Felix Nartey named Wikimedian of the Year for 2017



Photo by Jason Krüger/Wikimedia Deutschland e.V., CC BY-SA 4.0.

Last Sunday in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Wikimania 2017 concluded. In the closing ceremony, Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, announced Felix Nartey as the 2017 Wikimedian of the Year for his efforts to promote free knowledge sharing culture in Africa.

Nartey joined the Wikimedia movement in 2012, where he has been concerned about content gaps on Wikimedia projects—information about his native Ghana and the African continent is not on the same level as Europe and North America. “Information itself is useless until it’s shared with the … world,” he says. Nartey has researched possible ways to encourage people from his community to participate in a project like Wikipedia and its sister projects, and put them into practice through leading in-person initiatives and activities to help promote Wikipedia and help new participants find resources for their contributions.

The Wikimedian of the Year is an annual tradition to honor the efforts of one of the movement’s exceptional contributors. Wales announces the name of that person every year during his closing speech at Wikimania since 2011.

This year’s winner Felix Nartey wasn’t able to attend Wikimania, so he was notified about the honor in a video call with Wales and Emily Temple-Wood, who shared last year’s title with Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight.

Video by the Wikimedia Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0. You can also view it on Vimeo.

Samir Elsharbaty, Digital Content Intern
Wikimedia Foundation

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Wikimedia Foundation releases new transparency report, online and in print



Photo by Angelo DeSantis, CC BY 2.0.

The Wikimedia Foundation partners with users and contributors around the world to provide free access to knowledge. We value transparency: that’s why we issue our biannual transparency report, publicly disclosing the various requests we receive to alter or remove the user-created content on the Wikimedia projects, or to request nonpublic information about the users themselves. The report also includes stories about some of the interesting and unusual requests we receive, and a useful FAQ with more information about our work.

The report covers five major types of requests:

Content alteration and takedown requests. In the first six months of 2017, we received 341 requests to alter or remove project content, four of which came from government entities. We granted none of these requests. Wikimedia project content is created and vetted by user communities across the globe, and we believe that decisions about content belong in their hands. When we receive requests to remove or alter that content, we refer requesters to experienced volunteers who can provide advice and guidance.

Copyright takedown requests. The Wikimedia projects host a variety of public domain and freely licensed works, but occasionally we will receive a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice asking us to remove content on copyright grounds. We analyze whether DMCA requests are properly submitted and have merit, and if so, whether an exception to the law, such as fair use, should allow the content to remain on the projects. From January 1 to June 30, 2017, we received 11 DMCA requests, three of which we granted. These remarkably low numbers are due to the diligence of the Wikimedia communities, who work to ensure that all content on the projects is appropriately licensed.

Right to erasure. The right to erasure (also known as the right to be forgotten) allows people to request that search engines remove links to results containing certain information about them. The process is best known in the European Union, where it was was established by a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014. The Wikimedia Foundation has long expressed our concerns about such rules, which have the potential to limit the access to and sharing of information that is in the public interest. Even though the Wikimedia projects are not a search engine, we do sometimes receive requests to delete information based on the right to erasure. However, we did not receive any such requests in the first half of 2017.

Requests for user data. The Wikimedia Foundation occasionally receives requests for nonpublic user data from governments, organizations, and individuals. These requests may be informal, such as simple emails or phone calls, or can involve formal legal processes, such as a subpoena. Protecting users is our leading concern, and we evaluate each request carefully. Unlike many online platforms, we intentionally collect very little nonpublic information about users, and often have no data that is responsive to these requests. We will only produce information if a request is legally valid and follows our Requests for user information procedures and guidelines. Even then, we will push back where we can, to narrow the request and provide as little data as possible. During this reporting period, we received 18 requests for nonpublic user data. We partially complied with three of these requests.

Emergency disclosures. On rare occasions, the Wikimedia Foundation will disclose otherwise nonpublic information to law enforcement authorities to protect a user or other individuals from serious harm. For example, if a user threatens harm to themselves or others, other users may notify us. In some cases, we may then voluntarily provide information to authorities where we believe there is a serious danger to one or more individuals and disclosure is necessary to keep people safe. Additionally, we have implemented an emergency request procedure so that law enforcement may contact us if they are working to prevent imminent harm. We assess such requests on a case-by-case basis. From January to June, 2017, we voluntarily disclosed information in 14 cases, and provided data in response to two emergency requests.

We invite you to read the full transparency report online, for more data and interesting stories. For the first time, you can also learn about our commitment to protect user privacy and project content in print: the print transparency report will be available from Foundation legal and public policy staff at conferences and meetups while supplies last. Additionally, printed copies of the report can be requested by emailing privacy@wikimedia.org on a limited basis.

James Buatti, Legal Counsel
Leighanna Mixter, Legal Fellow
Aeryn Palmer, Legal Counsel

The transparency report would not be possible without the contributions of Jacob Rogers, Jan Gerlach, Stephen LaPorte, Katie Francis, Rachel Stallman, Eileen Hershenov, James Alexander, Siddharth Parmar, Wendy Chu, Diana Lee, Dina Ljekperic, and the entire Wikimedia communications team. Special thanks to Alex Shahrestani for help in preparing this blog post, and to the entire staff at Mule Design and Oscar Printing Company.

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Honoring our friend Bassel: Announcing the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship



Photo by Joi Ito, CC BY 2.0.

On 1 August 2017, we received the heartbreaking news that our friend Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil, detained since 2012, was executed by the Syrian government shortly after his 2015 disappearance. Khartabil was a Palestinian Syrian open internet activist, a free culture hero, and an important member of our community. Our thoughts are with Bassel’s family, now and always.

Today we’re announcing the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship to honor his legacy and lasting impact on the open web.

Bassel was a relentless advocate for free speech, free culture, and democracy. He was the cofounder of Syria’s first hackerspace, Aiki Lab, Creative Commons’ Syrian project lead, and a prolific open source contributor, from Firefox to Wikipedia. Bassel’s final project, relaunched as #NEWPALMYRA, entailed building free and open 3D models of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. In his work as a computer engineer, educator, artist, musician, cultural heritage researcher, and thought leader, Bassel modeled a more open world, impacting lives globally.

To honor that legacy, the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship will support outstanding individuals developing the culture of their communities under adverse circumstances. The Fellowship—organized by Creative Commons, Mozilla, the Wikimedia Foundation, the Jimmy Wales Foundation, #NEWPALMYRA, and others—will launch with a three-year commitment to promote values like open culture, radical sharing, free knowledge, remix, collaboration, courage, optimism, and humanity.

As part of this new initiative, fellows can work in a range of mediums, including art, music, software, or community building. All projects will catalyze free culture, particularly in societies vulnerable to attacks on freedom of expression and free access to knowledge. Special consideration will be given to applicants operating within closed societies and in developing economies where other forms of support are scarce. Applications from the Levant and wider MENA region are greatly encouraged.

Throughout their fellowship term, chosen fellows will receive a stipend, mentorship from affiliate organizations, skill development, project promotion, and fundraising support from the partner network. Fellows will be chosen by a selection committee composed of representatives of the partner organizations.

“Bassel introduced me to Damascus communities who were hungry to learn, collaborate and share,” says Mitchell Baker, Mozilla executive chairwoman. “He introduced me to the Creative Commons community which he helped found. He introduced me to the open source hacker space he founded, where Linux and Mozilla and JavaScript libraries were debated, and the ideas of open collaboration blossomed. Bassel taught us all. The cost was execution. As a colleague, Bassel is gone. As a leader and as a source of inspiration, Bassel remains strong. I am honored to join with others and echo Bassel’s spirit through this Fellowship.”

Fellowship details

Organizational Partners include Creative Commons, #FREEBASSEL, Wikimedia Foundation, GlobalVoices, Mozilla, #NEWPALMYRA, YallaStartup, the Jimmy Wales Foundation and SMEX.

Amazon Web Services is a supporting partner.

The Fellowships are based on one-year terms, which are eligible for renewal.

The benefits are designed to allow for flexibility and stability both for Fellows and their families. The standard fellowship offers a stipend of $50,000 USD, paid in 10 monthly installments. Fellows are responsible for remitting all applicable taxes as required.

To help offset cost of living, the fellowship also provides supplements for childcare and health insurance, and may provide support for project funding on a case-by-case basis. The fellowship also covers the cost of required travel for fellowship activities.

Fellows will receive:

  • A stipend of $50,000 USD, paid in 10 monthly installments
  • A one-time health insurance supplement for Fellows and their families, ranging from $3,500 for single Fellows to $7,000 for a couple with two or more children
  • A one-time childcare allotment of up to $6,000 for families with children
  • An allowance of up to $3,000 towards the purchase of laptop computer, digital cameras, recorders and computer software; fees for continuing studies or other courses, research fees or payments, to the extent such purchases and fees are related to the fellowship
  • Coverage in full for all approved fellowship trips, both domestic and international

The first fellowship will be awarded in April 2018. Applications will be accepted beginning February 2018.

Eligibility requirements. The Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship is open to individuals and small teams worldwide, who:

  • Propose a viable new initiative to advance free culture values as outlined in the call for applicants
  • Demonstrate a history of activism in the Open Source, Open Access, Free Culture or Sharing communities
  • Are prepared to focus on the fellowship as their primary work

Special consideration will be given to applicants operating under oppressive conditions, within closed societies, in developing economies where other forms of support are scarce, and in the Levant and wider MENA regions.

Eligible projects. Proposed projects should advance the free culture values of Bassel Khartabil through the use of art, technology, and culture. Successful projects will aim to:

  • Meaningfully increase free public access to human knowledge, art or culture
  • Further the cause of social justice/social change
  • Strive to develop both a local and global community to support its cause

Any code, content or other materials produced must be published and released as free, openly licensed and/or open-source.

Application process. Project proposals are expected to include the following:

  • Vision statement
  • Bio and CV
  • Budget and resource requirements for the next year of project development

Applicants whose projects are chosen to advance to the next stage in the evaluation process may be asked to provide additional information, including personal references and documentation verifying income.

About Bassel

Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian-Syrian computer engineer, educator, artist, musician, cultural heritage researcher and thought leader, was a central figure in the global free culture movement, connecting and promoting Syria’s emerging tech community as it existed before the country was ransacked by civil war. Bassel co-founded Syria’s first hackerspace, Aiki Lab, in Damascus in 2010. He was the Syrian lead for Creative Commons as well as a contributor to Mozilla’s Firefox browser and the Red Hat Fedora Linux operating system. His research into preserving Syrian archeology with computer 3D modeling was a seminal precursor to current practices in digital cultural heritage preservation — this work was relaunched as the #NEWPALMYRA project in 2015.

Bassel’s influence went beyond Syria. He was a key attendee at the Middle East’s bloggers conferences and played a vital role in the negotiations in Doha in 2010 that led to a common language for discussing fair use and copyright across the Arab-speaking world. Software platforms he developed, such as the open-source Aiki Framework for collaborative web development, still power high-traffic web sites today, including Open Clip Art and the Open Font Library. His passion and efforts inspired a new community of coders and artists to take up his cause and further his legacy, and resulted in the offer of a research position in MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media; his listing in Foreign Policy’s 2012 list of Top Global Thinkers; and the award of Index on Censorship’s 2013 Digital Freedom Award.

Bassel was taken from the streets in March of 2012 in a military arrest and interrogated and tortured in secret in a facility controlled by Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate. After a worldwide campaign by international human rights groups, together with Bassel’s many colleagues in the open internet and free culture communities, he was moved to Adra’s civilian prison, where he was able to communicate with his family and friends. His detention was ruled unlawful by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and condemned by international organizations such as Creative Commons, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Jimmy Wales Foundation.

Despite the international outrage at his treatment and calls for his release, in October of 2015 he was moved to an undisclosed location and executed shortly thereafter—a fact that was kept secret by the Syrian regime for nearly two years.


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Wikimedians pack their bags and head to Montreal for 13th annual Wikimania



Photo by Antonello, CC BY 2.0.

Roughly 1,000 volunteers and free knowledge leaders from nearly 70 countries gathered today for the start of Wikimania 2017—the annual conference celebrating Wikipedia and its sister projects, the Wikimedia movement, and the community of volunteers who make them possible. This marks the 13th annual Wikimania, which takes place on 11–13 August at the Centre Sheraton Hotel in Montreal, coinciding with Montreal’s 375th anniversary.

The event kicked off with an opening ceremony featuring Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Benoit Rochon of Wikimedia Canada, and Harout Chitilian, Vice-chairman of the Executive Committee for the City of Montreal.

Photo by Christopher Lee Adams, public domain.

During the ceremony, Maher joined Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley, Mozilla Executive Director Mark Surman, and representatives from the #NEWPALMRYA Project to announce the inauguration of the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship. The fellowship commemorates Bassel Khartabil, Syrian Wikimedian and global open culture advocate, who was recently confirmed to have been executed in 2015 after being detained by the Syrian government in 2012. To honor Bassel’s contributions, the fellowship will support the work of outstanding individuals developing culture under adverse circumstances.

Throughout this year’s Wikimania, attendees will explore sessions related to the advancement of free knowledge, the role of academia and cultural institutions, technology in free knowledge, privacy and digital rights, and Wikimedia’s future as part of Wikimedia 2030, a global discussion to define the future direction of the Wikimedia movement. Wikimania 2017, being held for the first time ever in Canada, is co-organized by the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia Canada, the local Wikimedia affiliate organization in Canada.

Wikimania 2017 will also bring together a diverse mix of attendees, including seasoned volunteer editors; researchers and data scientists; members from the medical community; librarians; and other free knowledge leaders, including featured speakers Susan Herman, President of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Esra’a Al-Shafei, Bahraini human rights activist and defender of free speech. Their paths to Wikimania might be different, but they are all united by a passion for free and open information.

“There’s something incredibly unique about Wikipedia’s model,” said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. “At its heart, Wikipedia is about people coming together to connect across countries, languages and cultures to build a shared understanding of our world. Wikimania is a time when this global community can meet, share experiences and participate in conversations about subjects that matter most to us as Wikimedians.”

Over the course of three days, attendees will participate in workshops, conversations, presentations, panels, edit-a-thons and trainings that reflect a diverse and wide-ranging conference programme. Sessions span from practical skill-building like how to grow a Wikimedia user group, to experience sharing like editing wikis in more than one script, to sessions that ask attendees to reflect on critical issues of the Wikimedia movement, including threats to free knowledge and working with partners and allies such as OpenStreetMaps and Wikidata. For those unable to attend in person, select sessions, including the opening and closing ceremonies, will be livestreamed throughout the conference on YouTube and Facebook Live on the Wikipedia Facebook page. You can also follow @Wikimania and #Wikimania on Twitter.

Attendees of the conference can also experience #NEWPALMYRA’s 3D-printed Tetrapylon, a freely-licensed recreation of one of the most famous structures in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, which was destroyed by ISIS forces in 2016. The exhibit honors the founder of the #NEWPALMYRA project, Bassel Khartabil. A passionate advocate for the free exchange of knowledge, culture, and heritage, Bassel’s contributions have been credited with “opening up the internet in Syria and vastly extending online access and knowledge to the Syrian people” by the European Parliament.

“Bassel was known in the free knowledge movement for his boundless enthusiasm and passion, always encouraging others to share, create, and connect with the world around them,” said Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. “Like Bassel, we believe that a commitment to expression, openness, and creativity is a reminder of our shared humanity, and the foundation for a better world. Through the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship, we hope to carry on Bassel’s work to protect and preserve the values to which he dedicated his life.”

Photo by David Iliff, CC BY 2.5.


Wikimania also offers conference-goers time to experience the unique culture of Montreal. As the city honors its birth and growth over almost four centuries, there will be opportunities for attendees to explore the city’s rich history through cultural tours, music, and cuisine.

“Wikimedia Canada members will present inspiring projects at Wikimania 2017, the result of successful collaborations with several Canadian public and private institutions,” explains Wikimedia Canada president Benoit Rochon. “The archives of BAnQ (Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec) on Wikimedia Commons which have been viewed more than 30 million times, the first Aboriginal encyclopedia in Canada (Atikamekw, one of the largest and still active First Nations language) on Wikipedia and the WikiMed conference are all unique accomplishments we will proudly share with the international Wikimania participants.”

Other featured speakers include Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in conversation with anthropologist, academic and author Gabriella (Biella) Coleman and moderated by internet entrepreneur Evan Prodromou; Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) Archivist-Coordinator Frédéric Giuliano and Hélène Laverdure, Curator and Director General of the National Archives at BAnQ; and Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Katherine Maher, who will take the stage with Christophe Henner, the Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, to discuss the future of the Wikimedia movement as part of Wikimedia 2030.

You can learn more about the conference at: wikimania2017.wikimedia.org/.

About the Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikimedia Foundation is the non-profit organization that supports and operates Wikipedia and its sister free knowledge projects. Wikipedia is the world’s free knowledge resource, spanning more than 40 million articles across nearly 300 languages. Every month, more than 200,000 people edit Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects, collectively creating and improving knowledge that is accessed by more than 1 billion unique devices every month. This all makes Wikipedia one of the most popular web properties in the world. Based in San Francisco, California, the Wikimedia Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charity that is funded primarily through donations and grants.

About Wikimedia Canada

Wikimedia Canada is an independent nonprofit organization committed to the growth, development and distribution of free knowledge in Canada, mainly by supporting the development of content on the Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia. The organization’s work focuses on supporting and engaging Canadian individuals and institutions to collect, develop and disseminate knowledge and other educational, cultural and historical content in all languages of Canada, including Aboriginal languages, under a free license or in the public domain.

About Wikimania

Wikimania is the annual conference centered on the Wikimedia projects (Wikipedia and its sister projects) and the Wikimedia community of volunteers. It features presentations on Wikimedia projects, other wikis, free and open source software, free knowledge, and and more. Wikimania 2017 marks the 13th year of the conference.

About the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship

The Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship—organized by Creative Commons, Mozilla, the #NEWPALMYRA Project, the Wikimedia Foundation and others—will support the work of outstanding individuals developing the culture of their communities under adverse circumstances. Special consideration will be given to applicants operating within closed societies and in developing economies where other forms of support are scarce. Applications from the Levant and wider MENA region are greatly encouraged. The one-year fellowship, totaling $50,000 USD, is supported by funding from Wikimedia Foundation, Mozilla, and the Jimmy Wales Foundation, and facilitated by Creative Commons.

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Wikimedia 2030: A draft strategic direction for our movement



Photo by Barrioflores, CC BY-SA 4.0.

At the beginning of 2017, the Wikimedia movement began a remarkable global discussion to consider our collective future, under the name Wikimedia 2030. We’ve been collaborating on building a broad strategic direction, with the goal of uniting and inspiring people across the world around our vision of free knowledge for all. This direction is the basis on which the Wikimedia communities will strengthen our work, challenge our assumptions, experiment with the future, build clear plans, and set priorities.

The process to develop this direction has been challenging, delightful, messy, and fascinating. More than 80 Wikimedia groups and communities have participated in discussions all over the world. Conversations were held across languages on-wiki, in person (including a 17-hour strategy track at the Wikimedia Conference in Berlin), virtually, and through private surveys. We complemented our discussions with research on readers around the world and conversations with more than 150 experts. We looked at future trends that will affect our mission on our way to 2030.

In July, a drafting group of Wikimedia volunteers and members of the Wikimedia 2030 strategy team took on the enormous task of compiling this information into a draft strategic direction. This drafting group aimed to represent the feedback from participants across the movement who contributed to Wikimedia 2030 — including individual volunteers, Wikimedia organizations, readers, partners, and donors. Their goal has been to produce an early version of the strategic direction that the broader movement can review and discuss.

Today, I’m delighted to share the first draft of the direction with Wikimedia volunteers and groups:

The strategic direction of the Wikimedia movement for 2030 is to become the roads, bridges, and villages that support the world’s journey towards free knowledge. We, the Wikimedia movement, will forge the tools and build the foundations for creating and accessing trusted knowledge in many shapes and colors. Our networks of people and systems will connect with individuals and institutions to share knowledge through open standards and structures, and support them on the journey to openness and collaboration. We will be a leading advocate and partner for increasing the sharing, curation, and participation in free and open knowledge.

As a movement, we will assemble through strong, sustainable communities that motivate us to contribute. We will welcome people from everywhere to grow fields of knowledge that represent human diversity. In doing so, we will contribute to human progress, and to a better understanding of the world and of ourselves.

This direction builds on our movement’s greatest strength, our local communities. It encourages us to expand our horizons, and builds on existing projects and contributors to add new knowledge and new ways to participate. It asks us to be bold and experiment in the future, as we did in the past. It remains rooted in the Wikimedia vision of “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”

By 2030, we won’t yet reach “the sum of all knowledge”, but we will make it possible for anyone to join us in this effort.

This draft is not final, and we’ll be continuing to refine it over the next few weeks. We hope everyone will share their thoughts on our talk pages or in upcoming conversations with Wikimedia discussion coordinators. Based on your feedback we receive, the drafting group will continue to refine and finalize this direction through August.

As we have shared before, the strategic direction is not meant to be a strategic plan. For example, we know that plans are shorter term than ten years. They are much more specific: they focus on organizational capacities and resources, clear goals and executable approaches, and ideally give guidance on how to assess their usefulness at points along the way.

A strategic direction is something entirely different. It is meant to be ambitious, with a broad arc that offers plenty of room for aspiration and creativity. It should give guidance on the long term, but leave the goal setting up to interpretation. For Wikimedia, we knew the date 2030 would let people daydream about the future, instead of worry about what was next for their projects. The community will discuss strategic plans in phase 2, starting in November 2017.

As the Foundation Board Chair, Christophe Henner, has said, “a strategic direction is like picking what mountain we want to summit.” Once we know where we’re going, each person and organization can decide how to summit that mountain – ropes, pulleys, helicopters. We hope this strategic direction offers similar opportunities for creativity.

For those attending Wikimania this week, there will be many opportunities  discuss the insights and research which have been developed and shared during the Wikimedia 2030 process. We are hosting a strategy track that will offer the opportunity to learn more about the findings, and offer feedback on the direction.

Thank you to every single person and group that has engaged in this process. While we are not done yet, I want to express our gratitude and congratulations to everyone for your engagement, honesty, and contributions. It has been an interesting, challenging – and often fun – journey, and I am excited to see where it takes us next.

Katherine Maher, Executive Director
Wikimedia Foundation

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“How to write about the entire world from scratch”: Britta Gustafson



Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Many pioneering Wikipedians share the thought that, in its early days, way back in 2001, Wikipedia was a crazy idea. Wikipedian Magnus Manske, for example, told us that back then, Wikipedia “was a ghost town, with just about no content whatsoever.”

These early Wikipedians aimed to grow the online encyclopedia to 100,000 entries, roughly the size of the world’s largest print encyclopedias at that time. This goal turned out to be attainable within two years of hard work, and has doubled nearly 55 times by the time of writing this. That former ghost town on the English Wikipedia currently hosts over 100,000 active contributors.

“I knew we were working on a sort of ridiculous project,” says Britta Gustafson, who joined Wikipedia in October 2001. “How do you write about the entire world from scratch? I certainly didn’t expect that it would grow so big and so serious, with a huge staff and a huge budget, with articles that are mostly pretty reliable.” She continues: “But even as a toy project, it was fun—I liked getting to write about things and then see other people improve my writing and correct my mistakes. I learned a lot about writing that way.”

Gustafson made her first edit because “information on a favorite topic was missing,” and carried on with editing Wikipedia for sixteen years to keep bridging knowledge gaps. Currently, she leads workshops to train beginner editors in person and spends zillions of hours online to advocate their contributions from deletion, when mistaken for vandalism, by community patrols.

Starting to edit at the age of fourteen, Gustafson “grew up with Wikipedia,” she said. It was an eye-opening experience where she “enjoyed reading the recent changes and learning new things about the world … I remember when I could review all the recent changes for vandalism if I checked once a day.” As of this writing, the most recent 50 edits have been made during the last minute.

One of the principal reasons behind Gustafson’s continuous presence on Wikipedia for sixteen years was the welcoming community even though she was a young contributor. “I continued editing because I felt respected for my constructive contributions and treated as an equal by adults,” she explains. “Wikipedia taught me a lot about how to write and work with software and online communities.”

Gustafson has a wide range of topics that she likes to edit about including software, website history, fixing minor issues in the articles she reads and uploading photos of buildings to Wikimedia Commons, but one topic of interest for her stands out in the crowd: places that witnessed mass murders.

Gustafson is particularly interested in editing about the location of a mass murder rather than the incident itself. “I started caring a lot about the impact of mass murders on communities because a place I love, Isla Vista, had a mass murder a few years ago,” she explains. “I was unhappy that this one event was what people would think of for a place with a lot of history and culture.”

Gustafson contributed to Isla Vista’s article on Wikipedia and started a local guide about it on another open-source website.

“A year later, there was the mass murder at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston,” she recalls. “The church itself had only a stub article when I looked it up on Wikipedia after hearing about the murders—and overnight several other Wikipedians and I worked on this article. I helped expand it to tell the long and fascinating history of the church, because I didn’t want 200 years of history to be overwritten by one event. The next day, I saw journalists publishing articles about the history of the church on very short deadlines, and I suspect and hope they used our detailed Wikipedia article as background to help them find the interesting parts to write about and publish fast.”

Photo by Jsm0925, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Gustafson wanted to invest her rich history and experience on Wikipedia by sharing what she learned with new editors. These days, she can be found at Wikipedia editing events in the San Francisco Bay Area as a volunteer organizer or a mentor for new editors.

“My intro talk isn’t sugar-coated,” she says. “It explains that working on Wikipedia means convincing other editors that your edits are legitimate, and that this isn’t always easy. I don’t think it’s helpful to attempt to get new underrepresented editors into the project by saying everything is fun and fair on Wikipedia—that’s misleading. It’s honest to explain both the joy and the frustration.”

New editor contributions are often reverted by Wikipedia editors when mistaken for vandalism but this is not the case for those mentored by Gustafson. “Part of my work at events is to actively defend the articles the newcomers are building,” she explains. “Watchlisting the articles and reviewing the edits so that I can defend them against speedy deletions and any future deletion discussions. I also go through the articles after the event to fix up any newbie mistakes, to also protect against deletion attempts. If somebody starts arguing with one of my new editors, I step in like a 5000-pound gorilla and write talk page messages.”

Gustafson understands that not every participant in a one-day editing workshop will become a long-term contributor. However, she believes that training newbies is worth it for reasons that she explains to them during her workshops:

“Knowing how to edit Wikipedia means you can shape many people’s knowledge about a thing, because a huge number of people look to Wikipedia for background knowledge, including politicians, journalists, lawyers, government staff, businesspeople, and teachers.”

Samir Elsharbaty, Digital Content Intern
Wikimedia Foundation

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Wikimedia Research Newsletter, May 2017



“Wikipedia matters”: a significant impact of user-generated content on real-life choices

Reviewed by Marco Chemello and Federico Leva

Improving Wikipedia articles may contribute to increasing local tourism. That’s the result of a study[1] published as preprint a few weeks ago by M. Hinnosaar, T. Hinnosaar, M. Kummer and O. Slivko. This group of scholars from various universities – including Collegio Carlo Alberto, the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) and Georgia Institute of Technology – led a field experiment in 2014: they expanded 120 Wikipedia articles regarding 60 Spanish cities and checked the impact on local tourism, by measuring the increased number of hotel stays in the same cities from each country. The result was an average +9 % (up to 28 % in best cases). Random city articles were expanded mainly by translating contents taken from the Spanish or the English edition of Wikipedia into other languages, and by adding some photos. The authors wrote: “We found a significant causal impact of user-generated content in Wikipedia on real-life choices. The impact is large. A well-targeted two-paragraph improvement may lead to a 9 % increase in the visits by tourists. This has significant implications both in macroeconomic and microeconomic scale.”

The study revises an earlier version[supp 1] which declared the data was inconclusive (not statistically relevant yet) although there were hints of a positive effect. It’s not entirely clear to this reviewer how the statistical significance was ascertained, but the method used to collect data was sound:

  • 240 similar articles were selected and 120 kept as control (by not editing them);
  • the sample only included mid-sized cities (big cities would be harder to impact and small ones would be more susceptible to unrelated oscillations of tourism);
  • hotel stays are measured by country of provenance and city, allowing to measure only the subset of tourists affected by the edits (in their language);
  • as expected, the impact is larger on the cities whose article was especially small at the beginning;
  • the authors cared about making contributions consistent with local policies and expectations and checked the acceptance of their edits by measuring content persistence (about 96 % of their text survived in the long-term).

Curiously, while the authors had no problems adding their translations and images to French, German and Italian Wikipedia, all their edits were reverted on the Dutch Wikipedia. Local editors may want to investigate what made the edits unacceptable: perhaps the translator was not as good as those in the other languages, or the local community is prejudicially hostile to new users editing a mid-sized group of pages at once, or some rogue user reverted edits which the larger community would accept? [PS: One of our readers from the Dutch Wikipedia has provided some explanations.]

Assuming that expanding 120 stubs by translating existing articles in other languages takes few hundreds hours of work and actually produces about 160,000 € in additional revenue per year as estimated by the authors, it seems that it would be a bargain for the tourism minister of every country to expand Wikipedia stubs in as many tourist languages as possible, also making sure they have at least one image, by hiring experienced translators with basic wiki editing skills. Given that providing basic information is sufficient and neutral text is generally available in the source/local language’s Wikipedia, complying with neutral point of view and other content standards seems to be sufficiently easy.

Improved article quality predictions with deep learning

Reviewed by Morten Warncke-Wang

A paper at the upcoming OpenSym conference titled “An end-to-end learning solution for assessing the quality of Wikipedia articles”[2] combines the popular deep learning approaches of recurrent neural networks (RNN) and long short-term memory (LSTM) to make substantial improvements in our ability to automatically predict the quality of Wikipedia’s articles.

The two researchers from Université de Lorraine in France first published on using deep learning for this task a year ago (see our coverage in the June 2016 newsletter), where their performance was comparable to the state-of-the-art at the time, the WMF’s own Objective Revision Evaluation Service (ORES) (disclaimer: the reviewer is the primary author of the research upon which ORES’ article quality classifier is built). Their latest paper substantially improves the classifier’s performance to the point where it clearly outperforms ORES. Additionally, using RNNs and LSTM means the classifier can be trained on any language Wikipedia, which the paper demonstrates by outperforming ORES in all three of the languages where it’s available: English, French, and Russian.

The paper also contains a solid discussion of some of the current limitations of the RNN+LSTM approach. For example, the time it takes to make a prediction is too slow to deploy in a setting such as ORES where quick predictions are required. Also, the custom feature sets that ORES has allow for explanations on how to improve article quality (e.g. “this article can be improved by adding more sources”). Both are areas where we expect to see improvements in the near future, making this deep learning approach even more applicable to Wikipedia.

Recent behavior has a strong impact on content quality

Reviewed by Morten Warncke-Wang

A recently published journal paper by Michail Tsikerdekis titled “Cumulative Experience and Recent Behavior and their Relation to Content Quality on Wikipedia”[3] studies how factors like an editor’s recent behavior, their editing experience, experience diversity, and implicit coordination relate to improvements in article quality in the English Wikipedia.

The paper builds upon previous work by Kittur and Kraut that studied implicit coordination,[supp 2] where they found that having a small group of contributors doing the majority of the work was most effective. It also builds upon work by Arazy and Nov on experience diversity,[supp 3] which found that the diversity of experience in the group was more important.

Arguing that it is not clear which of these factors is the dominant one, Tsikerdekis further extends these models in two key areas. First, experience diversity is refined by measuring accumulated editor experience in three key areas: high quality articles, the User and User talk namespaces, and the Wikipedia namespace. Secondly, editor behavior is refined by measuring recent participation in the same three key areas. Lastly he adds interaction effects, for example between these two new refinements and implicit coordination.

Using the more refined model of experience diversity results in a significant improvement over baseline models, and an interaction effect shows that high coordination inequality (few editors doing most of the work) is only effective when contributors have low experience editing the User and User talk namespaces. However, the models that incorporate recent behavior are substantial improvements, indicating that recent behavior has a much stronger impact on quality than overall editor experience and experience diversity. Again studying the interaction effects, the findings are that implicit coordination is most effective when contributors have not recently participated in high quality articles, and that contributors make a stronger impact on content quality when they edit articles that match their experience levels.

These findings ask important questions about how groups of contributors in Wikipedia can most effectively work together to improve article quality. Future work is needed to understand more about when explicit coordination is most useful, and the paper points to the possibility of using recommender systems to route contributors to groups where their experience level can make a difference.


Predicting book categories for Wikipedia articles

Reviewed by Morten Warncke-Wang

“Automatic Classification of Wikipedia Articles by Using Convolutional Neural Network”[4] is the title of a paper published at this year’s Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries conference. As the title describes, the paper applies convolutional neural networks (CNN) to the task of predicting the Nippon Decimal Classification (NDC) category that a Japanese Wikipedia article belongs to. This NDC category can then be used for example to suggest further reading, providing a bridge between the online content of Wikipedia and the books that are available in Japan’s libraries.

In the paper, a Wikipedia article is represented as a combination of Word2vec vectors: one vector for the article’s title, one each for the categories it belongs to, and one for the entire article text. These vectors combine to form a two-dimensional matrix, which the CNN is trained on. Combining the title and category vectors results in the highest performance, with 87.7% accuracy in predicting the top-level category and 74.7% accuracy for the second-level category. The results are promising enough that future work is suggested where these will be used for book recommendations.

The work was motivated by “recent research findings [indicating] that relatively few students actually search and read books,” and “aims to encourage students to read library books as a more reliable source of information rather than relying on Wikipedia article.”

Conferences and events

See the research events page on Meta-wiki for upcoming conferences and events, including submission deadlines.

Other recent publications

Other recent publications that could not be covered in time for this issue include the items listed below. contributions are always welcome for reviewing or summarizing newly published research.

Compiled by Tilman Bayer
  • “Open strategy-making at the Wikimedia Foundation: A dialogic perspective”[5] From the abstract: “What is the role of dialogue in open strategy processes? Our study of the development of Wikimedia’s 5-year strategy plan through an open strategy process [in 2009/2010] reveals the endemic nature of tensions occasioned by the intersection of dialogue as an emergent, nonhierarchical practice, and strategy, as a practice that requires direction, focus, and alignment.”
  • “Wikipedia: a complex social machine”[6] From the abstract: “We examine the activity of Wikipedia by analysing WikiProjects […] We harvested the content of over 600 active Wikipedia projects, which comprised of over 100 million edits and 15 million Talk entries, associated with over 1.5 million Wikipedia articles and Talk pages produced by 14 million unique users. Our analysis reveals findings related to the overall positive activity and growth of Wikipedia, as well as the connected community of Wikipedians within and between specific WikiProjects. We argue that the complexity of Wikipedia requires metrics which reflect the many aspects of the Wikipedia social machine, and by doing so, will offer insights into its state of health.” (See also earlier coverage of publications by the same authors)
  • “Expanding the sum of all human knowledge: Wikipedia, translation and linguistic justice”[7] From the abstract: “This paper.. begins by assessing the [Wikimedia Foundation’s’ Language Proposal Policy and Wikipedia’s translation guidelines. Then, drawing on statistics from the Content Translation tool recently developed by Wikipedia to encourage translation within the various language versions, this paper applies the concept of linguistic justice to help determine how any future translation policies might achieve a better balance between fairness and efficiency, arguing that a translation policy can be both fair and efficient, while still conforming to the ‘official multilingualism’ model that seems to be endorsed by the Wikimedia Foundation.” (cf. earlier paper by the same author)
  • “Nation image and its dynamic changes in Wikipedia”[8] From the abstract: “An ontology of nation image was built from the keywords collected from the pages directly related to the big three exporting countries in East Asia, i.e. Korea, Japan and China. The click views on the pages of the countries in two different language editions of Wikipedia, Vietnamese and Indonesian were counted.”
  • “‘A wound that has been festering since 2007’: The Burma/Myanmar naming controversy and the problem of rarely challenged assumptions on Wikipedia”[9] From the abstract: “The author’s approach to the study of the Wikipedia talk pages devoted to the Burma/Myanmar naming controversy is qualitative in nature and explores the debate over sources through textual analysis. Findings: Editors brought to their work a number of underlying assumptions including the primacy of the nation-state and the nature of a ‘true’ encyclopedia. These were combined with a particular interpretation of neutral point of view (NPOV) policy that unnecessarily prolonged the debate and, more importantly, would have the effect, if widely adopted, of reducing Wikipedia’s potential to include multiple perspectives on any particular topic.”
  • “The double power law in human collaboration behavior: The case of Wikipedia”[10] From the abstract: “We study [..] the inter-event time distribution of revision behavior on Wikipedia [..]. We observe a double power law distribution for the inter-editing behavior at the population level and a single power law distribution at the individual level. Although interactions between users are indirect or moderate on Wikipedia, we determine that the synchronized editing behavior among users plays a key role in determining the slope of the tail of the double power law distribution.”
  • “Wikidata: la soluzione wikimediana ai linked open data”[11] (“Wikidata: the Wikimedian solution for linked open data, in Italian)
  • “Open-domain question answering framework using Wikipedia”[12] From the abstract: “This paper explores the feasibility of implementing a model for an open domain, automated question and answering framework that leverages Wikipedia’s knowledgebase. While Wikipedia implicitly comprises answers to common questions, the disambiguation of natural language and the difficulty of developing an information retrieval process that produces answers with specificity present pertinent challenges. […] Using DBPedia, an ontological database of Wikipedia’s knowledge, we searched for the closest matching property that would produce an answer by applying standardised string matching algorithms[…]. Our experimental results illustrate that using Wikipedia as a knowledgebase produces high precision for questions that contain a singular unambiguous entity as the subject, but lowered accuracy for questions where the entity exists as part of the object.”

Ephraim ChambersCyclopaedia (1728)

  • “Textual curation: Authorship, agency, and technology in Wikipedia and Chambers’s Cyclopædia”[13] (book) From the publisher’s announcement: “Wikipedia is arguably the most famous collaboratively written text of our time, but few know that nearly three hundred years ago Ephraim Chambers proposed an encyclopedia written by a wide range of contributors—from illiterate craftspeople to titled gentry. Chambers wrote that incorporating information submitted by the public would considerably strengthen the second edition of his well-received Cyclopædia, which relied on previously published information. In Textual Curation, Krista Kennedy examines the editing and production histories of the Cyclopædia and Wikipedia, the ramifications of robot-written texts, and the issues of intellectual property theory and credit.”


  1. Hinnosaar, Marit; Hinnosaar, Toomas; Kummer, Michael; Slivko, Olga (2017-07-17). “Wikipedia Matters” (PDF). p. 22. 
  2. Dang, Quang-Vinh; Ignat, Claudia-Lavinia (2017-08-23). An end-to-end learning solution for assessing the quality of Wikipedia articles. OpenSym 2017 – International Symposium on Open Collaboration. doi:10.1145/3125433.3125448. 
  3. Tsikerdekis, Michail. “Cumulative Experience and Recent Behavior and their Relation to Content Quality on Wikipedia”. Interacting with Computers: 1–18. doi:10.1093/iwc/iwx010. Retrieved 2017-08-01.  Closed access / author’s pre-print
  4. Tsuji, Keita (2017-05-26). Automatic Classification of Wikipedia Articles by Using Convolutional Neural Network (PDF). QQML 2017 – 9th International Conference on Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries. 
  5. Heracleous, Loizos; Gößwein, Julia; Beaudette, Philippe (2017-06-09). “Open strategy-making at the Wikimedia Foundation: A dialogic perspective = The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science”. p. 0021886317712665. ISSN 0021-8863. doi:10.1177/0021886317712665.  Closed access author’s preprint
  6. Tinati, Ramine; Luczak-Roesch, Markus (2017). “Wikipedia: a complex social machine”. ACM SIGWEB Newsletter: 1–10. ISSN 1931-1745.  Closed access
  7. Dolmaya, Julie McDonough (2017-04-03). “Expanding the sum of all human knowledge: Wikipedia, translation and linguistic justice”. The Translator 23 (2): 143–157. ISSN 1355-6509. doi:10.1080/13556509.2017.1321519.  Closed access
  8. Youngwhan Lee; Heuiju Chun (2017-04-03). “Nation image and its dynamic changes in Wikipedia”. Asia Pacific Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship 11 (1): 38–49. ISSN 2071-1395. doi:10.1108/APJIE-04-2017-020. Retrieved 2017-08-01. 
  9. Brendan Luyt (2017-05-25). ““A wound that has been festering since 2007”: The Burma/Myanmar naming controversy and the problem of rarely challenged assumptions on Wikipedia”. Journal of Documentation 73 (4): 689–699. ISSN 0022-0418. doi:10.1108/JD-09-2016-0109.  Closed access
  10. Kwon, Okyu; Son, Woo-Sik; Jung, Woo-Sung (2016-11-01). “The double power law in human collaboration behavior: The case of Wikipedia”. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications 461: 85–91. ISSN 0378-4371. doi:10.1016/j.physa.2016.05.010.  Closed access
  11. Martinelli, Luca (2016-03-02). “Wikidata: la soluzione wikimediana ai linked open data”. AIB studi 56 (1). ISSN 2239-6152. 
  12. Ameen, Saleem; Chung, Hyunsuk; Han, Soyeon Caren; Kang, Byeong Ho (2016-12-05). Byeong Ho Kang, Quan Bai (eds.), eds. Open-domain question answering framework using Wikipedia = AI 2016: Advances in Artificial Intelligence. Australasian Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer International Publishing. pp. 623–635. ISBN 9783319501260.  Closed access
  13. Kennedy, Krista (2016). Textual curation: Authorship, agency, and technology in Wikipedia and Chambers’s Cyclopædia. The University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-61117-710-7.  Closed access
Supplementary references:
  1. Hinnosaar, Marit; Hinnosaar, Toomas; Kummer, Michael; Slivko, Olga (2015). Does Wikipedia matter? The effect of Wikipedia on tourist choices. ZEW Discussion Papers. 
  2. Kittur, Aniket; Kraut, Robert E. (2008). Harnessing the Wisdom of Crowds in Wikipedia : Quality Through Coordination. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work. doi:10.1145/1460563.1460572. 
  3. Arazy, Ofer; Nov, Oded (2010). Determinants of Wikipedia Quality : The Roles of Global and Local Contribution Inequality. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work. doi:10.1145/1718918.1718963. 

Wikimedia Research Newsletter
Vol: 7 • Issue: 5 • May 2017
This newsletter is brought to you by the Wikimedia Research Committee and The Signpost
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A Wikipedian’s mission to educate others—one Chilean at a time: Sarah Chambers



Photo by Victor Grigas, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Sarah Chambers’ professional life began at 16 as a spa receptionist in the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A musician at heart, she learned early that holding down a job was a necessity—even more so in Chile. Over the years she has worked as a freelancer, however, she found a new passion after her introduction into Wikipedia.

“I was working with a startup company with people from Ghana, and the guy started talking to me about traditional culture in [his country],” said Chambers, now 29. “And I thought, oh, I bet there’s nothing [about it] in the Spanish Wikipedia. And sure enough, there were a few things in English, but not much.”

Chambers wrote an article about Ghanian Kente cloth and translated it into Spanish. “Almost nothing exists about Ghana in Spanish,” she tells us.

She began watching and supporting her partner—Wikipedian (Wikipedista en Español) Eduardo Testart—from the sidelines, “getting my feet wet a little at a time.”

“I always wanted to help volunteer physically more than online,” said Chambers, explaining her early journey. “I’m a big proponent of volunteering in person. So coming to meetings, helping out with the events and logistics, that’s really how I got my start in the Wikimedia movement, not by the computer.”

Today, Chambers is the Board Secretary for Wikimedia Chile, an independent movement affiliate organization. Recently, through her dedicated efforts, her chapter coordinated a two-day workshop and edit-a-thon celebrating International Women’s Day.

It was the first event of its kind that Chambers took a lead in organizing, and it ended up being “our most successful edit-a-thon,” she said.

Concerned that she would need additional support for the event, Chambers used social networking to gain interest and find collaborators. Through Wikipedia Chile’s Meetup group—Wiki Force Chile — and other online users, she was able to partner with the Women Who Code and Girls In Tech meetup groups.

“You’ve got to find similar groups that can help leverage your talents, your interests, so that you both win,” Chambers explained. “So basically, we found similar groups that were looking to do a similar thing—International Women’s Day. Everybody won.”

Excitedly, Chambers shared how the event panned out:

We actually had a full house … almost 40 people came for the workshop, which is pretty hardcore. It was about three to four hours. And then we always go out, that’s the key, I think, signature, of Wikimedia Chile. We always go out to have lunch or drinks after an event. And we invite everybody, if they want, to hang out afterwards … [to] continue the conversation. And it’s not all nerds. We talk about life, we talk about music, where you’re from, what you like to do. So that is the really rewarding part, too, is the bonding experience, of being able to share with other people.

And then the day after, we had the edit-a-thon. Which we had probably about 15-17 people come. It was a Sunday. We consider this a success because almost every single person wrote an article who was there.

It was a good experience because we really got into the off-shoots and capabilities. There was a contest going on … to name an article … in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and I came [up] with … La Mujer Que Nunca Conociste, which is The Woman You’ve Never Known.

So we had a contest there that the participants could continue participating in. That was just wonderful because the stars aligned and everybody came. And people were telling me please, please, we hope this is not a once a year thing. You have to come back and do this again.

Despite her successes with the local chapter, Chambers said there are challenges in working in Chile. Many Chileans, she said, don’t begin their professional life until they are older, so often times she works with individuals who have little work experience. There’s also less of a focus on volunteerism, an altruistic activity that is vital to the Wikimedia movement, which is run by volunteers from all around the globe.

“Volunteering does not have the same concept as in the United States,” Chambers said. “In the United States, you could wake up, you go outside and you go to any charity organization or big organization and say, ‘I want to volunteer.’ And that same day, they will get you a desk or a place, and you do a task and you start volunteering immediately. In Chile, it does not work like that at all. It’s a very formal system. Even nonprofits are run like businesses because the law kind of demands that they act so, and the requirements are very similar.”

Chambers doesn’t let anything stop her as she finds ways to grow her local chapter and provide ideas for other Wikipedians around the globe. Some of these include educating others about Wikipedia via Chromecast, continuing to host collaborate events, networking with potential Wikimedia funding partners and, of course, good old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

Interview by Jonathan Curiel, Senior Development Communications Manager
Profile by Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, Wordsmith, Communications
Wikimedia Foundation

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Wikimedia Foundation mourns the loss of Bassel Khartabil, Syrian Wikimedian and global open culture advocate



Photo by Joi, CC BY 2.0.

The Wikimedia Foundation is profoundly saddened by the news of the death of Wikimedia community member and open culture advocate Bassel Khartabil, also known to some as Bassel Safadi. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and communities around the world.

Bassel was detained by the Syrian government on March 15, 2012, amid arrests on the one-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising. He had been missing since October 2015, when he was removed from the Damascus prison where he was being held. We maintained hope that Bassel was safe and would ultimately be released by government captors. However, his wife, Syrian human rights lawyer Noura Ghazi Safadi, shared this week in a statement that he had been executed shortly after being taken from Adra prison.

Bassel was a leader, advocate, and member of many open culture communities; he had a pivotal role in the development of the open source movement in the Arabic-speaking world. In addition to his advocacy for and contributions to Wikimedia—many of which were made anonymously—he was project lead and public affiliate for Creative Commons Syria, a friend of the Global Voices community, a free software advocate and contributor to Mozilla, the founder of Aiki Lab hackerspace in Damascus, and much more.

Prior to his detainment, he was working on a 3D virtual reconstruction of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, much of which was destroyed by ISIL in 2016. His work to preserve, digitize, and replicate the ancient city has carried on through the efforts of #NEWPALMYRA, a collaboration of 3D modelers, archaeologists, artists, curators, developers, educators, journalists, researchers, and Wikimedians.

In 2014, the European Parliament credited Bassel with “opening up the Internet in Syria and vastly extending online access and knowledge to the Syrian people.” For its 2012 list of Top Global Thinkers, Foreign Policy named Bassel, together with Rima Dali, as #19 for “insisting, against all odds, on a peaceful Syrian revolution.” On March 21, 2013, Bassel was selected for an award by the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards in the category of Digital freedom.

Bassel was known in the Wikimedia movement for his boundless enthusiasm and passion, always encouraging others to share, create, and connect with the world around them. In 2014, he worked with a friend to write anonymously from inside the prison where her was being held. In his inaugural post on the blog, Me in Syrian Jail, he asserted that he had been arrested for his writing, for his ideas. Despite the danger and difficulty, his writing has a sense of triumph, because the “government wanted to shut me up, because it failed and this blog is the [proof].” His tweets, from the same offline blogging project, reminded us that “We can’t fight jail without memory and imagination.”

Like Bassel, we believe in the power of writing, words, and memory. Every day, hundreds of millions of people visit free knowledge projects like Wikipedia, to learn, remember, and create. We gain from the generosity of Wikimedia contributors around the world, but very few us pause to consider the challenges many of those contributors may face. The news of Bassel’s death is a painful reminder of the risk and difficulty so many people confront in simply exercising their fundamental rights to share and learn.

We believe that everyone should be able to speak freely and share freely. We believe that this commitment to expression, openness, and creativity is a reminder of our shared humanity, and the foundation for a better world. The global movement for open cultures and free knowledge is stronger because of Bassel’s contributions. We mourn his loss, and join his family, friends, and communities in honoring his memory. We remain dedicated to the values for which he lived.

Katherine Maher, Executive Director
Wikimedia Foundation

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Update: Wikimedia’s petition against the global extension of search engine delistings



Search engine delistings can make it difficult for users to find their way to free knowledge. Photo by Abrget47j, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Last October, the Wikimedia Foundation filed a petition with the French Supreme Court opposing the worldwide application of the right to be forgotten or right to erasure. This legal doctrine requires search engines to remove (or “delist”) certain information from search results when requested appropriately by European citizens.

In May 2015, the French data protection authority (the CNIL) ordered Google to expand the geographic reach of delistings, and remove the requested information from all of its domains, for users throughout the world, regardless of whether the governing law in their country was similar or distinct. When Google’s offer of a compromise was rejected, it chose not to comply with the order, and challenged it before the Conseil d’État, the French Supreme Court. In our filing, the Wikimedia Foundation argued that delisting, if determined to be appropriate under a given jurisdiction’s laws, should not be expanded to affect search results worldwide. We explained the impact that search engine delistings have on the Wikimedia projects, in making it more difficult for users around the world to find accurate, well-sourced information.

We now provide a brief update on the progress of our petition and Google’s appeal. The French Supreme Court has turned for guidance to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the highest court in the European Union (EU) responsible for interpreting EU law. In the EU, national courts may refer questions to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling to ensure that they are uniformly interpreting EU law. In a ruling (in French) issued July 19, 2017, the Conseil d’État accepted our petition to intervene, among others, and asked the ECJ to answer the following questions. First, does the right to delist mean that search engines must deindex links on all domains, or is the scope of delisting limited to the European Union? Further, if the scope is limited to the EU, should the delisting take place only on the national domain of the requester, or across all EU domains? Finally, should geoblocking be used to ensure searchers in the same country as the requester do not receive the delisted results? After the ECJ rules on these questions, the case will return to the Conseil d’État.

As we mentioned in an earlier blog post, a large proportion of Wikimedia project traffic originates from search engines. The delisting of links in search results makes it difficult for people to find and access neutral, reliable information on Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects. When we receive notice that a project page has been removed from search engine results due to a delisting request, we publicly post these notices for the Wikimedia community’s reference. The global extension of search engine delistings sets a dangerous precedent for how information is shared, documented, and disseminated around the world, reaching far beyond the the Wikimedia projects. Worldwide removal orders are recent, and troubling, trend; on July 20, we blogged about a Canadian Supreme Court decision that similarly calls for Google to remove search results across borders.

No single country or region should be able to control what information the entire world may access. If upheld, the CNIL’s order may encourage countries with weak protections for human rights to require the worldwide removal of important information regarding authorities’ abuses of power, dissenting political opinions, or other crucial topics. The removal of content, particularly in such contexts, fundamentally undermines the Wikimedia vision of a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of human knowledge. We hope that the ECJ will conclude that search engine delistings ordered by a particular court should not extend across the globe. We will continue to provide you with updates as the case proceeds.

Aeryn Palmer, Legal Counsel
Wikimedia Foundation

* Special thanks to Claire Rameix-Séguin and François Gilbert of SCP Baraduc-Duhamel-Rameix for their representation of the Wikimedia Foundation in this case, to Jacob Rogers, Stephen LaPorte, and Jan Gerlach of the Wikimedia Foundation, and to Diana Lee for assistance in preparing this blog post.

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