Hongkongers Battle Supporters Of Beijing For The Soul Of The Chinese-Language Wikipedia
from the beyond-edit-wars dept
When Wikipedia was first launched 20 years ago, it was widely derided as an impossible project, bound to fail or, at best, to produce worthless rubbish. And yet today, along with open source software, it is undoubtedly the best demonstration that a distributed team of volunteers can produce work that is not just free but arguably better than anything created for profit using traditional, top-down management approaches. But beyond that, Wikipedia has become something else: a unique repository of validated information and thus, implicitly, a store of “truth” about the past and the present. That has turned many pages of Wikipedia into a battleground, as people with different views fight in sometimes fierce “edit wars” over what counts as “verified”. The choice of information and even how things are phrased often have considerable social, economic or political importance. No surprise, then, that there is a struggle taking place over what Wikipedia should say is happening in the contested space of Hong Kong. Back in July, an article in the Hong Kong Free Press explained:
As Hongkongers reckon with the closure of one of the city’s mainstream news outlets [Apple Daily], drastic political changes and a sweeping national security law, the city’s keyboard warriors on Wikipedia are also coming under pressure.
Battles between competing editors of the crowd-sourced encyclopaedia’s articles about Hong Kong political events have been a daily occurrence since the beginning of the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests.
As increasing numbers of mainland Chinese contribute to the Chinese-language version of Wikipedia, those in Hong Kong worry that their perspectives will be lost:
In the war to set narratives using news sources that may have political biases, whether pro-Hong Kong or pro-China, the question of which news outlet gets a seal of “reliability” becomes a key battleground.
Since then, the situation has become so serious that the Wikimedia Foundation, which owns and operates all the different language editions of Wikipedia, has been forced to step in. Maggie Dennis, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Vice President of Community Resilience & Sustainability, wrote this week of “infiltration” of Wikimedia systems, “including positions with access to personally identifiable information and elected bodies of influence.” Dennis claims that “we know that some users have been physically harmed as a result. With this confirmed, we have no choice but to act swiftly and appropriately in response.” The actions were as follows:
We have banned seven users and desysopped [removed administrator privileges from] a further 12 as a result of long and deep investigations into activities around some members of the unrecognized group Wikimedians of Mainland China. We have also reached out to a number of other editors with explanations around canvassing guidelines and doxing policies and requests to modify their behaviors.
Setting the narrative for these politically-sensitive events is so important to the Chinese government that it is unlikely that Wikimedia’s moves will put an end to this “infiltration”. On the contrary: we can probably expect the organization to come under even more pressure to tell things the way Beijing wants them portrayed, and to hell with Wikipedia’s cherished neutral point of view.