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French spies demand removal of a Wikipedia entry, threaten random Wikipedia admin in France when they don't get their way


The French spy agency Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur inexplicably flipped out about a longstanding Wikipedia entry on a military base (station hertzienne militaire de Pierre sur Haute) filled with public domain, widely known information. They tried to get the Wikimedia Foundation to delete it, but wouldn't explain what, exactly, they objected to in the entry. When the Wikimedia Foundation rebuffed them, they picked out a random volunteer Wikipedia admin living in France -- a person who had never had anything to do with the post in question -- and threatened him with jail unless he used his admin privileges to delete the post.

The Foundation is trying to support the their volunteer as best as they can. Meantime, the post about station hertzienne militaire de Pierre sur Haute's pageviews have shot from a couple per day to 9000+.

The Foundation takes allegations of national security threats seriously and investigated the matter accordingly. However, it was not readily apparent what specific information the DCRI could consider classified or otherwise high-risk. Without further information, we could not understand why the DCRI believes information in the article is classified. Almost all of the information in the article is cited to publicly-available sources. In fact, the article’s contents are largely consistent with a publicly available video in which Major Jeansac, the chief of the military station in question, gives a detailed interview and tour of the station to a reporter. This video is now cited in the article. Furthermore, the page was originally created on July 24, 2009 and has been continually available and edited since. We do not know why the DCRI believes that the article has suddenly become an urgent threat now.

We requested more information from the DCRI, such as which specific sentences or sections they believed to contain classified information. Unfortunately, the DCRI refused to provide any more specific detail and reaffirmed their demand that the entire article be deleted. Therefore, the Foundation was forced to refuse their request pending receipt of more information that we could use to fully evaluate their claim.

On 30 March 2013, we discovered that the DCRI, evidently dissatisfied with the Foundation’s response, contacted a volunteer with administrative rights (a “sysop”) who resides in France. This sysop is not responsible for the hosting of the content on Wikipedia, had no role in the creation of the article, and is not part of the Wikimedia Foundation. As we understand it, the sysop attempted to explain his limited role as a volunteer and directed them back to the Foundation’s legal department.

Legal and Community Advocacy/Statement on France

(Image: A general view of the military base of Pierre sur Haute, located in the Monts du Forez. It's a dependency of the Base Aerienne 942 of Lyon-Mont Verdun, GDL/CC BY-SA image by S. Rimbaud)

Group whose Wikipedia entry was deleted for non-notability threatens lawsuit against Wikipedian who participated in the discussion

Benjamin Mako Hill writes, "Last year, I participated in a discussion on Wikipedia that led to the deletion of an article about the "Institute for Cultural Diplomacy." Because I edit Wikipedia using my real name, the ICD was able to track me down. Over the last month or so, they threated me with legal action and have now gotten their lawyers involved. I've documented the whole sad saga on my blog. I think the issue raises some important concerns about Wikipedia in general."

Donfried has made it very clear that his organization really wants a Wikipedia article and that they believe they are being damaged without one. But the fact that he wants one doesn’t mean that Wikipedia’s policies mean he should have one. Anonymous editors in Berlin and in unknown locations have made it clear that they really want a Wikipedia article about the ICD that does not include criticism. Not only do Wikipedia’s policies and principles not guarantee them this, Wikipedia might be hurt as a project when this happens.

The ICD claims to want to foster open dialogue and criticism. I think they sound like a pretty nice group working toward issues I care about personally. I wish them success.

But there seems to be a disconnect between their goals and the actions of both their leader and proponents. Because I used my real name and was skeptical about the organization on discussion pages on Wikipedia, I was tracked down and threatened. Donfried insinuated that I was motivated to “sabotage” his organization and threatened legal action if I do not answer his questions. The timing of his first letter — the day after the ICD page was recreated — means that I was unwilling to act on my commitment to Wikipedia and its policies.

The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy and Wikipedia

Wikipedia and libraries: a match made in heaven

John Mark Ockerbloom's "From Wikipedia to our libraries" is a fabulous proposal for creating research synergies between libraries and Wikipedia, by adding templates to Wikipedia articles that direct readers to unique, offline-only (or onsite-only) library resources at their favorite local libraries. Ockerbloom's approach acknowledges and respects the fact that patrons start their searches online, and seeks only to improve the outcomes of their research -- not to convince them not to start with the Internet.

So how do we get people from Wikipedia articles to the related offerings of our local libraries? Essentially we need three things: First, we need ways to embed links in Wikipedia to the libraries that readers use. (We can’t reasonably add individual links from an article to each library out there, because there are too many of them– there has to be a way that each Wikipedia reader can get to their own favored libraries via the same links.) Second, we need ways to derive appropriate library concepts and local searches from the subjects of Wikipedia articles, so the links go somewhere useful. Finally, we need good summaries of the resources a reader’s library makes available on those concepts, so the links end up showing something useful. With all of these in place, it should be possible for researchers to get from a Wikipedia article on a topic straight to a guide to their local library’s offerings on that topic in a single click.

I’ve developed some tools to enable these one-click Wikipedia -> library transitions. For the first thing we need, I’ve created a set of Wikipedia templates for adding library links. The documentation for the Library resources box template, for instance, describes how to use it to create a sidebar box with links to resources about (or by) the topic of a Wikipedia article in a reader’s library, or in another library a reader might want to consult. (There’s also an option for direct links to my Online Books Page, if there are relevant books online; it may be easier in some cases for readers to access those than to access their local library’s books.)

From Wikipedia to our libraries (via Making Light)

(Image: library card, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from raqkat's photostream)

Wikipedia by text-message

Wikimedia's Wikipedia Zero project will let people look up Wikipedia articles using text-messages. This will bring Wikipedia to billions of people who lack smartphones:

We want to enable access to free knowledge for every last human being. For many readers in developing countries, their primary (and often only) access to the internet is via mobile. However, barriers exist that can prevent users from reading Wikipedia and accessing free knowledge on their mobile devices.

Cost - While handset prices have reduced sharply around the world, data costs are still prohibitively expensive for many users. From the 2010 mobile readers' survey, for example, we saw that 21% of users listed "too much data usage" as a critical barrier to access. That number rises dramatically when we consider people who have capable devices, but are not even yet mobile readers. We need to remove the cost of data as a deterrent to reading Wikipedia.

Speed - The mobile survey also pointed out that speed of connection is the top barrier (44% of users) for using Wikipedia on a mobile phone. Therefore, we need to offset this barrier by offering an experience that loads faster.

There are two outcomes to this. First, new readers will be encouraged to access free knowledge for the first time, knowing that the barriers are low. Second, existing readers will not be obstructed from accessing knowledge when they need and want it.

Wikipedia Zero (via /.)

Official City of Melbourne IP address used for biased edits to Wikipedia page for Occupy Melbourne prior to local election


Someone using the City of Melbourne's IP block has been introducing biased edits to the Wikipedia page for Occupy Melbourne, attempting to erase the record of council's resolve to remove Occupy, and trying to smear the Occupy protest by removing the adjective "peaceful" from the page. The edits were made anonymously, but Wikipedia publishes IP addresses for anonymous contributors, and the IP address in question, 203.26.235.14, is registered to the city.

Proof of attacks on Occupy Melbourne Wikipedia page, attempts to change history and evidence in on-going federal court cases. More importantly the edits were made during the last week of MCC’s 2012 elections. A quick tidy up of MCC’s image just before the election. Anyone who didn’t think Melbourne City Council (MCC) was (and still is) opposed to Occupy Melbourne either has their head in the sand, is plainly lying or delusional.

The smoking gun, proof Melbourne City Council is behind the IP address 203.26.235.14 editing Occupy Melbourne Wikipedia page. The timing of this edit is far from coincidental. 21st October, the one year anniversary of the brutal city square eviction and just days before the 2012 Melbourne city council elections, where Robert Doyle sought and gained re-election.

Melbourne City Council cyber war against Occupy Melbourne (Thanks, Occupy Melbourne!)

Notable deaths in 2012, as recorded by Wikipedia

Information designer Jess Bachman created Wikipedia Remembers 2012, an interactive feature about the top 100 public figures who died in 2012 as ranked by the number of words in their Wikipedia entries. There are probably more accurate ways to measure the value of a person's life, but hey, that's a matter for another debate. Jess explains:

I think its a great way to explore and remember the lesser known heroes and is an interesting measure of ones life. Phyllis Diller and Michael Clarke Duncan were 101 and 102 so they didn't make the list, while others like #4, Tale Ognenovski is a lessor known Macedonian clarinetist, but for some reason has a incredibly documented wiki page! So many interesting people here.

It should be noted that I did remove notorious people and those who were solely involved in news events, so there is some editorial by me here. The number one person was actually Treyvon Martin, and there were plenty of serial killers, terrorists, and other folk I didn't think were worth remembering.

Check it out.

Why Philip Roth had to explain himself in the New Yorker before his Wikipedia entry could be corrected

My latest Guardian column, "Why Philip Roth needs a secondary source," explains why it makes sense for Wikipedians to insist that Roth's claims about his novels be vetted by and published in the New Yorker before they can be included on Wikipedia:

Wikipedians not only have no way of deciding whether Philip Roth is an authority on Philip Roth, but even if they decided that he was, they have no way of knowing that the person claiming to be Philip Roth really is Philip Roth. And even if Wikipedians today decide that they believe that the PhilipRoth account belongs to the real Philip Roth, how will the Wikipdians 10 years from now know whether the editor who called himself PhilipRoth really was Philip Roth?

Wikipedia succeeds by "not doing the things that nobody ever thought of not doing". Specifically, Wikipedia does not verify the identity or credentials of any of its editors. This would be a transcendentally difficult task for a project that is open to any participant, because verifying the identity claims of random strangers sitting at distant keyboards is time-consuming and expensive. If each user has to be vetted and validated, it's not practical to admit anyone who wants to add a few words to a Wikipedia entry.

Why Philip Roth needs a secondary source

Wikipedia will encrypt to fight UK spying

Jimmy Wales says that he'll configure Wikipedia to encrypt all user traffic to undermine the UK government's "Snooper's Charter," which will institute bulk, warrantless Internet spying on the whole nation. (via /.)

Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at the library of the Royal Society

Wikipedia's entries on women in the sciences are lacking. The Royal Society has an extensive collection of original sources documenting the work of women in the sciences. On October 19, the nail will meet the hammer in the form of a group Edit-a-Thon and workshop. The event is especially aimed at fledgling Wiki editors, who might be intimidated by the job of editing the Internet's primary source of basic information. Representatives from Wikimedia UK will be on hand to show you how the site works and answer questions. They're going to pick the entries that need improving. Participants will get access to the Royal Society archives and will work together to make Wikipedia better. What a cool program! More museums should totally do this! (Via Ed Yong) Maggie

Wikipedia's list of infamous software glitches

Worth noting, especially if you read my piece last Friday about problems with America's electric infrastructure: Wikipedia's list of infamous software glitches includes the problems with General Electric Energy's XA/21 monitoring software that helped make the 2003 East Coast Blackout happen. (Via Kyle McDonald) Maggie

Russian Wikipedia blacks out over censorship plan


People visiting the Russian-language Wikipedia today will find it blacked out, in protest of a proposed far-reaching Internet blacklist plan in Russia. Similar measures were used in the Italian Wikipedia to protest an Italian Internet censorship law, and in the English Wikipedia to protest SOPA/PIPA. The Russian proposal, Bill 89417-6, will establish a national censorwall that blocks "all websites containing pornography, drug ads and promoting suicide or extremist ideas." Here's a Google Translate translation of the Wikipedia message:

Today, July 10, the Duma hearings are going to amend the Act for information that could lead to the creation of extra-judicial censorship of the Internet in Russian, including the closure of access to Wikipedia in Russian.

Wikipedia community protests against censorship, dangerous to free knowledge, open to all mankind. We ask that you support in opposing this bill.

Russian Wikipedia Shutters In Protest of Internet Blacklist Plans

Hillbilly Holler and other Mountain Dew generics

Wikipedia's "Generic citrus sodas" lists 27 (as of this writing) generic equivalents to Mountain Dew/Mello Yello/Sun Drop. "In deference to Mountain Dew's leading position in the market for citrus sodas, most brands of generic citrus soda have the word 'Mountain' in their names." Read aloud in a rush, they're a kind of tone-poem about marketing, dental caries, and caffeine shakes.

1 Citrus Drop/Citrus Drop Xtreme
2 Citrus Pop
3 Heee Haw
4 Hillbilly Holler
5 Kountry Mist
6 Mountain Breeze
7 Mountain Drops
8 Mountain Explosion
9 Mountain Frost
10 Mountain Fury
11 Mountain Holler
12 Mountain Lightning
13 Mountain Lion
14 Mountain Maze
15 Mountain Mellow
16 Mountain Mist
17 Mountain Moondrops
18 Mountain Roar
19 Mountain Rush
20 Mountain Splash
21 Mountain W
22 Mountain Wave
23 Mountain Yeller
24 Mountain Rush
25 Mt. Chill
26 Ramp
27 Rocky Mist

Generic citrus sodas (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Newspaper claims Vikileaks Twitter account traced back to House of Commons

The @Vikileaks30 account on Twitter has been publishing embarrassing personal information about Canada's Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is pushing for a domestic spying law that would require ISPs to gather and retain your personal information and turn it over to police without a warrant. The Vikileaks account kicked off with excerpts from the affidavits from Toews's very ugly divorce, including his ex-wife's allegations about his abuse of his official government expense accounts. The account created a nationwide stir over the domestic spying proposal, and has caused a rare (and possibly strategic*) climbdown from the majority Conservative government.

Now The Ottawa Citizen newspaper has tricked the person behind the anonymous account into visiting a website that it controls, and have traced back the IP address used in the trap to the House of Commons, suggesting that Toews's nemesis works for the federal government. The Citizen claims that the IP address has also been used to "frequently" edit Wikipedia "[give] them what appears to be a pro-NDP bias" (the New Democratic Party is the left-leaning opposition party in Parliament).

While it's impossible to say who is actually the using the address without a full-scale investigation undertaken by the House of Commons, a trace of the IP address shows it is also used by an employee of the House to post comments on a website for fans of the musician Paul Simon.

When reached by phone, the employee said that while he frequents the Paul Simon website he has nothing to do with the Vikileaks30 Twitter account.

A spokeswoman for the Speaker of the House of Commons said she is not aware of any investigation into whether any House IP addresses are behind the Vikileaks30 account. In order for an official government investigation to begin a complaint would have to be filed by a Member of Parliament.

Vikileaks30 linked to House of Commons IP address

* "Possibly strategic" because it looks like they're rushing this to committee, which is likely to go closed-door, exclude skeptical expert testimony, and speedily conclude that the bill is just fine as-is while maintaining a low public profile (Thanks, Colin!)

Wikipedia will go dark to protest SOPA/PIPA

Jimmy Wales has announced that Wikipedia will join Reddit, Boing Boing, and many other sites around the Internet in going dark on Wednesday to protest SOPA/PIPA, the pending US legislation that would make it impossible to run any website that links or allows commenters to link, by making us liable for copyright infringement on the sites we link to.

Wales used his Twitter account to spread the news, writing “Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday! #sopa”

In place of Wikipedia, users will see instructions for how to reach local members of Congress, which Wales hopes "will melt phone systems in Washington."

He also noted that comScore estimates the English Wikipedia’s web traffic at 25 million daily visitors worldwide.

Wikipedia to Shut Down in Protest of SOPA (Thanks, Marilyn!)

Fictional disease

Wikipedia helpfully catalogs the major fictional diseases. (via Maria Popova) Maggie