Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Israel-Palestine Wiki-Conflict

According to Electronic Intifada (EI), the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) "is orchestrating a secret, long-term campaign to infiltrate the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia to rewrite Palestinian history, pass off crude propaganda as fact, and take over Wikipedia administrative structures to ensure these changes go either undetected or unchallenged."

An EI report documents action alerts emailed by Gilead Ini, a senior research analyst for CAMERA, which explain in detail how CAMERA volunteers can promote Israel's image on Wikipedia without being perceived as having an agenda:

"So, for example, imagine that you get rid of or modify a problematic sentence in an article alleging that 'Palestinian [sic] become suicide bombers to respond to Israel's oppressive policies.' You should, in parallel leave a comment on that article's discussion page (either after or before making the change). Avoid defending the edit by arguing that 'Israel's policies aren't 'oppression,' they are defensive. And anyway Palestinians obviously become suicide bombers for other reasons for example hate education!' Instead, describe how this sentence violates Wikipedia's policies and guidelines. One of the core principles is that assertions should adhere to a Neutral Point of View, usually abbreviated NPOV. (The opposite of NPOV is POV, or Point of View, which is basically another way of saying subjective statement, or opinion.) So it would be best to note on the discussion page that 'This sentence violates Wikipedia's NPOV policy, since the description of Israel's policies as 'oppressive' is an opinion. In addition, it is often noted by Middle East experts that one of the reasons Palestinians decide to become suicide bombers is hate education and glorification of martyrdom in Palestinian society ...'"
(The EI report notes: "In fact, there have been numerous studies debunking claims about Palestinian 'hate education,' or 'glorification of martyrdom' causing suicide bombings.")

In some emails, "a veteran Wikipedia editor, known as 'Zeq,'" offers advice to CAMERA volunteers, including a how-to on how some of them can become "neutral administrators"in charge of arbitrating disputes over contested articles.

Writing for the Jerusalum Post, Andre Oboler questions why EI would expect any different from the tools of Web 2.0:
To understand why this accusation of "infiltration" is so poisonous one must understand the nature of Wikipedia. Its basic idea is that anyone can edit the on-line encyclopedia. How, then, how can anyone be said to be infiltrating it?

Some might protest, "But these people were seeking to coordinate and thereby achieve a level of control over the editing process!"

I say, "So what?" This is how Web 2.0 works. This is Web 2.0 democracy. It is not perfect, and many would argue it is not even a good idea. Yet this is the model on which Wikipedia is based.
But the JPost author does admit that CAMERA should have been more transparent. Electronic Intifada reported:
Throughout the documents EI obtained, CAMERA operatives stress the need for stealth and secrecy. In his initial action alert, Ini requests that recipients "not forward it to members of the news media." In a 17 March follow-up email sent to volunteers, Ini explains that he wants to make the orchestrated effort appear to be the work of unaffiliated individuals. Thus he advises that "There is no need to advertise the fact that we have these group discussions."
Devin Stewart previously blogged about transparency concerns on Wikipedia, particularly that it "allows anonymous editors to change or delete entries."At the end of April, an IP address traced to the US Department of Justice was blocked by Wikipedia for "vandalism" after repeated attempts to remove information related to the CAMERA controversy. CAMERA encouraged its members to create screen names (but not those that could be seen as pro-Israel) and log in before making edits so as to avoid having their IP addresses recorded.


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