back to article Wikipedia bans seven Chinese users amid concerns of 'infiltration, physical harm'

The Wikimedia Foundation has revealed efforts to gather personal information on some Chinese Wikipedia editors by entities opposed to their activities on the platform and likely to threaten the targets' privacy or well-being. The foundation's response has been to ban seven users in mainland China, cancel sysop privileges for …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just for a layman not familiar with the inner workings of Wikipedia; what is happening, exactly?

    Am I right in thinking that the Chinese government is turning Chinese Wikipedia into a propaganda machine (though it's blocked internally)? Are these the people that are now "desysopped", or is it that Wikipedia have turned off a load of Chinese citizens' accounts so they can deny involvement?

    Who could get harmed (obviously Chinese citizens) and why?

    1. emfiliane

      Terminology: Sysops on Wikimedia are people who have the ability to ban users and delete edits (aka, rewrite history) -- including their own -- along with a few other privs. They're the enforcers of decisions of the ArbCom (arbitration committee), and are tasked with policing violations of policy and law otherwise. When bots don't do it, a sysop is the one who deletes a copyright-infringing file or a libelous attack on someone. As you'd imagine, they're granted a lot of respect, trust, and leeway.

      This is Wikimedia finding that several of the users who had risen to that high level of trust on the Chinese-language Wiki were either compromised later or partisans from the start who snuck each other in. Either way the investigation revealed they abused their authority to toe the Xi party line rather than Wikimedia policy.

      English-language users would be almost entirely insulated from this, the shakeup was entirely on the Chinese-language wiki. Other languages get drive-by Beijing edits, but not to nearly the same degree or with the same high-level authority.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      From what I understood, there is a Chinese version of Wikipedia (because the engine in free, anyone can create a wiki on any subject). That version is not under the control of the Wikimedia Foundation.

      However, the Foundation discovered that there are apparently editors and sysops from China who are actively trying to subvert pages in the world-available Wikipedia, and the Foundation is trying to find a way to put a stop to that while respecting the "Encyclopedia anyone can edit" mantra.

      What a nightmare.

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        Correction: zh.wikimedia.org is under the control of the WMF, so the encyclopedia that sits on it very definitely has their blessing and (editorial copyrights aside) ultimate ownership. No messin'.

        1. KarMann Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Close, but…

          And also zh.wikipedia.org, a domain name which also has the merit of existing.

      2. General Purpose Bronze badge

        Yes, the English-language Wikipedia is the biggest but others are very well established. There are over 300 Wikipedias in different languages - English en.wikipedia.org, German de.wikipedia.org, Chinese zh.wikipedia.org, zh-classical.wikipedia.org, zh-min-nan.wikipedia.org and zh-yue.wikipedia.org, and so on. All are available worldwide, except where governments block them. It seems most of zh.wikipedia.org's contributors and readers are outside mainland China but it's still of great interest to the Chinese government.

        All 300+ Wikipedias run on the Wikimedia Foundation's servers and the Foundation has the ability to intervene on all of them. Volunteer global sysops appoint and remove volunteer sysops for the individual wikipedias, usually just following that wikipedia's approval process and rules for removal (stale accounts, misbehaviour, whatever). But behind them, the Wikimedia Foundation has all the powers of global sysops and more, and they've used them to remove sysop powers from a bunch of editors of Chinese Wikipedias.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      From what I acknowledge at the viewpoint of a pure viewer of Wikipedia Chinese site, and an opposer of CCP and PRC:

      1. Yes, at least the Shina govt. is trying to do that.

      2. No, we cannot get details from either Wikimedia or Shina govt. that proves if they are official Shina agents or have their account controlled or not.

      3. However, under Xijingping's dictatorship, many people fully and sincerely accepts and worship what Shina govt wants them to believe in. I believe such sense of mission to promote the theory be merely the truth, instead of actual manipulation of those accounts / users by that govt.

      PS. My usage of "Shina" merely reflects my antipathy and hostility against "PRC" as a state as well as the govt., but not at Chinese People living under the dictatorship on that ground.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Am I right in thinking that the Chinese government is turning Chinese Wikipedia into a propaganda machine"

      Yes, exactly that. But they are far from alone. Several national governments make a small industry of it; besides China I have encountered Russia on a fairly regular basis. Many nationalistic-minded citizens of these and other countries also do their best to rewrite history their way; here I can vouch for the USA, India, Pakistan and several Central European countries. Maybe some of those have State operations too, other Wikipedians will know better than I. Wikipedia's firm policy is to impose lifetime bans on any such editor who refuses to mend their ways (I have called out a few myself, though usually for personal fruitloopery or abuse rather than political). They even impose permanent IP range blocks on specific institutions from which propaganda appears to originate. These are mostly State institutions, but some hotbeds of nationalism such as certain academic institutions also earn themselves rangeblocks. China just happens to be top of the league table at the moment.

      Who could get harmed (obviously Chinese citizens) and why?"

      Anybody who does not toe the party line and rewrite Chinese history the official way is at risk. Those on the mainland especially are likely to be visited by the Chinese authorities' heavy mob, with intimidation, career destruction and even violence all on the agenda. Chinese nationals living abroad can expect slightly less open attentions. Even foreign nationals might be in line for an unfortunate accident, who knows.

      AC for very obvious reasons. (Disclaimer: I am not a Chinese national, so eff off any Politburo scum seeking to dox this post)

    5. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      As I read it - Wikipedia believes the Chinese government infiltrated Wikipedia to identify, locate, and physically silence contributors. Accounts that could be used for such activities were terminated.

  2. Winkypop Silver badge
    Devil

    Wikipedia

    That still a thing is it?

    1. Snake Silver badge

      Re: Still a thing?

      He/She's not necessarily wrong with that question: I was at my doctor just yesterday and she needed some medicinal info. After searching for a while she said, quote, "I'd hate depending upon Wikipedia...".

      "Wikipedians", the enforcers of their own self-interests, are why Wiki even has to have this question raised. Frankly their bias shows when you attempt to submit edits to an entry, all too often your edits are rewritten, or removed completely only to return some time in the future, both options of which give the Wikipedian the informational edit credit rather than you. Had it happen twice - never again, I am no longer interested in trying to "improve" Wiki when their gatekeepers have too much of their own interests, and egos, wrapped around the project.

      And that, conveniently, comes full-circle back to the article.

      1. General Purpose Bronze badge

        Re: Still a thing?

        > all too often your edits .... Had it happen twice - never again

        Twice is "all too often"?

        1. Snake Silver badge

          Re: all too often?

          As the rather ironic Wiki article about wiki edits shows, yes, quite common, as I'm not the only one this occurs to, not by a long shot.

          1. steelpillow Silver badge

            Re: all too often?

            Indeed. This is exactly how Wikipedia is meant to work. Anybody who goes in expecting their own edits to be durable and gets upset when they aren't is exactly the kind of egotist they blame the wider editorial community for. Few such self-important egos get very far on "the encyclopedia anyone can edit."

  3. Al fazed
    Joke

    By the time all of these American on-line facilities have finished editing the posts made by subscribers, I really struggle to see what all the fuss is about when China or anyone else starts doing the same judicious editing of subscribers posts.

    SHEESH, talk about the pan calling the kettle ...........

    Surely others have woken up to the fact that English language versions of Wikiwotsit are just as far from the real story, especially if you are looking for info on something considered to be unsavoury according to another set of moral values............

    Surely there must be some real news to report ?

    ALF

    1. Pseudononymous Coward
      Stop

      This story is not about biased re-editing of Wikipedia articles.

      It is about the WMF's response to editors being placed in physical danger.

      "We know that some users have been physically harmed as a result."

    2. steelpillow Silver badge

      For the record, Wikipedia fights American propaganda as much as any other. We Brits, Canadians, English-speaking Asians and all see to that. Just you try and edit the article on Brexit using American spelling, or try to pick on Islam!

      Only conspiracy-theory idiots with no experience of the Wikipedia community and a penchant for dogma over verifiable reliable sources could possibly believe otherwise. Which kinda marks you out....

      1. Snake Silver badge

        Verifiably sources

        The edit brew ha-ha has *nothing* to do with verifiable sources. It has to do with ego, the fact that "Wikipedians" very often will re-edit a non-Wikipedian's entry with sometimes very minor changes to, from the perspective of outsiders, not only tweak the prose to their tastes but to also gain-up their edit count. You'll see *your* edit...see it removed...see it come back with only insignificant changes...but now he/she got the submission credit.

        This type of action reduces community interaction and has only served to tighten the Wikipedian's reign over the platform, with a minority of users - Wikipedians - making the majority of the edits. There's even a Wikipedia entry discussing these facts

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edit_count

        If you can't see that this is a major issue of transparency with Wiki, and why Wiki's veracity is in question all over the world, then you're just another "conspiracy-theory" person who thinks Wiki is a convenient and innocent target for "bad actors".

        1. steelpillow Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Verifiably sources

          "but now he/she got the submission credit."

          WHAT??!!? You edit Wikipedia just to rack up citations in the article histories??!!!?

          Speechless....

      2. SundogUK Silver badge

        "verifiable reliable sources"

        You cannot be serious. This is Wikipedia we're talking about...

        1. steelpillow Silver badge

          Deadly serious. See the key policies at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Verifiability and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reliable_sources

          I revert crap that fails these tests all the time - mostly bored schoolkids and political nationalists, with a fair scatter of nutters. Looking up your own sources so you don't get the same treatment is a stunningly effective way to educate yourself and have a blast at the same time.

          Note too that while Wikipedia does not regard itself as a reliable source, its articles on mainline topics contain fewer errors than the Encyclopedia Britannica.

  4. _LC_ Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    CIA-pedia infiltrated

    By the Chinese? *lol* Good one!

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      Re: CIA-pedia infiltrated

      “Oh, bother,” said Pooh, “my useful idiots are being downvoted on the Register.”

      1. _LC_ Silver badge

        Re: CIA-pedia infiltrated

        Philip Cross is having a field day again. *lol*

  5. Short Fat Bald Hairy Man

    Wikipedia does have many problems.

    This one made me think a bit.

    https://www.wired.com/story/one-womans-mission-to-rewrite-nazi-history-wikipedia/

    I do know, in theory, that Wikipedia is not accurate, but this is outright dangerous. I definitely would have believed it.

    By its very structure, Wikipedia is always going to be susceptible to attacks. I have seen amateurish attempts which can hopefully be recognised easily, but these are difficult.

    Just a very bad place to be in.

    1. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

      Re: Wikipedia does have many problems.

      I am unsure what you mean by "I would have believed it"? You would have believed some of the erroneous information she reveals in this article? Dangerous is a bit of an overreaction!

      With that said, I agree with 90% of what she says here but I take issue with her statements in the 2nd paragraph. That some of those in the German military were written about is somewhat admiral tones. What she fails to understand is that many in the German Military of that war fought for "Germany" not so much for the NAZIs. There was a different mindset in those days that you fought for your country no matter the failings of its leaders. Especially in the aviation realm, while no pilot would have any qualm about shooting an enemy pilot out of the sky, there was quite a bit of "mutual admiration" for ones opponents. In many cases survivors of the war met their German and Japanese counterparts without any further animosity. As a student of aviation history I can say that this holds true even in the case of the Vietnam conflict with many american pilots who have met their N. Vietnam adversaries with respect and admiration.

      Yes, there were many atrocities during that war, but the soldiers, sailors and airman who fought that war should not be painted with the same brush as their leaders.

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