from the citation-needed dept
It’s no secret that the Russian government has been working overtime to try to block out accurate information about its invasion of Ukraine from reaching the citizenry. That’s part of why we found it so frustrating that some supporters of Ukraine sought to make it even more difficult for Russian’s to reach the wider internet.
Either way, one of Russia’s targets, not surprisingly, has been Wikipedia. Unlike various big social media companies, where Russia can try to imprison local employees or somehow harm their bottom line, it’s not as easy for Russia to intimidate Wikipedia — whose content is all created by volunteers anyway. In early March, the same time the Russian government made demands on social media, it also demanded that Wikipedia delete some content as well. The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, refused to comply.
In response, a Russian court has fined Wikimedia 5 million rubles (approximately $65,000). Wikimedia is now appealing that ruling in a Russian court.
On 6 June 2022, the Wikimedia Foundation filed an appeal to challenge a Moscow Court’s decision that the Foundation committed an administrative offense by failing to remove “prohibited” information on Wikipedia, largely related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In its appeal, the Wikimedia Foundation argues that information on Wikipedia should be protected by freedom of expression and does not constitute disinformation, as found by the Court. The information at issue is fact-based and verified by volunteers who continuously edit and improve articles on the site; its removal would therefore constitute a violation of people’s rights to free expression and access to knowledge.
It’s easy to be cynical here and to suggest this is a waste of time, because there’s no way a Russian court will rule against the censorial demands of Putin’s government. But, to some extent here I find it shows the kind of character that the Wikimedia Foundation has — to default to assuming good faith and exhausting all officials avenues before going further.
According to the lower Court’s decision, the information on Wikipedia is considered disinformation, which poses risk of mass public disorder in Russia. Further, the Court declared that the Wikimedia Foundation is operating inside Russian territory, and would therefore be required to comply with Russian law.
“This decision implies that well-sourced, verified knowledge on Wikipedia that is inconsistent with Russian government accounts constitutes disinformation,” said Stephen LaPorte, Associate General Counsel at the Wikimedia Foundation. “The government is targeting information that is vital to people’s lives in a time of crisis. We urge the court to reconsider in favor of everyone’s rights to knowledge access and free expression.”
In the end, it is still unlikely that the appeal will work, so the next question is how will Wikipedia handle this issue going forward. It does seem like the most likely scenario is that Wikipedia ends up being blocked in Russia, which would be unfortunately. Access to knowledge is important, and Wikipedia remains an excellent tool for knowledge sharing.
Russian-language Wikipedia is a crucial second draft of history, written by and for Russian speakers around the world who volunteer their time to make reliable, fact-checked information available to all. Blocking access to Wikipedia in Russia would deny more than 145 million people access to this vital information resource. Further, the articles flagged for removal uphold Wikipedia’s standards of neutrality, verifiability, and reliable secondary sources to ensure articles are based in fact. They are well-sourced, including citations to a variety of established news sources. The articles continue to be improved by Wikipedia volunteer editors from all over the world with more sources and up-to-date information.