<CPOV> Wikipedia and I

Dror Kamir dqamir at bezeqint.net
Tue Apr 13 19:18:43 CEST 2010


First of all, an apology - ever since I came back from Bangalore I've 
been overloaded with work and projects, and didn't have enough time to 
follow the CPOV events and mailing list. I truly regret that, and I hope 
it'll change in the near future. Having said that, I can't avoid using 
this mailing list today, since I arose the curiosity of some of you, 
when I published a call to boycott Wikipedia on FaceBook (a personal 
call, I should emphasize, before my colleagues at Wikimedia Israel eat 
me alive). I published some explanations to my friends there, but they 
were in Hebrew, so they weren't very useful to most of you. Last remark 
before telling the story - I have been so much involved in Wikipedia and 
Wikipedia-related projects, that I've become quite emotional about them. 
To those of you who see Wikipedia as a subject of research, it might 
seem strange, and I can't blame them for that :-)

Several months ago I returned to the English Wikipedia and looked again 
at articles related to the Middle East. I think it was part of my 
preparations to the Bangalore conference, but I'm not sure this was the 
trigger. This way or another, I found out that there was a strange 
pattern of edits in articles such as "Israel", "State of Palestine", 
"Palestinian territories" and other related articles. There was a group 
of editors who persistently and quite forcefully introduced a political 
thesis into the aforementioned articles. There were several 
characteristics for these edits:

1. Excessive use of the name Palestine, while blurring the distinction 
among its various meanings. In many articles, it has become unclear 
whether the name Palestine refers to a geographical region, to a 
historical political entity, to a future state, to the Palestinian 
Authority and so forth.

2. Excessive use of terms like "occupied", e.g. in the article about the 
Golan Heights or the Palestinian territories, where previously it was 
agreed to use more neutral terms like "controlled". That was not merely 
a change of term, but also overuse of this term over and over again.

3. Describing the State of Palestine as a fact on the ground and drawing 
a straight line between the British Mandate of Palestine and the Arab 
State of Palestine. The idea is basically to instill the notion as if 
Israel was just a temporary stage in the history of the region, while 
the "real" State of Palestine that existed in the past was about to 

Politically-wise, this is a sensitive time in this ongoing Middle East 
conflict. The Palestinian Authority appealed to the International Court 
of Justice asking for recognition as a state so it could formally accuse 
Israel in conducting war crimes. In the UK the pro-Palestinian 
organizations calling to boycott Israel are more active than ever. For 
my naked eyes, it seems too much like an anti-Israeli campaign of a 
group of Europe-based Palestinians or pro-Palestinians. On Wikimedia 
Commons, BTW, I already had some fierce battles with pro-Palestinian 
editors who tried to upload problematic fiels and hinder projects of 
Wikimedia Israel.

I won't get into the political discussion that evolved between me and 
this group, and I beg you not to assess my judgment regarding the 
editors' motives or the legitimacy of their edits.  In fact, this is the 
minor issue here. What really bugs me is what I found out about the way 
Wikipedia is currently working.

1. The English Wikipedia developed a judicial system. There are laws and 
tribunals, but they act in a way would amaze even Kafka. There is a 
decision by the Arbitrary Committee that any editor who makes 
problematic edits to ME-related articles would be banned from making 
further edits about the subject. While the Arbitrary Committee meant 
well, in practice it means that every admin can ban an editor. Wikipedia 
cherishes anonymity. It is very hard to understand who complained about 
you, what his motives are, and why his complained was endorsed by the 
certain admin. Asking to lift the ban requires a long bureaucratic process.

2. If one dares to complain about another editor, he might find the 
accusations turned around at him. Basically it is all about forming 
cliques. I you have your clique, you are quite immunized, and you can 
even revert accusations and penalties to those who accuse you.

The whole treatment of content has become very bureaucratic and 
imbalanced. The idea that information should be sources has been brought 
to absurd. Practically anything is regarded as reliable if you can bring 
a name of an article that says so. I often pointed out to serious 
problems in the logics of a certain articles, and was answered that I 
have to bring articles that state otherwise in order to make my claims 
valid. When I brought such articles, I was often answered that my source 
was not serious enough, too pro-Israeli, a primary source while WP 
favors secondary sources and so forth. I often found myself in a strange 
position where I could not argue with a person, because I did not have 
access to the book he mentioned.

Actually WP has abandoned most of its primary values - it is no longer 
open to all. One must have an access to big academic libraries, be very 
skilled in conducting debates and have huge amount of time to conduct 
them. NPOV and No Original Research have become idle principle. 
Practically any problematic term or theory can be used, as long as you 
can find some source and interpret it in a way that would enable you to 
present it as a previously uttered idea. The idea of reaching 
informative articles through confluence of information and exchange of 
views has failed. It is all about imposing one's view. The person who 
imposes his view successfully is the one who has better relations with 
the judges, namely the admins.

Okay, I think I wrote quite a lot, and used quite harsh words (I warned 
you about my emotionality). I'd be happy to hear some relaxed wise 
comments and insights.

Best wishes,

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