The Wikimedia Foundation has disclosed efforts to collect personal information about certain Chinese Wikipedia publishers by entities opposed to their activities on the platform and which may threaten the privacy or well-being of targets.
The foundation’s response was to ban seven users in mainland China, revoke sysop privileges for another dozen, and warn many other Wikipedia editors to change their behavior.
The bans and warnings were revealed in a Monday letter by Maggie Dennis, vice president of community resilience and sustainability for the foundation. This decision followed the detection of what Dennis described in a declaration as “information about infiltration of Wikimedia systems, including posts with access to personally identifiable information and elected bodies of influence.”
The foundation entered into a contract with a security company, which considered that the current situation “put several users at risk”. Dennis’s letter describes the exposure of personal information from Chinese publishers and states that “we know that some users have been physically injured as a result.”
The Wikimedia Foundation therefore decided that some of the authors should be sanctioned.
“We have banned seven users and disarmed 12 more following lengthy and thorough investigations into activity around certain members of the unrecognized Mainland Chinese Wikimedians group,” Dennis wrote. “We have also reached out to a number of other publishers with explanations of canvassing guidelines and doxing policies and requests to change their behavior.”
The letter and statement do not explain the source of the conflict, but mention “recent world events” as a catalyst.
Wikimedia Taiwan comment on the situation offers clues to these events.
“On behalf of Wikimedia Taiwan, we would like to say that this is long overdue. For more than half a decade, bona fide volunteers from Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan have shared their concerns about the dangerous members of this organization, ”he added. comments on the states. “We need to rebuild an inclusive wiki that welcomes all those from everywhere who wish to contribute in good faith to Wikipedia in Chinese. “
This last sentence refers to the fact that Wikipedia is banned in China, but a Mandarin version on zh.wikipedia.org is among the top ten most visited versions of the online encyclopedia and is primarily created and edited by members of the Chinese diaspora.
Today’s news that China has released new guidelines for online behavior that make it clear that only the ruling party line is acceptable also suggests the source of the conflict: Wikipedia contributors and Chinese authorities have had differences of opinion on how to present the story on Wikipedia.
The Middle Empire is known to conduct influence operations beyond its borders. This is not a far-fetched scenario for disputes over interpretations to escalate into doxing or physical damage, inside and outside of China. Or this conflict over the changed political circumstances of Hong Kong resulted in some passionate edits on Wikipedia.
Dennis’s letter suggests that the foundation is aware of the larger challenges it faces.
“Community ‘capture’ is a real and current threat,” says his letter. “The Foundation recently put together a disinformation team, which is still looking to find its feet and assess the problem, but started by engaging an external researcher to look at this project and the challenges and help us understand the potential causes. and the solutions to such situations. “
“We have also recently set up a human rights team to deal with urgent threats to the human rights of communities across the group as a result of these organized efforts to control information,” she added.
“The situation we face today has shown me how much we need as a movement to tackle the tough questions of how we stay open to editing by anyone, anywhere, while ensuring that those who accept this offer are not harmed by those who want to silence them. ®