The Signpost

File:Peone Prairie September 3, 2016.png
SpokaneWilly
CC BY-SA 4.0
0
0
401
In the media

War and information in war and politics

Contribute  —  
Share this
By Smallbones, HaeB, Bluerasberry, Oltrepier, and JPxG
During some months it seems like all the media love Wikipedia. Some months, it seems like everybody is a critic. This month tended toward the latter, though you can still find some positive views, some interesting news, and even an odd bit or two.

Noticeboard discussion concludes with Anti-Defamation League considered unreliable on Israeli–Palestinian conflict

Logo of the Anti-Defamation League
Logo of the Anti-Defamation League

On June 18, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported that Wikipedia editors had reached consensus over recognizing the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as a "generally unreliable" media source for information regarding the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. While Wikipedia editors routinely discuss the reliability of sources every time concerns are raised at the Noticeboard, the multi-part RfC about the ADL attracted way more editor comments than such discussions usually get.

As summarized in the JTA article (which was also published by Haaretz):

Editors supporting the ban focused on the ADL's conduct following Oct. 7, Israel's subsequent war with Hamas and the wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations on college campuses. Many editors said the organization had undermined its credibility by altering how it categorizes antisemitic incidents. Its new methodology included many pro-Palestinian protests in its annual audit of antisemitism, which reported a large spike over the previous year.

However, according to the subsequent closure statement on another part of the RfC, the ADL still "can roughly be taken as reliable on the topic of antisemitism when Israel and Zionism are not concerned". (Also, the statement clarifies that RfC did not seek to overturn the previous "consensus that the ADL is generally reliable as a source" entirely; it remains in place for topics "excluding the Israel/Palestine conflict and antisemitism".)

Both the JTA and — in a separate article — CNN quoted James Loeffler (a professor for Modern Jewish History at Johns Hopkins University) on the matter. He stated e.g. that "this is going to be a difficult blow to the credibility [of] the ADL in its role on this issue. The staff there will continue to do rigorous work, but this will provide an opportunity for self-reflection." Similarly, an opinion article by Rob Eshman in The Forward was titled "Wikipedia called the ADL ‘unreliable.’ It’s a wake-up call the civil rights organization badly needs."

On June 20, the ADL reacted to the decision by asking its social media followers to "urge Wikipedia's board [sic] to take action on this unfair and dangerous situation". At the time of writing, 8400 supporters had signed this call (out of a goal of 10,000).

Jonathan Greenblatt by Gage Skidmore
Greenblatt in 2017

The following day, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt was invited on MSNBC news talk show Morning Joe to share his views on the subject. While professing that "Wikipedia [...] is an organization that we deeply respect", Greenblatt stated that Wikipedia's processes lacked full access and transparency – even deeming them as "a bit of a black box" – in comparison to the ADL's supposedly more transparent approach, which he described as "absolutely rigorous" and "done very above the board". He also appeared to tie his criticism to existing concerns that Wikipedia may be silencing the voices of other marginalized groups, arguing – to the immediate agreement of fellow panelist Eugene Robinson, an African American journalist who is an associate editor of the Washington Post:

I think we should listen to Black people when they tell us about what racism is. I think we should listen to LGBTQ groups themselves about [what] homophobia or transphobia is. And I think we need to listen to Jewish groups to explain what antisemitism is.

According to the JTA, a "series of controversial statements" by Greenblatt, together with media reports about an ensuing staff revolt at the ADL, had played a role in the Wikipedia RfC's outcome, alongside debates about "a controversial definition of antisemitism that the ADL embraces".

On 25 June, as reported by the Jewish News Syndicate, The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz, among other media, 43 leading Jewish organizations co-signed an open letter to the WMF's Board of Trustees in protest to the discussion's verdict, calling on the board to overturn the decision. In response to a JTA inquiry, the Vice-President of Community Resilience & Sustainability, Maggie Dennis, said that the letter represented "a misunderstanding of the situation and how Wikipedia works", noting how neither the BoT, nor the WMF had direct control on the content uploaded and edited by Wikipedia volunteers; the Foundation's representatives also stated that they were still considering how to reply to the letter, hoping to "learn more about [the organizations'] needs", while "[raising] more understanding" about the platform's rules. A day later, the Foundation released a fuller "statement on volunteer processes on reliable sources" on its website. Apart from general explanations of these processes, it also decried inaccurate media coverage that had "incorrectly implied that the ADL is no longer considered a reliable source on Wikipedia", stressing that it "remains a generally reliable source on Wikipedia, outside of the topic of the Israel/Palestine conflict."

This recent review of the ADL's reliability as a source follows a March 2021 discussion about the extent to which the organization was complying with Wikipedia's rules for conflict of interest, as it encouraged its staff to edit Wikipedia articles. At the time, The Forward reported that the ADL suspended their staff editing project as a result of the challenges with compliance.

The actual closing statement, written by a triparty of The Wordsmith, theleekycauldron and Tamzin (and which can be viewed in full at this link), says:

It is not disputed here that the ADL is an activist source and a biased source. "Biased" in this context is not an insult: Wikipedia policy understands that all sources have some degree of bias, and even significant bias is not necessarily disqualifying. What matters is the degree to which a source can be relied upon for statements of fact. Statements of opinion are another matter, which complicates this RfC: Many statements that the ADL makes are inherently opinion, and are thus subject to different rules as to when and how they should be cited.

In the first part of this RfC, there is a clear consensus that the ADL is generally unreliable regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [See previous partial close.] The second part extends this consensus to the intersection of antisemitism and the conflict, such as labeling pro-Palestinian activists as antisemitic. While the second part in theory encompassed all ADL coverage of antisemitism, much of the discussion focused, explicitly or implicitly, on that intersection. There was insufficient argumentation against the ADL's reliability regarding antisemitism in other contexts; much of the opposition in that regard focused on subjective disagreements as to how far the taint of the Israel-related general unreliability should spread. The ADL can roughly be taken as reliable on the topic of antisemitism when Israel and Zionism are not concerned. We remind editors that source reliability is always a case-by-case matter. RSN's purpose is to answer the general case. The reliability of a given statement by a source, for a given statement in a Wikipedia article, must always be decided by that article's editors.

The third part of the discussion, about the ADL's hate symbol database, was largely unrelated to the first two. Editors' concerns were mostly not about Israel–Palestine issues, but about poor editorial oversight of the database. We are aware that the ADL has taken note of this discussion, which affords a rare opportunity to directly address a source that editors have identified quality-control issues with: If the ADL invests more effort in editorial review of its hate symbol database entries, including bylines and other means of establishing expertise, that would address most of the concerns expressed by the community. Until then, however, the rough consensus here is that the database is reliable for the existence of a symbol and for straightforward facts about it, but not reliable for more complex details, such as symbols' history. In-text attribution to the ADL may be advisable when it is cited in such cases.

The normal approach for reliability applies to statements of fact. Citing the ADL hate symbol database as an opinion is not a question of reliability, but rather one of due weight. Editors should look at usage by other sources in the context of both the database as a whole and the individual statement. In this regard, there is no consensus against representing the ADL's opinions, and perhaps a weak consensus in favor; as always, case-by-case judgment is critical. We note also that, when editors cite secondary sources that in turn reference the database, it is the secondary sources' reliability that is relevant, not the database's. Statements of opinion should be attributed in-text.


BR, H, O

WMF's cloak-and-dagger "Disinformation Response Taskforce" to be involved with election-related news somehow

The Brussels Times recently explained "how Wikipedia fights against fake news", basing their article on statements by Rebecca MacKinnon, who currently heads the Wikimedia Foundation's Global Advocacy team, having previously worked in journalism and digital rights. Besides summarizing various longstanding features (such as page protection, watchlists, or the ArbCom) that help Wikipedia's volunteers "vigilantly defend against information that does not meet the site's policies for what constitutes reliably sourced, encyclopaedic information," the article highlights a more recent innovation:

Ahead of major elections in 2024, a new Disinformation Response Taskforce (DRT) has formed to partner with trusted Wikimedia volunteers and Wikimedia affiliates to identify potential information attacks on Wikipedia.
And it seems to be working. Wikimedia has not uncovered any specific disinformation campaigns, either private or foreign state-driven campaigns in the run-up to the elections.
"As far as we are aware, Wikipedia's content moderation processes and systems are working well and as normal. We have not been alerted to any unusual activity on EU elections-related pages," MacKinnon said.

Perhaps due to the apparently highly-sensitive nature of its work, no documentation of this taskforce could be found on-wiki on the English Wikipedia at the time of writing. Elsewhere on the Internet, the only information about the DRT shared by the Foundation seems to be a couple of short paragraphs in an October 2023 Diff post, where the DRT was (somewhat confusingly) first described as a single entity being run by the WMF's Trust and Safety Disinformation team. Right afterwards, the same team is reported as "preparing for several Disinformation Response Taskforces (DRTs), designed to support Wikimedia communities to maintain knowledge integrity during high-risk events."

Further information was revealed in emails sent last month by a WMF "Disinformation Specialist", and forwarded to a public mailing list by a Dutch Wikipedian. These listed the purposes of such taskforces, described them as "a project that we are doing related to the upcoming EU parliamentary elections, taking place from the 6th [to the] 9th of June, 2024", and appeared to invite the Dutch Wikipedia's ArbCom members to an "initial meeting to discuss disinformation challenges with folks from across various European-language communities" on May 21.

The EU's recently implemented Digital Services Act (DSA) imposes various obligations on "Very Large Online Platforms" (VLOPs) such as Wikipedia. In late March, the EU Commission finalized its "Guidelines for providers of Very Large Online Platforms ... on the mitigation of systemic risks for electoral processes pursuant to the Digital Services Act", with specific mention of the European Parliament elections in June. As explained some weeks ago by MacKinnon's colleague, Dimitar Dimitrov from Wikimedia Europe (long known to Wikimedians as "our man in Brussels"), the Commission's document applies to Wikipedia too. He said that "to be honest, it feels simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming. A ton of well-meant recommendations (as guidelines are non-binding), but it also says that VLOPs are free to come up with other measures to mitigate risks." As summarized by Dimitrov, the Commission's exhortations come in several categories, e.g. "specific recommendations for during the election period (put in place an internal incident response mechanism)". —H

Photos from a friendly journalist

Peone Prairie, the first photo ever uploaded by Will Maupin

Writing for Spokane-based newspaper Inlander, freelance journalist and photographer Will Maupin recently stated his personal mission "to visually document our region for Wikipedia". Maupin has edited Wikipedia since 2005 as SpokaneWilly, and regularly takes photos of sites on the National Register of Historic Places and other local sites from the Inland Northwest region. You can check out more of his photos in this issue's Gallery, or at this link on Wikimedia Commons.

S, O

Dickless weirdos or proletarians of thought?

Sam Kriss, in a fairly-good (but paywalled) column largely focused on other issues, takes a brief aside to note:

In her essay on Goodreads, Oyler offers a brief account of the history behind rating books out of five stars, all of which is—you guessed it—available on the Wikipedia page for ‘Star (classification),’ which comes up when you Google ‘history behind rating books out of five stars.’ First, Oyler discusses Regency Englishwoman Mariana Starke’s exclamation-point-filled guidebook to the Continent (and a quote from The Charterhouse of Parma mocking it, conveniently referenced on Ms. Starke’s Wikipedia page). Then, she makes a brief foray into the Michelin star (apparently less ‘whimsical’ than exclamation points). And finally, she visits the Best American Short Stories series and its editor Edward O’Brien’s asterisks indicating ‘permanence.’ Oyler includes extensive quotes from totally forgotten American satirist Oliver Herford’s nearly unreadable review trashing O’Brien’s selections for the 1921 BASS (a review conveniently referenced on the ‘Star (classification)’ Wikipedia page).

But the grubby secret of intellectual production is that everyone does this. When I wrote about baetyls this spring, I discovered that a bunch of writers—including Shaykh Afifi al-Akiti, Fellow in Islamic Studies at Oxford—had repeated an absolutely false claim about the Kaaba in Mecca that appears to have popped into existence from nowhere on its Wikipedia page. But I do it too. This piece is basically just a bunch of ludicrous takes and off-the-cuff impressions, but writing it still involved reflexively clicking around the Wikipedia pages for ‘Inca Empire,’ ‘Blastocyst,’ ‘Vladimir Lenin,’ ‘Physalis,’ and ‘Anamnesis (philosophy).’ Every trendy young writer is really just stamping their brand on the labour of the solemn, dedicated, anonymous dickless weirdos who actually write the articles on Wikipedia. The proletarians of thought. You don’t know their names, and you’d probably flinch if you saw them in real life, but you’ve decided to let these people replace a significant chunk of your brain. (Actually, the trendy young writers do all contribute to exactly one Wikipedia article: their own.) In a sense, everyone knows everything; we’re all plugged in to the same external memory. In another sense, nobody except the wikimonks has any knowledge of anything at all. At least when all our information came from books, everyone had a slightly different library of things they’d forgotten; now, we’ve all forgotten the same great universal sludge of facts.

This post was fact-checked by real Wikipedian patriots — "Mostly True". It's rare for a month to go by without at least a couple stories where some politician or pundit is made to eat crow after cribbing a speech or a quip from a Wikipedia article... and that's just the ones where it's politically dramatic to write about it. Nonpartisan instances of this are too numerous to count (CNN once asked some "internet culture analyst" what a simp was, and the guy copypastaed them the lead I wrote at Simp — there was once a fire in the California Delta and the anchor stood in front of a camera to read verbatim the lead I wrote at Bradford Island — we all have stories like this).

While "proletarians of thought" and "wikimonks" are quite dignified appellations, surely he could have found a nicer way to refer to the female contingent of the editoriat (clearly his epithet does not refer to its entirety, as a quick visit to the Commons category "human penis" can confirm). One suspects that a little more time with us could well have helped Sam avoid having to make up the philosopher Apethitikes in an earlier post,[1] but we appreciate what moments we've been able to spend together nonetheless, and I can personally say I have the utmost faith that we can overcome the issue of flinching in awe upon cognizance of the average Wikipedian's (or at least my) impressive fashion sense, bench press, hairline, et cetera. —JPxG

In brief

In fiction, "fungus" may be a doomsday article, but in Wikipedia it is a vital article and a featured article.

This is the talk page for discussing improvements to the End of Plastic (2029) article, about the Tremella purgare fungus, released into the Gulf of Mexico after the TransAm War Oil Spill, and the knock-on impact of the attempted bioremediation.
This page has been listed as a level-3 vital article in Earth. If you can improve it, please do.

The talk page progressively takes a dark turn, going from a request to disambiguate a "deadly fungi" link over frantic attempts to keep the article updated with the UN's rapidly rising death numbers, to mentions of Internet access becoming spotty and editors retreating into their family bunkers.
See also previous Signpost coverage of other dystopian science fiction stories in Wikipedia style.

Oddities

America's national bird? Cheyenne, a female bald eagle, as photographed by Carol M. Highsmith
Wiki Wiki Shuttle to be joined by self-driving electric sibling, "Miki"



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


S
In this issue
+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

These comments are automatically transcluded from this article's talk page. To follow comments, add the page to your watchlist. If your comment has not appeared here, you can try purging the cache.

Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters by Gerry Davis & Kit Pedler

I was surprised that Nature's (very droll) satire wasn't inspired by the novel (itself a spin-off of Doomwatch, itself a cultural fossil. Then again, I recall it from another high school student having it –Class of '77, mind you! More seriously, it's good to see Wikipedia used as a format for satire...! kencf0618 (talk) 14:53, 4 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]

Thanks for the info! Doomwatch#Series_One has a good paragraph on the first episode. It looks to me like this is just another example of "there's nothing new under the sun". If anybody sees more Fiction set on Wikipedia do please let us know at Suggestions. Smallbones(smalltalk) 19:01, 4 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]
I love this type of fiction, so this was a joy to read for me :) ~Maplestrip/Mable (chat) 11:49, 5 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]

ADL

Some ADL discussion at Jimbotalk: User_talk:Jimbo_Wales#The_ADL_is_"generally_unreliable". Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 08:22, 5 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]
  1. ^ I searched for apethitikes and απεθιτικης, on Google, as well as my TWL access to JSTOR, Cambridge University Press, newspapers.com, De Gruyter, the Loeb Classical Library and ProQuest, and found nothing but his Substack — my disappointment immeasurable.



       

The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0