New Delhi: The Wikimedia Foundation has banned seven Chinese editors and removed administrator powers from 12 users affiliated with the Wikimedians of Mainland China (WMC) over “infiltration concerns”.
The suspension in September has led to pro-Chinese editors questioning the ‘neutrality’ of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia edited by volunteers and hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation.
Maggie Dennis, vice president of community resilience and sustainability, Wikimedia, said in a statement soon after the ban that the move was “a result of long and deep investigations into activities around some members of the unrecognized group Wikimedians of Mainland China”, and added that the decision was a “radical one” as the case was “unprecedented in scope and nature”.
The statement further added: “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. 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”.
The foundation has been accused of suppression by the pro-Chinese editors, who questioned the decision.
According to a report in Chinese state-run Global Times, a volunteer of the WMC said the foundation has “significantly changed the political landscape” of Chinese language Wikipedia, and “hugely impaired the neutrality of Wikipedia”. It was a “well-calculated” suppression, the volunteer added.
Wikipedia vs pro-Beijing editors
In the backdrop of tensions between China and Hong Kong, pro-Beijing editors accused of “bullying and intimidating editors who had a pro-democracy stance” were banned in September.
The edit wars between the two groups often take place over the editing of content regarding protests and narratives regarding mainland China.
A report defines WMC editors as editors based in mainland China, who describe themselves as pro-Beijing and were “patriots who believe China’s perspective was not well-represented on the world stage”.
China also has a local encyclopedia website called Baidu Baike, which has more than 24.5 million articles compared to Chinese Wikipedia’s 1.2 million articles. According to reports, Baike censors its content according to the demand by the Chinese government, being a Chinese startup unlike Wikipedia.
To use Wikipedia, users have to access it through a proxy server or VPN. One example of the edit wars between Hong Kong and Pro-Beijing users was an article about an incident that happened in Hong Kong in 2019 — it had 123 edits made in the span of two days, with words such as ‘rural factions’ and ‘terrorists’ being used interchangeably.
In July, the Hong Kong Free Press had revealed that the mainland Chinese editors allegedly threatened to report Hong Kong users for “national security violations”, which also posed a physical threat to them.
(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)