Tendentious Editing

Andrei Marks · August 29, 2007

This one’s from the 2007-08-26 print of the 新京报 (The Beijing Paper), page B07 in the Global Publications–Uncovering Secrets section. This one is another departure into unexplored translation territory, it’s about everyone’s favorite Wikipedia. Written by Ren Yagang.

Wikipedia’s Chinese entries are currently blocked in China. I can access English ones without any problem, with the exception of a few (like the ‘Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989’ entry). When I try to log onto one of those I get a message saying the connection with the server was reset, and then for a minute or two I still can’t get on to Wikipedia, not any entry at all. But afterwards everything that’s allowed is still allowed. The same thing happens when I try and log onto Chinese entries.

The most annoying thing about this is that I would often use Wikipedia entries to get equivalent translations of certain names or concepts from English to Chinese, but now I just have to google things and hope that one of the results will contain a convenient answer.


Who’s Distorting Wikipedia Behind the Scenes?

- The CIA’s “Evil Backstage Manipulation”

The United States is where Wikipedia grew up, and it’s also where the “Wikigate” affair first erupted. Recently the English media reported that the “WikiScanner” (an IP address tracking program) revealed that there have been people using CIA and FBI computers to edit Wikipedia articles about the War in Iraq and the Guantanamo detention center.

The edits made using CIA computers include the American military 2003 casualty count in Iraq, former head of the CIA Willam Kolby’s personal achievements, reports about the Guantanamo detention center, and even the picture of Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Furthermore, the “WikiScanner” has also traced people using the federal government’s computers to alter the personal biographies of former U.S. presidents Reagan and Nixon. In some infamous edits by a “username Wahhhhhh”, the table of American casualties in the Iraqi war was changed, and at the same time a vilifying picture of Iranian President Ahmadinejad was put up. According to the “WikiScanner”, the recorded IP address of the computer that these changes came from was from the Central Intelligence Agency. Facing challenges from the media and pressure from the public, the CIA had no choice but to come forth with an explanation, and CIA spokesperson Lituo said that although it cannot now be confirmed that the changes were made by CIA staff, it is true that the people who made the changes used CIA computers.

- The Australian Cabinet is Also Involved

As with many government organizations in America, the Australian cabinet has also been pointed out for making a large number of alterations to Wikipedia, even deleting negative content unfavorable to them. The Australian media revealed that many Australian departments have maliciously altered Wikipedia entries; the ministerial and cabinet departmental organizations made over 126 alterations, altering content touching upon a great deal of sensitive information. The Australian Defense Department was the most frequent editor of Wikipedia content out of the many guilty departments, with edits made to over 5000 Wikipedia articles. Again, with no choice but to respond, on the 23rd the Defense Department said that it has already forbidden its employees from visiting Wikipedia. The Australian government’s “Wikigate” has already provided the opposition party with an opportunity to attack the Howard Administation. Opposition party leader Kevin Rudd has criticized the Prime minister for ordering government employees to revise history, calling such behavior “honestly disgraceful”. Coming before the general elections in November, “Wikigate” has already become a factor that will influence the outcome of the election.

In addition, England’s Labor Party and
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. have also been pointed out for having made alterations in Wikipidia information unfavorable to their own organizations. In order to maintain the Labor Party’s image, one party member deleted all the information that was dangerous to the Labor Party’s interests. And Wal-Mart has also been caught for altering unfavorable information in Wikipedia. One user’s entry had once stated the following information, that “Wal-Mart’s staff salaries are 20% lower than other chain stores”, and not soon after a user on a Wal-Mart computer altered the above information to “Wal-Mart’s average salary is almost twice as high as the federal minimum wage”.

- The “Scanner” Tracks and Follows Clues

Wikipedia’s ability to investigate the behind the scenes manipulators owes its success to 24 year old Virgil Griffith, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology. He developed the “WikiScanner” tracking program, which can trace every alteration operation back to the IP address, and which sets up a database which looks at the statistical data and can discover which IP addresses consistently alter which entries.

The development of Griffith’s “WikiScanner” came from a chance idea. In 2006, after the scandal in which the distortion of Wikipedia entries by U.S. Congressional Offices was exposed, out of curiosity Griffith thought, other government organizations and a few large companies are probably changing related articles for their personal gain. He thereupon developed software that could track the IP addresses of editors. Because Wikipedia allows anyone to freely change entries they’re interested in, when users edit content there is a record made that includes the IP address, the article that was changed, the revised information, and so on. This information is all recorded by Wikipedia’s servers. Even if a few people use fake names to change entries, their IP addresses are still recorded in the servers, so Griffith downloaded Wikipedia’s editing record. After contrasting entries’ editing records with the editor’s IP addresses, Griffith discovered that Wikipedia had a total of 2.6 million users who edited 34 million entries, and surprisingly among the editors’ IP addresses were those of Sony, Wal-Mart, The U.S. Homeland Security department, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation among others.

- The “Wiki” Issues a Warning

The release of “WikiScanner” has influenced Wikipedia’s free editing practice, and has also frightened malicious alterers of Wikipedia entries. According to reports, “WikiScanner” has already discovered a large number of anonymous users who have altered Wikipedia entries using computers linked to government agencies. The entries include articles ranging from 1980s cartoons to those about current politics, and they were altered in ways that were found displeasing to people. After “WikiScanner” exposed the malicious editing scandal, the Wikipedia website spokesperson stated that these editing operations probably violate Wikipedia’s conflict-of-interest policies. Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales sternly admonished, “Recently everyone has become aware of your (the few government organizations and private business groups) malicious editing of entries, so we are warning you to immediately stop these types of actions.” Wales said, “Free editing is one of the founding principles of Wikipedia, we will not abandon free editing. But this is not the only principle, and we do not operate without any flexibility.”


Under the section heading - “Observations”:

Can Wikipedia Still Be Freely Edited?

- Scholars suggest that the government establish legal guidelines to increase supervision.

Wikipedia was founded in January of 2001, and today it already has 1.9 million English entries, and every day 10 million users log in the website to browse for information; it is the main source of information on the internet. But only recently has the public come to know who has been revising the information it searches for. And if the malicious alterations force it to change its editing policies, will Wikipedia be able to maintain its free editing?

China’s People’s University Public Opinion Research Institute head Yu Guoming said, that Wikipedia is an internet encyclopedia, and the free editing policy has let it accumulate a large amount of information and users, and it could be said that it is the foundation of its development. According to Wikipedia’s free editing guidelines, a user only needs to register and log in, and is then able to make edits to any entry they are interested in. But the users’ powers of free editing are limited; they can not violate Wikipedia’s guidelines and policies, and at the same time they are not allowed to injure the interests of others. When the average user edits entries, they all respect these rules, but with regards to government organizations or large corporate groups, the situation is entirely different. Because these types of organizations hold background manipulation technologies, they are able to easily break through Wikipedia’s technological barriers, and then at their own whim alter or delete entries which contain information detrimental to themselves. This type of action is considered malicious editing.

Yu Guoming said, that if the government doesn’t establish clear legal principles, then it may be that public organizations and business groups, if they don’t strictly abide by the rules, will continue with this malicious editing. “This malicious editing occurs very often, and what was revealed of it this time is only the tip of the iceberg. Wikipedia is for-profit company, and in the website’s open environment it is not possible for the company to supervise all the editing that’s going on; moreover, when it comes to the public organizations and business groups that have the technology, Wikipedia has no way to completely lock them out and stop their ‘invasion’.”

Translator’s notes:
- ‘Scenes’ is one of those words that looks like it’s really not a real world at all, or should be pronounced differently at least.
- Haha, I’m sorry, my dictionary translates “黑手” (literally ‘black hand’) as “evil backstage manipulator”. For instance, 黑手党 (literally ‘black hand party’) is the translation for Mafia. But evil backstage manipulator is too good of a phrase to pass up.
- Okay, from now on I’m just not even going to try and translate spokespeople’s names. They’re obviously much less important than I thought.
- The ‘Observation’ section seems really silly to me. Maybe the guy doesn’t get the point about Wikipedia. I’m assuming the ‘for-profit company’ bit is a misprint, because Wikipedia is non-profit, and I have no idea why he’s saying big corporations and big business have the “technology to get through Wikipedia’s technological barriers”. There aren’t any technological blocks in place. The only technology they need is a computer with an internet connection, a keyboard, and a monitor. Maybe if the guy actually got to use Wikipedia he’d have a better idea of what he’s talking about.
- I’m really glad Wikipedia stood up to the Chinese government and refused to self-censor. It’s such a weird untenable position for the Communist Party to hold, I mean the foremost source of free information in the rest of the world, and 1.3 billion people (well, however many hundred million internet users) aren’t privy to it, unless they can read English fine.

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