Wikipedia buttons up key pages ahead of US election

Joe Biden

Wikipedia has locked down its main election page before the US presidential election that only certain editors can make modifications, a part of preparations to combat possible disinformation and abuses related to the vote.

The internet encyclopaedia’s articles, written mostly by unpaid volunteers, are relied on by platforms from Alphabet Inc’s Google into Amazon Inc’s voice helper Alexa to present their users information and context.

“We’re not worried about vandals who want to just mess up an article in order to cause a little trouble. The Wikipedia community deals with those issues for breakfast,” Ryan Merkley, chief of staff at the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organization which hosts Wikipedia, said in a phone interview.

“We’re really worried about coordinated actors … trying to find a way to disseminate information … in a way that could cause people, for example, to choose not to vote or to influence the outcome of the election based on something that was not true.”

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Internet researchers state Wikipedia, which says it’s committed to neutrality, has emerged as a relatively reliable site, while major social programs such as Facebook and Twitter have fought to curtail viral misinformation.

This year, Merkley stated, the Wikimedia Foundation for the first time put together a disinformation task-force to conduct election exercises with staff and community members.

Last week, community members moved to add extra protections into the ‘2020 US presidential election’ post so only users who have had a registered accounts for more than 30 days and have made 500 edits on the website can alter the webpage.

Merkley said Wikipedia has seen the production of bogus accounts, individuals making bogus edits to screenshot and share on social media and efforts to use content from unreliable sources or skew articles to a prejudice.

He explained the Wikimedia Foundation had been meeting with industry partners and US government officials, such as from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security, but that it had not yet seen any nation celebrities flagged by government officials operating on Wikipedia.

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A Wikimedia spokeswoman said there are currently 72 English-Wikipedia articles linked to the US election and that there are about 2,600 editors ‘watching’ those webpages who get alerts for any edits.

Merkley said staff seldom make interventions however there might be cases around the election, for example direct calls for violence, where they would remove content or take action against an individual.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this news article. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford. Editing by Greg Mitchell and Nick Zieminski.

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