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A Brief Note on Wikipedia and the Situation in Iran

Posted by: | June 20, 2009 | 94 Comments |

I’ve been working on a chapter and I’ve let this blog slide. I just wanted to quickly mention something I noticed while checking in on the evolution of the Wikipedia article on the unfolding situation on Iran.

Wikipedia, though built on a philosophy of radical openness and communication, has had to set limits on who can and cannot edit the site as the project has grown to be a larger and more tempting target for vandalism. An exchange between two editor discussing the article on the current protests in Iran suggests that these limits may shape how events are reported on Wikipedia.

The first editor requests that the article be placed under what is called “semi-protection,” in which only users with accounts on wikipedia (and only accounts that have what is called “auto-confirmed” status, meaning they are not brand new and have met certain other basic criteria for trustworthyness) can edit the page. A second editor objects to this request writing:

I don’t see that much vandalism currently, and we should know full well that the only people who can actually speak Farsi or know anything about what is going on are going to be IPs and new accounts, if they can get past Wikipedia restrictions on open proxies and TOR sites that is. So let’s not protect this at all.

This second editor argues that those most qualified to edit this article, presumably Iranian nationals (currently under-represented on Wikipedia, which tends to skew western and white like many net projects), might be blocked from doing so by semi-protection. Furthermore, s/he points out that some with useful information to add to the article might be prevented from contributing by “Wikipedia restrictions on open proxies and TOR sites.” That is, by restrictions that prevent Wikipedia from being edited using techniques that conceal one’s actual IP address. Wikipedia restricts editing by those using these techniques since they could be used by vandals to evade efforts to block their attempts to damage the site. However, as this editor points out, these techniques might be the only means available for Iranian dissidents to evade government censorship and contact the outside world. Thus Wikipedia’s defenses against vandals might inadvertently silence their voices as well.

Not an indictment of Wikipedia, by any means, but something to think about.

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94 thoughts on “A Brief Note on Wikipedia and the Situation in Iran

  1. By: Gavin on June 22, 2009 at 8:41 am      

    I am not completely familiar with wikipedia as a news site, but my impression is that because you have to cite your sources, Wikipedia would be aggregating the information published on other sites (twitter, youtube, news articles written about those places) rather than being the place where stories break.

    So this hypothetical situation only exists if Wikipedia is the “last resort,” i.e. everything else BUT wikipedia has been blocked. Which was not the case here, and doesn’t seem realistic to me since in Web 2.0 you can add content to almost anything, indeed that is Web 2.0’s injunction to its users: “Contribute!” Do you know of any situations where Wikipedia was the only source of breaking events online?

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