Wikipedia Bans Seven Chinese Users Citing ‘Infiltration’

The San Francisco-based Wikimedia Foundation has revealed that it has taken action against a number of Chinese editors, citing ‘infiltration of Wikimedia systems’.

The Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit organisation that owns and operates Wikipedia, and the news that it taken action against seven Chinese users was revealed in a letter from Maggie Dennis, VP of community resilience and sustainability.

For over a decade now, it is fair to say that Wikipedia has struggled to police and regulate the behaviour of its volunteer editors and users.

Wikipedia infiltration?

And the relationship between the Foundation itself and the volunteer editors has at times been strained, as evidenced in 2010, when the website’s editors felt that Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales had overstepped his bounds removing images that he deemed pornographic.

It has emerged that the Foundation has been conducting an investigation concerning infiltration of the Chinese-language Wikipedia.

But in her letter this week, the Foundation’s Maggie Dennis, explained that it has taken action after she said the platform had suffered an “infiltration” that sought to advance the aims of China.

“These changes have been discussed on Meta, and I won’t reiterate all of our disclosures there, but I will briefly summarise that due to credible information of threat, the Foundation has modified its approach to accepting ‘non-disclosure agreements’ from individuals,” wrote Dennis.

“The security risk relates to information about infiltration of Wikimedia systems, including positions with access to personally identifiable information and elected bodies of influence.”

“We could not pre-announce this action, even to our most trusted community partner groups (like the stewards), without fear of triggering the risk to which we’d been alerted,” she added. “We restricted access to these tools immediately in the jurisdictions of concern, while working with impacted users to determine if the risk applied to them.”

Foundation bans

“Today, the Foundation has rolled out a second phase of addressing infiltration concerns, which has resulted in sweeping actions in one of the two currently affected jurisdictions,” wrote Dennis. “We have banned seven users and desysopped a further 12 as a result of long and deep investigations into activities around some members of the unrecognized group Wikimedians of Mainland China.”

As an FYI, ‘desysopped’ means to have administrator privileges removed from the account.

Dennis also said the Foundation has reached out to a number of other editors with requests to modify their behaviours.

“While some time ago we limited the exposure of personal information to users in mainland China, we know that there has been the kind of infiltration we describe above in the project,” wrote Dennis. “And we know that some users have been physically harmed as a result. With this confirmed, we have no choice but to act swiftly and appropriately in response.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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