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In the media

Censorship and wikiwashing looming over RuWiki, edit wars over San Francisco politics and another wikirace on live TV

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By Andreas Kolbe, Bri, Oltrepier, QuicoleJR, and Smallbones


Putin's Wiki-censor

Former Wikimedia RU director and Ruviki founder Vladimir Medeyko in 2021

How does censorship work? In Russia, you can start with intentionally sowing confusion about the name of your brand new website, by calling it essentially the same name as the website you are trying to censor. In this case, "Рувики" in Cyrillic characters, or "Ruviki" in Latin characters.

So let's call a spade a spade. We'll call the legitimate Russian Wikipedia (ru.wikipedia.org) by its common on-Wiki name, Ruwiki. It is being forked with the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime by an imposter website (ru.ruwiki.ru) that we'll call Ruviki.

Novaya Gazeta reports how Ruviki has been operating since its official January 15 launch. Almost all of Ruwiki's 1.9 million pages have been copied and pasted onto the fork, and then edited to "delete everything that raises even the slightest doubt" about compliance with Russian media law – at least in the words of Vladimir Medeyko. In general, the censor mostly edits politically sensitive topics involving the Russian government’s policies on free speech, human rights and, most notably, the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Medeyko was the long time director of Wikimedia RU (aka Wikimedia Russia), a Wikimedia Foundation affiliate intended to support WMF projects in Russia. He launched Ruviki's beta version back in May 2023 and was soon stripped of his position at Wikimedia RU by the organization's members, before being also banned indefinitely from editing all Wikimedia sites by the WMF.

Medeyko's post at Wikimedia RU was taken by Stas Kozlovsky, who in turn announced the dissolution of the organization in December 2023, after being forced to resign from his job as associate professor at Moscow State University, and then included in the Russian government’s foreign agent blacklist.

According to Novaya Gazeta, about 110 Wikipedia pages about the war in Ukraine have been cut entirely from Ruviki, while graphic designer Konstantin Konovalov, who tabulated the number of characters changed for every major category of Ruviki articles following their copying from Ruwiki, compared the extensive censorship process to "something out of [...] 1984". Ironically, Ruviki's version of the article about George Orwell's dystopian novel is missing the whole section about the Ministry of Truth, which the Ruwiki page describes as "continuously falsifying various pieces of information (statistics, historical facts)". Other examples of altered pages include the 2022 documentary film about the murdered dissident Alexei Navalny, both the Wagner Group's co-founders, Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, GRU colonel Anatoliy Chepiga – who was reportedly involved in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in 2018 – and Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov.

Moreover, Ruviki users have attempted to minimize the influence of sources from Russian independent media, by removing most of the links to Novaya Gazeta itself – even deleting references to articles penned by the assassinated journalist Anna Politkovskaya – as well as Meduza and Dozhd. While Wikipedia is still alive in Russia, despite repeated struggles with the national government, Ruviki's effective censorship process might cast doubt on the future of Ruwiki, the truly free Russian encyclopedia, and more generally, the freedom of information within the country. – S and O

The way we were, or the way we are?

Barbra Streisand knows that it's not always the best strategy to hide the past

Meanwhile, a group of Russian billionaires are trying to hide their ties with the Kremlin by editing pages both on the Russian and English Wikipedia, according to the Kyiv Post, who in turn covered an article in Important Stories reported with Wikiganda. In an attempt to keep traveling, running their businesses, or accessing their money freely in the West, the billionaires are minimizing, or even eliminating, mentions of Russia and Putin in the Wikipedia articles about themselves. According to these sources, they just wikiwash the inconvenient facts away (or more poetically, they stay тише воды, ниже травы, "quieter than water, lower than grass"). Billionaires Arkady Volozh, Dmitry Pumpyansky, Alexander Mamut and Igor Altushkin, as well as Nikolai Choles – the son of Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov –, all seem to have tried this tactic. Vladimir Putin's daughters, Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova, may have also tried it, but perhaps only to mask the activities of their large groups of bodyguards. – S and B

Two musical interludes

San Francisco's heated political debate overflows into Wikipedia

Nate Thurmond (left) and Wilt Chamberlain demonstrate how to throw knees and elbows in "The City"

In a year full of key elections, including one in the U.S. and another one over in Europe, the city of San Francisco is no exception: in November, its citizens will line up to vote for the new Mayor, District Attorney, and members of the local Board of Supervisors. As reported by the San Francisco Examiner, though, the local political debate has become so heated that it has spilled into Wikipedia articles on several prominent candidates: "The City" is where the Wikimedia Foundation has its headquarters.

The Examiner report focuses on edit wars involving local supervisors and their views on the housing shortage affecting San Francisco – a problem the city's administration tried to tackle directly last year, by announcing a plan to build more than 80,000 new housing units by 2031. According to the data collected by the newspaper, the total number of edits made to the Board members' pages has increased significantly from 2022 to 2023, and 2024 could soon set a new record, since 164 revisions have been made in this year's first quarter alone. Four supervisors who have gained the most attention are Dean Preston and Connie Chan, who are seeking re-election, and Ahsha Safaí and Aaron Peskin, who have both switched to the mayoral race.

Preston has become the subject of the fiercest virtual battle. The Democratic Socialist supervisor's page has been edited at least 177 times over the last year, almost as much as the article for Governor of California Gavin Newsom, with its size more than doubling in the process. Most of these edits involved Preston's political career, the perceived contrast between his political views and his controversial record on housing, as well as the extent of his wealth – reportedly including a house worth $2.5 million, a detail that has now been removed from the page. Two users, Coffeeandcrumbs and Thenightaway, have been noted for their frequent contributions to the page, with the former even diving in lengthy and fiery discussions with other editors. – O

Taylor Tomlinson hosts a wikirace on live TV – again !

The CBS show's love for this platform and wikiraces is definitely real

In a recent episode of the CBS comedy panel show After Midnight, aired on April Fool's Day, host Taylor Tomlinson brought back the mini-game Wikipedia Link for another edition – see previous Signpost coverage about its first instance – as her fellow comedians Jourdain Fisher, Zach Zimmerman and Arden Myrin competed in a wikirace to guess how many clicks it takes to go from Jacob Elordi to the Dutch West India Company on the English Wikipedia.

Once the three panelists submitted their final guesses to Tomlinson, who reminded the show's audience of how Wikipedia is "the most educational way to waste your time", she finally revealed the solution to the enigma: we have to click four times to go from the actor last seen in Priscilla and Saltburn, to Vin Diesel, to Greenwich Village, to Wouter van Twiller, to the infamous Dutch chartered company. Obviously, there are likely unlimited combinations of pages hiding behind wikiraces like this one, but as for Tomlinson's own disclaimer: "This is a comedy show, not an accuracy show!"

Something we can all agree on, though, is that Taylor and the After Midnight staff have seemingly fallen in love with our encyclopedia and its comedic potential, quite like that English baby who grew really fond of his brother's finger back in the day. Well, the respect is mutual! – O

In brief

For sale, cheap
A recreation of the sort of photoshop mashup of Jonathan Gullis and seagulls that has become a meme online
Some say he is the King of Wikipedia...
...but maybe he really is?



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Putin's Wiki-censor

Kind of funny to see the Russian government putting so much effort into their own propaganda Wikipedia knockoff. They don't like the facts, so they created their own EncyCopedia. Allan Nonymous (talk) 15:25, 26 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]

Linked to on 404 Media. Axem Titanium (talk) 18:58, 29 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]

Taylor Tomlinson hosts a wikirace on live TV – again !

In brief

"Hebrew Wikipedia Votes to Remove Entry on PM Netanyahu's Son Following His Request" (headline)
"The community of Hebrew Wikipedia editors voted 75-54 to merge Avner Netanyahu's page into that of the Netanyahu family after the Israeli prime minister's son requested that his entry be removed earlier this month" (lede), so the lede is more technically correct and you are right. It's about the same IMHO because apparently there was almost nothing to merge - just something about what football team he cheers for. I do have problems getting around in Hebrew in translation and Haaretz tends to link to their own stories rather than Wikipedia. And of course HeWiki rules are a bit different and the way it's expressed in translation is slightly different. Sorry. Smallbones(smalltalk) 20:23, 25 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]
@Gråbergs Gråa Sång: The news came out very late in the writing process, but I'm pretty sure we're going to cover it soon. Oltrepier (talk) 07:27, 26 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]
@Oltrepier: You have done a lot of great work for the Signpost in recent months, but let's avoid such misleading comments. (Gråbergs Gråa Sång commented earlier in the newsroom discussion, so they are probably well aware that this was not a mere timing issue.) Regards, HaeB (talk) 09:47, 26 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]
@HaeB: You're right, I should have addressed the discussion in the first place, and overall I've articulated myself very badly, so I apologize for it. Oltrepier (talk) 10:18, 26 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]
Some more press on Maher:[1] Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 09:22, 9 May 2024 (UTC)[reply]

Medeyko

I appreciate the brief summary, but I have more questions than answers. Was Medeyko always a Russian "agent', or was he "turned" at some point? Did he have a choice or was he threatened? And was it inevitable that someone like this would end up running Wikimedia Russia? Further, why was the organization dissovled in December? Couldn't it be run from outside the country by expatriates? Frontline covered a similar issue last year by journalists who were against the idea of operating outside of Russia, IIRC. Viriditas (talk) 21:15, 2 May 2024 (UTC)[reply]

News organizations can operate outside of Russia, but an organization dedicated to organizing events inside Russia such as WMFRu definitely cannot, as that would prevent it from doing anything. Aaron Liu (talk) 21:34, 2 May 2024 (UTC)[reply]
We never know but it looks like his primary interest in running Wikimedia.ru was to get financial benefits. When he saw an opportunity to get bigger financial benefits from the state he immediately moved to grab it, I do not think he cared much about Wikipedia or Wikipedia movement, at least not of the aspects which did not (indirectly) result in getting money from it. Ymblanter (talk) 05:59, 3 May 2024 (UTC)[reply]


Dean Preston

I took the liberty of fixing the supervisor's affiliation - while lowercase "socialist" would also be accurate, he's not a member of any organizations that would lead to his description as a plain, capitalized "Socialist". Abeg92contribs 21:06, 8 May 2024 (UTC)[reply]

c:Commons:Deletion requests/File:Jonathan Seagullis.jpg

On Commons, there is a discussion whether a file used by The Signpost is demeaning to the subject. Abzeronow (talk) 21:09, 10 June 2024 (UTC)[reply]




       

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