Recently this week, Wikimedia foundation, which is a Non-Profit Organization overseeing Wikipedia, has investigated an unofficial group of 300 Users of Wikipedia known as Wikimedians of Mainland China and found that some editors of the group were taking unfair advantage of their privileges to promote “the aims of China, as interpreted through whatever filters they may bring to bear.
The foundation in response has banned seven editors based on Mainland China over ‘infiltration concerns’. It has also revoked access of 12 editors from an unrecognized group.
The Vice-president of the foundation Maggie Dennis has stated that the infiltration of Chinese- Language Wikipedia has been investigated for a year. There were credible threats to volunteers’ safety and it needed rapid response on priority.
She also stated that the purpose of infiltration was to control the content and promote the aims of aims. The Foundation has been fighting against capture wherein the group was gaining control of the editing privileges of Wikipedia to favor a particular viewpoint.
The foundation stated that the infiltration has threatened the very foundation of Wikipedia.
The group of Wikimedians of Mainland China accused the Wikimedia foundation of “baselessly slandering a small group of people” It has also stated that the foundation is acting contrary to the feelings and opinions of the community.
Although China did block access to the Chinese language Wikipedia in 2019 but most users remained active through Virtual Private Networking called VPNs.
The foundation has, however, clarified that they acted in awareness of the conflict between mainland China-based wikimedians and the volunteers in Hong Kong.
The Wikipedia users in mainland China have been involved in skirmishes through editing Wikipedia with Hong Kong and Taiwanese users over Wikipedia articles related to political issues and events. The users of mainland China have been pushing hard to make articles in the Chinese language reflect PRC state media as a reliable source.
These minor skirmishes escalated when the users of china started discussing in their online messages about reporting the Hong Kong users to Chinese authorities such as the city’s national security police hotline. The threats of being reported led to the disengagement of the Hong Kong users with Wikipedia because of intimidation that they may be targeted when their identities are disclosed.
The situation further worsened when the whole skirmishes led to the closure of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper and the arrest of its top executives.
The Hong Kong users approached the Wikimedia Foundation’s Trust and safety team to help them.
Although no identifying user information was exposed according to Wikimedia foundation but there is a certainty to the fact that some users were harmed as a result of such infiltration.
The Foundation while responding to a security warning a few weeks earlier has also restricted access to personally identifiable information in two jurisdictions where access to Wikipedia was blocked which also included china.
Foundation has stated that in cases where there is credible information of interaction mala fide by the volunteers it becomes necessary to protect the community by removing the concerned individuals from access. In the given case since there was sufficient information available it was essential to take action by banning the responsible users.
The whole development has come in time when the growing Chinese influence in online platforms and social media has become an increasing concern for the international community, more importantly, the US national security community. Recently every other media outlet has faced Chinese Censorship related controversies and the Chinese Companies have acquired significant shares of various online platforms. The RAND report recently has raised concern over Chinese efforts to subvert the US military officers of Chinese descent on these platforms.