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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:Spending too much, reserves good, SW improves c (274 comments)

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Yeah, but I have written 2 FAs, so I'm allowed to, Maury. (And I have more edits than you.) :P

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:I don't think you know what that word means (274 comments)

The circle goes like this:

Hey, we got 40% more money than last year. We can expand our staff by 40%!

Shit, we are paying out 40% more than last year. We need a bigger reserve! Let's up our fundraising!

Hey, we got 40% more money than last year. We can expand our staff by 40%!

Shit, we are paying out 40% more than last year. We need a bigger reserve! Let's up our fundraising!

Hey, we got 40% more money than last year. We can expand our staff by 40%!

Etc.

Or simply look at this graph. The reserve they shoot for is a function of the spending, and the spending is a function of how much money they have.

They still want to "scale up" much more. And they can *always* justify that they need a bigger reserve next year than this year by spending more in this year. So it's always just "prudent and sensible" to ask for more money than last year, whether the money was spent sensibly or not.

I don't think anyone minds if they spend more, if there is a commensurate benefit to the end user, such as enhanced quality and reliability, and readers are told honestly what their donations are supposed to fund. But 1. product quality has been lacking, and 2. none of this is about "keeping Wikipedia online and ad-free" as the banner implies. The more they spend on paid staff, the smaller the proportion of their budget concerned with that actually becomes.

Just for a laugh, listen to Jimmy Wales speaking in 2005 about hosting, server and bandwidth costs. (Yes, articles are longer today, page views are 15 times higher than in 2005, but on the other hand bandwidth has become cheaper and there are economies of scale.)

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:You're still doing that? (274 comments)

Check the links in my earlier post.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:mirrors? (274 comments)

These already exist. Wikiwand is one, and there are many other less sophisticated mirrors that do not make much of an impact, as they have poor Google rankings. It's partly why the Wikimedia Foundation feels it has to expand and professionalise its software engineering effort: the Wikipedia interface looks very dated today, and as Wikipedia content is free, anyone can host it. And if anyone does it better than the Wikimedia Foundation itself, it's conceivable that readers will flock elsewhere, leaving the Foundation in the lurch. The fact that Google includes data from Wikipedia in its Knowledge Graph (the information panel on the right that appears when you Google a word) is already having an impact on Wikipedia pageviews.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:Not only that... (274 comments)

Wikipedia has a significant problem with content related to this part of the world. Read How pro-fascist ideologues are rewriting Croatia's history. There are similar problems in Indonesia – see Don’t Trust Wikipedia on Indonesia – and in South Africa: The political economy of wikiality: a South African inquiry into knowledge.

It's all got to do with why people contribute to Wikipedia.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:Not sure there's a problem... (274 comments)

... and yet that's what is named in the banner punchline as the reason for the donations request, as though they didn't have enough money to pay for the servers any more.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:Not sure there's a problem... (274 comments)

What upsets me – and other volunteers – most is the "keep Wikipedia online and ad-free for another year" punchline in these banners. It's emotional manipulation, because it makes people think that Wikipedia is *lacking* funds to keep Wikipedia online and ad-free for another year. That's ludicrously false, and it's not how a charity championing transparency should behave. It seems to me they're simply follow their Darwinian A/B testing and always plump for the banner that gets in more money per hour.

Apart from that, there is the issue of how the money is actually spent, and whether the spending has a tangible benefit for the end user. That's another big issue in its own right. There are weaknesses there too (see also this edit by Jimmy Wales – look for the words "miserable cost/benefit ratio"), but it's a separate issue from the banner wording.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:Not sure there's a problem... (274 comments)

First of all, a lot of money has been mis-spent. Sue Gardner herself voiced her qualms about this shortly before she left the Foundation, warning of the potential for log-rolling and corruption and spending money without benefit to the end user. In one case I have knowledge of, the entire board of a national Wikimedia organisation was flown into a city and put up in hotels for a "community consultation" where exactly one (1) community member turned up. That was $5,000 of donors' money gone right there, for nothing (although the board members all got a city stay out of it).

Secondly, some of the work done for that money has been incompetent. The VisualEditor, announced as "epically important" by Jimmy Wales, was a case in point. It was years late and so buggy and incomplete that the community switched the thing off, overriding the Foundation. It is my suspicion that this is partly a result of giving too many management and tech jobs to Wikipedia insiders selected on the basis of their enthusiasm for the Wikipedia ideal rather than their qualifications or expertise. Otherwise it's really hard to explain why jobs were done so badly. And that they were done badly is a fact that was acknowledged by Jimmy Wales, who said that Lila Tretikov was specifically hired to stop these sorts of failures and bring their house in order. And she may well do so.

But what to me is morally wrong about the banners is that they create the impression the Foundation is struggling financially to keep Wikipedia online without ads. And that's simply not the case. Wales used to boast how little it cost to keep Wikipedia online. In 2005, he said,

"So, we’re doing around 1.4 billion page views monthly. So, it’s really gotten to be a huge thing. And everything is managed by the volunteers and the total monthly cost for our bandwidth is about 5,000 dollars, and that’s essentially our main cost. We could actually do without the employee We actually hired Brion [Vibber] because he was working part-time for two years and full-time at Wikipedia so we actually hired him so he could get a life and go to the movies sometimes.”

Today, the Wikimedia Foundation attracts 21 billion page views a month – i.e. 15 times as much – but even 15 times the $5,000 a month Wales mentioned then would only be $75,000 a month, or $900,000 a year; and that's without allowing for economies of scale, and the fact that bandwidth has become cheaper since 2005. Yes, they have more images these days and so forth, but keeping Wikipedia online simply isn't their major expense, and a fraction of the money they have in hand.

By all means say that Wikipedia is ad-free and relies on donations – that's perfectly true – but don't imply that donations are needed to keep Wikipedia online and ad-free for another year, making everyone think that if not enough money comes in they'll have to pull the plug, or there will be ads by the end of next year. And that's a mainstream criticism within the Wikimedia movement. Just look at the Wikimedia mailing list discussion [gossamer-threads.com]. The person speaking there is this guy [wikipedia.org], a veteran volunteer, GLAMWiki coordinator and former vice-president of Wikimedia Australia.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:Spending too much, reserves good, SW improves c (274 comments)

> Wikimedia spending has increased by 1,000 percent in the course of a few years.

That could be a problem.

> Jimmy Wales counters complaints by saying the Foundation are merely prudent in ensuring they always have a reserve equal to one year's spending

Yes, a one year reserve on the low end of normal. You don't want Wikipedia to disappear when something bad happens, and SHIT HAPPENS. It's a top 10 web site, meaning it's in the big leagues with Google, Microsoft etc., except it's nonprofit. They may have to deal with stuff like Google is dealing with in Europe - disputes with multiple governments on the other side. You don't want Wikipedia to go bankrupt when some government or some company somewhere doe something stupid that costs the foundation $5 million to deal with and repair the damage.

> nothing to do with generating and curating Wikipedia content, a task that is handled entirely by the unpaid volunteer base.'

False. A large chunk of the budget is developing software for "generating and curating Wikipedia content". It's disingenuous to claim that developing tools for generating and curating content "have nothing to do" with generating and curating content.

That's a fair point – I meant it in the sense of actually researching and writing the text that appears in Wikipedia. And I did say "most" of these budget increases had nothing to do with that. For example, they are not using money from donations to have medical experts check the thousands of medical articles in Wikipedia for accuracy: that to me would be active content curation. Those tasks are left to volunteers, or, in one or two cases like the Cancer Research UK initiative, people funded by others.

What I do think is reprehensible is raising the spectre of ads in the fundraising banners. By all means say that Wikipedia is ad-free and relies on donations – that's perfectly true – but don't imply that donations are needed to keep Wikipedia online and ad-free for another year, making everyone think that if not enough money comes in they'll have to pull the plug, or there will be ads by the end of next year. And that's a mainstream criticism within the Wikimedia movement. Just look at the Wikimedia mailing list discussion. The person speaking there is this guy, a veteran volunteer, GLAMWiki coordinator and former vice-president of Wikimedia Australia.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:Not only that... (274 comments)

It also gives anyone the ability to break things. Whatever you fix today, someone else can (and most likely will) break tomorrow.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:No shame in telling it how it is (274 comments)

Bof. :) It's just typical Wales bluster and misdirection. He flatters you when you agree with him, and rubbishes you when you criticise him. I have experience of both from him. Neither really mean much.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:Spending too much, reserves good, SW improves c (274 comments)

I think you may find that some or all of the Wiki Loves Monuments tools were written by people outside the Wikimedia Foundation. Have a look at this page and its edit history. (WMF staffers typically have a "(WMF)" at the end of their user name.) Similarly this page. Many of the most useful software components remain volunteer-contributed.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re: It is working for them, though... (274 comments)

Have a look How pranks, hoaxes and manipulation undermine the reliability of Wikipedia. Technical info is certainly not immune when it comes to these problems with reliability. Even worse, an incredible number of people accept stuff in Wikipedia without questioning it, to the extent that it gets repeated by sources deemed authoritative. Here is Wikipedia re-writing history, and here is a journalist who discovered she had accidentally started a Wikipedia hoax when she saw a journalist from The New Yorker quote a joke on Twitter as fact – a joke which she had entered in Wikipedia five years earlier for fun, as a stoned sophomore.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:You're still doing that? (274 comments)

Wikiwand is one of those engineering shops they are scared of, because WikiWand have been doing better work than their own programmers, and are presenting Wikipedia content in a prettier format. And if people migrate to Wikiwand, then as you rightly say, people don't see their fundraising banners.

Their new VP of Engineering, Damon Sicore (ex-Mozilla), spelt that fear out. According to Sicore, the WMF will have to “scale to a size that enables us to compete with the engineering shops that are trying to kill us. That means we need to double down on recruiting top talent, and steal the engineers from the sources they use because well they are REALLY GOOD. ... I want everyone to keep this in mind: If we don’t move faster and better than google, apple, and microsoft (and their ilk and kin), they will consume us and we will go away. It’s that simple.”

Note well that what he's talking about going away there is the Wikimedia Foundation, not Wikipedia. The Wikipedia volunteers work for nothing; they are not reliant on donation money. And Wikipedia itself is also free, meaning it can be hosted by WikiWand, Google or anyone else who thinks they can present the content better than WMF. And if they managed to improve the content at the same time ... As I see it, this is what this expansion is about, not about keeping Wikipedia online and ad-free. And that's not what they're telling the public.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:Well (274 comments)

Exactly. They could tell people what they actually want the money for, cause it ain't to keep Wikipedia online and ad-free. If they provided that info, then people could make an informed choice whether to support that effort or not. It would introduce some accountability. Two flagship projects that Wikipedia donations paid for over the past couple of years were considered abject failures by the volunteer community. The third, Wikipedia Zero, is controversial because it violates net neutrality.

about two weeks ago
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A Mismatch Between Wikimedia's Pledge Drive and Its Cash On Hand?

Andreas Kolbe Re:I don't think you know what that word means (274 comments)

It is circular if the more money they are able to take as "reserves", the more they feel they can spend. You could give them $500m, and they'd eventually expand to spend that ... and would then go for a $500m reserve the year after.

about two weeks ago
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How Spurious Wikipedia Edits Can Attach a Name To a Scandal, 35 Years On

Andreas Kolbe Re:And the culprit is (165 comments)

Please just don't repeat the meme that a Nature study found Wikipedia to be about as reliable as Britannica.

At least say that based on a small sample of articles, a journalistic news report in Nature opined that Wikipedia's science articles were only slightly less reliable than Britannica's, but considerably less well-written, and that Britannica contested those results. That would be the truth, rather than the meme. Mkay?

Your point about the hazards of anonymous contributions is well taken.

about 2 months ago
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How Spurious Wikipedia Edits Can Attach a Name To a Scandal, 35 Years On

Andreas Kolbe Re:And the culprit is (165 comments)

First of all, the Nature piece itself found Britannica to be superior – just not by as much as expected.

Secondly, it is a matter of record that Nature only examined science articles, many of them quite specialised. It is inexcusable to omit that qualification. There simply is no evidence at all that Wikipedia is superior to Britannica in other topic areas, and copious evidence within Wikipedia itself of how often articles are biased by special interest groups (just look at the history of Wikipedia arbitration cases).

Third, Nature chose to penalise Britannica for information that was omitted, but contained in Wikipedia: that was counted as an "error". As Britannica themselves pointed out, "Nature accused Britannica of 'omissions' on the basis of reviews of article excerpts, not the articles themselves. In a number of cases only parts of the applicable Britannica articles were reviewed." In other words, they butchered Britannica articles and then penalised Britannica for the fact that the remaining stump failed to contain some item of information that the full article would have contained.

Fourth, Nature noted, but chose not to penalise Wikipedia for, confusing presentation and bad style, essentially proposing that a haphazardly compiled jumble of facts should be considered equal to a well-structured, easy-to-understand introduction to a topic written by a world-renowned expert.

Lastly, there is by now a very long list of journalists and writers found to have copied spurious facts from Wikipedia. Where is a similar list of writers embarrassed for having gotten their information from Britannica? If Lord Leveson had looked up the founders of the Independent newspaper in Britannica, he would not have ended up ascribing that achievement to some unknown Californian student.

Beyond simple errors, there is very copious evidence of bias and covert paid editing in Wikipedia. The Croatian Wikipedia was taken over by right-wing extremists, to the point where the country's education minister warned students not to rely on it, as the country's history was thoroughly falsified by fringe groups. Those are all problems Britannica has never had.

I could go on. I have been a Wikipedian for nigh on ten years. I have seen the problems first-hand.

about 2 months ago

Submissions

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Wikipedia sits on $60 million while begging for money to keep the site ad-free

Andreas Kolbe Andreas Kolbe writes  |  about two weeks ago

Andreas Kolbe (2591067) writes "The latest financial statements for the Wikimedia Foundation, the charity behind Wikipedia, show it has assets of $60 million, including $27 million in cash and cash equivalents, and $23 million in investments. Yet its aggressive banner ads suggest disaster may be imminent if people don't donate and imply that Wikipedia may be forced to run commercial advertising to survive. Jimmy Wales counters complaints by saying the Foundation are merely prudent in ensuring they always have a reserve equal to one year's spending, but the fact is that Wikimedia spending has increased by 1,000 percent in the course of a few years. And by a process of circular logic, as spending increases, so the reserve has to increase, meaning that donors are asked to donate millions more each year. Unlike the suggestion made by the fundraising banners, most of these budget increases have nothing to do with keeping Wikipedia online and ad-free, and nothing to do with generating and curating Wikipedia content, a task that is handled entirely by the unpaid volunteer base. The skyrocketing budget increases are instead the result of a massive expansion of paid software engineering staff at the Foundation – whose work in recent years has been heavily criticised by the unpaid volunteer base. The aggressive fundraising banners too are controversial within the Wikimedia community itself."
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Guilt by Wikipedia: how lazy journalists made Joe Streater a basketball villain

Andreas Kolbe Andreas Kolbe writes  |  about 2 months ago

Andreas Kolbe (2591067) writes "For more than six years, Wikipedia named an innocent man as a key culprit in the 1978/79 Boston College point shaving scandal. The name Joe Streater was inserted into Wikipedia by an anonymous user in August 2008. The unsourced insertion was never challenged or deleted, and over time, Streater became widely associated with the scandal through newspaper and TV reports as well as countless blogs and fan sites, all of which directly or indirectly copied this spurious fact from Wikipedia. Yet research shows that Streater, whose present whereabouts are unknown, did not even play in the 1978/79 season. Before August 2008, his name was never mentioned in connection with the scandal. As journalists have less and less time for in-depth research, more and more of them seem to be relying on Wikipedia instead, and the online encyclopedia is increasingly becoming a vector for the spread of spurious information."
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What do your donations to keep Wikipedia "online and ad-free" really pay for?

Andreas Kolbe Andreas Kolbe writes  |  about 3 months ago

Andreas Kolbe (2591067) writes "As the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) prepares for its main annual fundraiser, many Wikipedia readers are presented with a banner inviting them to donate an amount equivalent to the "price of buying a programmer a coffee". It's to keep Wikipedia "online and ad-free", the site says. However, this masks the fact that the WMF’s revenue, assets and expenses have risen by about 1,000% in recent years. While the WMF got by on annual donations totaling $5 million in 2007, it now wants over $50 million a year, despite reporting net assets of $45 million last summer and having taken another $50+ million in donations since then. Most of this money is not spent on keeping Wikipedia "online and ad-free", but on a ballooning bureaucracy that sees a select group of Wikipedians transitioning from unpaid volunteer to paid tech staff positions, creating a two-tier society and causing outgoing Executive Director Sue Gardner to raise concerns over the potential for "log-rolling and self-dealing" last year. Meanwhile, the WMF’s software engineering work has been judged inept by the unpaid volunteer community. The VisualEditor (VE), a WYSIWIG editor touted as "epically important" by Jimmy Wales, was so buggy and caused so many errors (such as inserting chess pawn characters in Wikipedia articles) that volunteer administrators rebelled, going over the Foundation's heads to disable VE as the new default editor. Last month's new Media Viewer feature was equally controversial. The WMF had to create a new access right, "Superprotect", to prevent angry volunteer administrators from disabling it, bringing community relations between the WMF and the volunteer community to a new low. An open letter protesting the WMF’s actions acquired an unprecedented number of signatures. Flow, a planned Facebook-style revamping of Wikipedia discussion pages that has been in development for some time, is already mired in controversy, with volunteers complaining that the WMF is turning a deaf ear to their concerns. Donors should be aware that most of their money is not used to keep Wikipedia online and ad-free. It's not used to improve Wikipedia’s reliability either. Instead, it funds the further aggressive expansion of an organization that's at loggerheads with its volunteer community and criticized for having a "miserable cost/benefit ratio"."
Link to Original Source
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Why women have no time for Wikipedia

Andreas Kolbe Andreas Kolbe writes  |  about 4 months ago

Andreas Kolbe (2591067) writes "Wikipedia is well known to have a very large gender imbalance, with survey-based estimates of women contributors ranging from 8.5% to around 16%. This is a more extreme gender imbalance than even that of Reddit, the most male-dominated major social media platform, and it has a palpable effect on Wikipedia content. Moreover, Wikipedia editor survey data indicate that only 1 in 50 respondents is a mother – a good proportion of female contributors are in fact minors, with women in their twenties less likely to contribute to Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation efforts to address this "gender gap" have so far remained fruitless. Wikipedia’s demographic pattern stands in marked contrast to female-dominated social media sites like Facebook and Pinterest, where women aged 18 to 34 are particularly strongly represented. It indicates that it isn’t lack of time or family commitments that keep women from contributing to Wikipedia – women simply find other sites more attractive. Wikipedia’s user interface and its culture of anonymity may be among the factors leading women to spend their online time elsewhere."
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"I accidentally started a Wikipedia hoax"

Andreas Kolbe Andreas Kolbe writes  |  about 5 months ago

Andreas Kolbe (2591067) writes "The Daily Dot's EJ Dickson reports how she accidentally discovered that a hoax factoid she added over five years ago as a stoned sophomore to the Wikipedia article on “Amelia Bedelia, the protagonist of the eponymous children’s book series about a ‘literal-minded housekeeper’ who misunderstands her employer’s orders”, had not just remained on Wikipedia all this time, but come to be cited by a Taiwanese English professor, in “innumerable blog posts and book reports”, as well as a book on Jews and Jesus. It's a cautionary tale about the fundamental unreliability of Wikipedia. And as Wikipedia ages, more and more such stories are coming to light."
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Pranks, hoaxes, manipulation: Virtual Unreality on Wikipedia

Andreas Kolbe Andreas Kolbe writes  |  about 5 months ago

Andreas Kolbe (2591067) writes "Kids confess on Reddit that in order to wind up a classmate named Azid, they added his name to the Wikipedia article on Chicken Korma. Two years on, and Azid is established online as an alternative name of the dish. A prankster twice changes the name of the inventor of the hair straightener, and both names are now widely credited with the invention online. Another kid writes in Wikipedia that coatis are also called Brazilian aardvarks, and incredibly, the name catches on in newspapers, even a university press book. Governments around the world seek to control Wikipedia content through anonymous contributions. Misinformation and propaganda on Wikipedia spread like a virus into other publications: how pranks, hoaxes and manipulation undermine the reliability of Wikipedia, and indeed the fabric of consensual reality."
Link to Original Source
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Wikipedia editors hit with $10 million defamation suit

Andreas Kolbe Andreas Kolbe writes  |  about 6 months ago

Andreas Kolbe (2591067) writes "Businessman, philanthropist and musician Yank Barry and the Global Village Champions Foundation are suing four Wikipedia editors for defamation, claiming they have maliciously conspired to keep Barry's Wikipedia biography unduly negative. The Daily Dot article includes a copy of the legal brief and quotes Barry as saying, “My page was so ridiculously false and made me sound like a terrible person and people believed it causing deals to fall through. I finally had enough.”"
Link to Original Source
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Larry Sanger blasts Wikipedia for hosting bestiality porn without search filter

Andreas Kolbe Andreas Kolbe writes  |  more than 2 years ago

Andreas Kolbe (2591067) writes "Larry Sanger has blasted the Wikimedia Foundation for failing to fulfil its promise to introduce a porn filter on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia sites. Plans announced by the Wikimedia Foundation last year to install a weak opt-in filter for controversial content have apparently come unstuck. It has long been known that users searching Wikipedia's media archive for terms as innocuous as "toothbrush" may find explicit adult images at the top of their search results. As Fox News reported recently: "Search for the word 'underwater' and you'll see a woman tied up, naked, and submerged face down in a bathtub." In French Wikipedia, the top result of a search for "homework" is presently a black-and-white porn film showing a man and woman having oral sex with a dog ..."
Link to Original Source

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