The Wikilobby
May 19, 2008, 4:16 pm
Filed under: Israel, Palestine | Tags: , ,

Much to the chagrin of teachers and academics, many students use the popular open source encyclopedia site Wikipedia. I for one use it to put faces with names that I come across in other more ‘scholarly’ texts. Although Wikipedia is in theory open, there are a variety of safety mechanisms in place that prevent users from effectively ruining the site. Thousands of dedicated individuals monitor the site, make corrections and attempt to keep articles as objective and legitimate as possible. Unfortunately, that sort of business does not sit will with some.

Case in point: my friend Haitham Sabbah’s blog posts an article from Mister-Info which reports that Department of Justice IP addresses have recently been blocked after ‘vandalism’ edits to Wikipedia. What where were such edits made? Turns out, the edits had nothing to do with the DOJ but were instead an attempt to turn Wikipedia into another pro-Israel tool. They may not be big news, but if you follow Wikipedia or the current Israeli-Palestinian cyber conflict, this is sure to anger you a bit. This does not mean that their is some government conspiracy, of course not. As one Wikipedia editors wrote “I know people get excited when they see edits from the DOJ. But also I think we need to keep a little perspective. The DOJ is an agency with 100K+ employees. It’s far more likely that edits like this are coming from your standard government paper pusher as opposed to edits directly ordered by the Atourney General.”

Where the edits came from are not what matters, what is important is that these issues do exist and we should always be mindful of what we read. This story, I guess, confirms the teachers and professors lack of trust in Wikipedia. A good tool that is too easily accessible can easily be misused towards bad deeds.

Wikinews has learned that a United States Department of Justice (DOJ) IP Address has been blocked on Wikipedia after making edits to an article which were considered “vandalism”. In two separate instances, the IP address from the DOJ removed information from the Wikipedia article about the organization Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), regarding an attempt by the organization to secretly gain influence on the site. The IP address has been confirmed by Wikinews to be registered and used by the DOJ located in Washington, D.C.

On April 21, Electronic Intifada published a report based on leaked emails written between CAMERA and Wikipedia contributors who are allegedly planning to gain influence on the online encyclopedia. Information about CAMERA’s campaign to influence Wikipedia was first added to the site’s article about the organization on April 21 by user ‘Bangpound’, who cited the Electronic Intifada article.

According to the edit history on the Wikipedia article CAMERA, the entire subsection relating to this controversy was removed by the IP address 149.101.1.130, which is hosted by ‘wdcsun30.usdoj.gov’ and is used by the DOJ. The IP address removed information regarding CAMERA’s plan to “cooperate with prominent Wikipedia editors to promote a Zionist viewpoint and oppose pro-Arab viewpoints on Wikipedia” at least two separate times, on April 24 and April 25.

The IP address belonging to the DOJ also made edits identified as vandalism to the Wikipedia articles Tracy Jordan, Roger Ebert, and James E. Akins. After several warnings on the IP address’s “talk page”, the IP address was blocked for four days for “repeated vandalism.” Several hours prior to the DOJ edits, an IP address also from Washington D.C., 71.178.102.65, removed the same information. Wikinews can confirm the IP address is located in Washington D.C. and belongs to Verizon.

Wikipedia administrators were kept apprised in an ongoing discussion about the incident at Wikipedia’s Administrators’ noticeboard. “The Justice employee is attempting to scrub any mention of CAMERA’s activities to influence Wikipedia (now double-sourced) as seen here in this edit,” said Wikipedia editor Lawrence Cohen, in an initial post to the Administrators’ noticeboard.

Founded in 1982, CAMERA is a pro-Israel media-monitoring and research non-profit organization based in Boston, Massachusetts. On April 21 the Electronic Intifada, a not-for-profit online publication which covers the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict from a Palestinian perspective, published an article describing efforts by CAMERA to secretly influence Wikipedia articles. According to the article, Electronic Intifada obtained a series of emails between CAMERA and members of Wikipedia, attempting to game the encyclopedia and influence articles on the site related to Israel.

Electronic Intifada quoted a March 13 email from Gilead Ini, a Senior Research Analyst at CAMERA, who enlisted volunteers to make sure articles about Israel on Wikipedia were “free of bias and error, and include necessary facts and context”. In a follow-up email from March 17, Ini emphasized secrecy, telling the email list members not to “forward it to members of the news media”, and wrote that “There is no need to advertise the fact that we have these group discussions.” The media criticism organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting criticized the CAMERA emails, calling them “particularly insidious” because “stealth and misrepresentation are presented as the keys to success.”

Later discussions in the series of emails obtained by Electronic Intifada included advice on how to get members of CAMERA elected as Wikipedia administrators, in order to gain influence. Wikipedia user ‘Zeq’ posted to the list: “One or more of you who want to take this route should stay away from any Israel realted [sic] articles for one month until they [sic] interact in a positive way with 100 wikipedia [sic] editors who would be used later to vote you as an administrator.”

After the IP address belonging to the DOJ was blocked, Wikipedia editors informed the Wikimedia Foundation’s Communications committee about the incident. Both Wikinews and Wikipedia are projects of the Wikimedia Foundation. In addition to the DOJ IP address, several Wikipedia users determined to be cooperating with the CAMERA campaign to influence Wikipedia had also previously been blocked by Wikipedia administrators.

Wikinews requested a statement from the Department of Justice on the edits to Wikipedia, but as of this article’s publication had not received a response.

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[...] a separate post on his personal blog entitled, “The Wikilobby,” Zafar discusses attempts “to turn Wikipedia into another pro-Israel [...]

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