, but the exact extent of the obligations likely won’t mess with the established content moderation practices.

As a third new legislative agreement of relevance to Wikimedia projects, the report names the Cyber Resilience Act (CRA), "a law for internet-connected products that is meant to improve the security and software maintenance of your smart toaster and AI-powered fridge (just random examples)." Here, the European Wikimedians "were involved [...] because the newly proposed obligations could have seriously messed up the free & open software ecosystem. In the end the CRA will not harm free software and is unlikely to cause havoc on the open source environment, as long as it is outside a commercial activity," thanks to added exceptions. However, they call it "still a terrible piece of law and we have to be honest, at best it won’t do much harm." – H

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