A Tale of a Tub on Wikipedia, or from the Heights of Golan to Wikipedia’s Lowest Point

31 October, 2010 at 16:45 | Posted in Israeli-Arab conflict, Wikipedia policy | Leave a comment
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Some are still left on the Golan Heights, some are being planted on Wikipedia - Beware of the mines. (Image by Randall Niles via Flickr)

Some are still left on the Golan Heights, some are being planted on Wikipedia - Beware of the mines. (Image by Randall Niles via Flickr)

Anonymous user introduces changes to the article about the Golan Heights

An anonymous user, known only by his IP, enters the English-language Wikipedia and makes some edits to the article about the Golan Heights (a geographical region of disputed sovereignty that straddles the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria). The changes are not too radical.  The term “occupied”, which entails support to the Syrian position is changed to the more neutral “administered”, the politically-charged term “settlements” is replaced by “post-1967 communities”. The words “Internationally recognized as Syrian territory occupied by Israel” are toned down to “Administered by Israel, claimed by Syria, subject to UN Security Council’s resolutions 242 and 338”. Whether or not you like the new phrasing, the edits are quite in line with Wikipedia’s policy known as “Neutral Point of View”, namely that Wikipedia does not take sides in disputes, and accurately describes the facts on the ground (the Golan Heights are under regular Israeli civil administration since 1981).

An editor fond of controversial topics intervenes and reverts

The edits are naturally contested, some of them maybe rightfully. The term “post-1967 community” does sound a bit enigmatic, and perhaps settlement is the preferable term here. The user who quickly reverts the edits is “Unomi“. Unomi is an interesting figure on the Wikipedian scene. He is relatively new to the English Wikipedia (since March 2009), although he claims to have been using the nickname “Unomi” on Wikimedia projects for several years. He is very much concerned about the ambiguity of Wikipedia’s policies and lack of neutrality, and indeed most of his edits are on controversial topics. He also contributes quite a lot on Middle East-related articles and usually sides the pro-Arab line in the description of the Middle Eastern conflict.

Two pro-Arab advocates end the discussion

Even though “Unomi” is an eloquent mouthpiece of a certain view of the Middle-Eastern conflict, he seems to have found an equal rival. The debate between the user identified by his IP address and Unomi gets longer and longer, several users even support the anonymous user’s edits. “Nableezy” and “Supreme Deliciousness” soon come to the rescue. These two users are Wikipedia’s worst nightmare. They have no interest in free content or free access to knowledge. They sensed the reputation Wikipedia enjoys as being comprehensive and impartial source of information (well, that’s the reputation, you’ll be the judges whether or not it is justified). Both Nableezy and Supreme Deliciousness are political advocates that realized that the introduction of their political perspective into Wikipedia worths thousands of articles in blogs and newspapers. Of course Wikipedia has some mechanism to make their work hard, but they diligently learned how to manipulate the system. When all fails, they resort to blocking. Look at this dialog from RolandR’s talk page (a personal page dedicated for posting messages to a certain editor). RolandR, by the way, is a self-proclaimed anti-Zionist, so he has a common language with “Supreme Deliciousness” and “Nableezy”. The former is an obsessive reader of Israeli sources in English, and he informs RolandR that he was mentioned in some talkback on an Israeli English-language website. Nableezy then raises the issue of how to “eliminate” the anonymous user that makes edits to the Golan Heights article. The solution is easy – alleging that he is a “sock puppet” of yours humbly (DrorK is my username on Wikipedia).

The cabal convenes

You are mentioned

  • Hello, just wanted to make you aware that you were mentioned by the first poster in the comments section in this news article:[1] —Supreme Deliciousness (talk) 09:45, 19 August 2010 (UTC)
  • Thank you. It’s clearly more of the same harassment I have encountered on- and off-Wikipedia for several years now; it doesn’t bother me. These juveniles are wasting their time, but at least this keeps them out of mischief. RolandR (talk) 21:19, 19 August 2010 (UTC)
  • What harassment have you encountered off-Wikipedia? –Supreme Deliciousness (talk) 21:27, 19 August 2010 (UTC)
  • The same person who stalks me on Wikipedia has created an offensive blog about me, and has sent countless comments in my name to loads of internet forums and blogs, trying to smear me as an antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab terrorist with homoerotic and anal fantasies. It says more about him than about me. Most websites (even thoise unsympathetic to my political views) delete them on sight. If you email me, I can tell you more; I don’t want to give more details here. RolandR (talk) 21:43, 19 August 2010 (UTC)

Return of Drork?

  • Hi Roland, I wasnt around when most of the IPs Drork was using were brought to SPI, but what do you think the chances are that this IP is another sock of Drork? nableezy – 06:37, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
  • I don’t think so. The IP is in the same range as several of Drork’s blocked socks; but these seem to be assigned to Bezeq, so many editors in Israel could be usiung them. Drork never edited the Golan article, and the style of argument does not sound like him. It is reminiscent, though, and I will see if I can recall who it reminds me of. RolandR (talk) 11:16, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
  • Drork edited that article, see here where the same argument over “settlement” is made. Or here where a “retired” Drork edits as an IP and makes the argument that “occupied” cannot possibly be an accurate or neutral description (collapsed section on that page), a continuation of this (also collapsed). nableezy – 12:52, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
  • Oh, I missed that. You may be right; but the tone and obsessions do not seem the same as Drork’s. Certainly no smoking gun there, as far as I can see. RolandR (talk) 13:00, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
  • Im not sure either. The arguments over “occupied” and “settlement” have a Drork taste to them, but a lot of people are opposed to using those words. Combined with other factors such as a clear familiarity with wiki syntax though this is clearly not a “new” editor. nableezy – 13:14, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
  • I’m sure of that. But proving it is another matter. RolandR (talk) 13:20, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
  • Drork returned some days ago on wikimedia [2] –Supreme Deliciousness (talk) 17:52, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
Final remarks

All the information given above, including the conversation from RolandR’s talk page, is available to anyone through Wikipedia and its mirror sites. All users I have mentioned could have been great contributors to Wikipedia had they come with a genuine objective to enrich this source of knowledge. In fact, they are all very diligent and possess information and perspective that I, as well as many other people, could benefit from. However, they do not care much about enriching Wikipedia. They have a political battle to fight, and Wikipedia is just another mean to carry on this fight. Such conduct was a threat to Wikipedia from its very beginning. Right now, the project is unable to protect itself from this kind of conduct because there are many rules, but little spirit. When breaking trivial rules like avoiding more than two reverts in 24 hours becomes the most punishable offense, then it means that the basic ideas behind the project are forgotten and the door is open to all kinds of manipulators.

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Exploring basic bias on Wikipedia

13 September, 2010 at 07:02 | Posted in Israeli-Arab conflict, Wikipedia policy | Leave a comment
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An interesting way to examine the basic bias of editors in different Wikipedias toward a certain subject is to look at the initial edits of articles dealing with disputed issues. The first sentences of a new article resemble, in a way, a game of association. The initiator of the article tends to write the first things coming to he/his mind when he thinks about the subject. It is also interesting to see how long it takes before balancing information, or balancing changes to the phrasing, are introduced and how they are welcomed. In many cases

kineret

Sea of Galilee. Image by mprivoro via Flickr

such balancing information or edits are never introduced, and in some cases a fairly balanced text turns into biased one.

The followings are examples of initial edits of articles about certain subjects related to the Middle-East conflict from the Arabic Hebrew and English Wikipedia (all translated into English). Note – These are all obsolete versions currently found only in the “history” of the articles.

Jerusalem
Arabic Al-Quds is one of the biggest cities in Palestine, named Urshalim in the ancient scripts of the New Testament and the Torah. Its oldest remains go back to 3,000 before the Birth. Al-Quds is the most common name for Jerusalem among Arabic speakers. The use of Palestine could indicate non-recognition in Israel, but not necessarily.
Hebrew Yerushalayim is the capital of the State of Israel. It is one of the oldest cities in the world. The holiest city for Jews and Christians and third in sacredness to Muslims after Mecca and Medina. Yerushalayim is the Hebrew name for Jerusalem. The article seems to open with a political statement, though Jerusalem is indeed the Israeli seat of government. The remark about the status of Jerusalem in Islam might be an allusion to the Israeli-Arab conflict, but not necessarily.
English Jerusalem is a city straddling the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. Prior to the 1967 War, Jerusalem was divided, with the Western half in Israel and the Eastern half in the West Bank. East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel during the 1967 war, and then in 1981 Israel declared the whole of Jerusalem to be its “eternal capital” and annexed East Jerusalem to Israel. This act however has not been recognized by the international community; therefore most countries have their diplomatic missions to Israel in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. The English text seems to be the most neutral; however it deals almost entirely with the political aspects of Jerusalem, rather than its geography or population, i.e. Jerusalem is perceived more as a “political problem” than an actual city.
Golan Heights
Arabic A Syrian land on the southwest part of the Syrian Arab Republic. The Israeli military managed to capture it and control it since the War of 1967. Israelis see great importance in controlling Hadbat al-Jawlan for its advantage in overlooking the State of Israel. It does not require more than standing on the edge of the plateau to cover the Israeli city of Tel Aviv with a naked eye, due to its height advantage. Hadbat al-Jawlan is the normal name for this region among Arabic speakers. The text includes an error – Tel Aviv is too distant from the Golan Heights to be seen from there in any way. Only political and military aspects are mentioned.
Hebrew Ramat Ha-Golan is a flat plateau located on the border between Israel, Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli part of the plateau was captured from the Syrians in the Six Day War, then recaptured in the Yom Kippur War. Geographically speaking, the plateau is delineated in the west by a 1700m fall to the edge of the Kinneret and River Yarden. All geographical names used are the most common among Hebrew speakers. The political status of the region is described carefully. There is a geographical description of the region.
English The Golan Heights is a plateau on the border of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. One of the territories captured by Israel during the Six-Day War, the Golan Heights are currently under Israeli control, though claimed by Syria. Formed of volcanic rock it rises up to 1700 ft above the surrounding land, it drops off to the west to the Sea of Gallilee, the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret, and to the south to the Yarmouk River. The Sea of Galilee and Lake Kinneret are two names for the same geographical entity. Mentioning them as separate entities is probably an error. It is unlikely that an Arab would use the name Kinneret.
Shabaa Farms
Arabic Shabaa Farms is a region at the southmost edge of Lebanon, within the official borders of Lebanon. The Zionist army refrained from handing it over to the government and state of Lebanon following the Israeli withdrawal from the south. The issue of the Shabaa Farms still triggers problems, opinions and discussions regarding the legitimacy of its occupation, while the Lebanese Arabs reject its remaining occupied and Hizbullah keeps public confrontation to liberate it. The official Lebanese-Syrian position is presented. There is no reference to the backstage conflict between Syria and Lebanon or to the UN position. The terms used when referring to Israel indicate non-recognition. The area itself and its population are not mentioned or described.
Hebrew The Shabaa Farms are at the border junction of Syria, Israel and Lebanon, between the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights and the Lebanese village of Shabaa. The region stretches on 25 sq km, 14 km long and 2.5 wide in average. The region’s height is 150-1880m. The land in this region is fertile and well-watered, and it used to include 14 farms growing barley, vegetables and fruits. The region is today under Israeli control, as it captured it from the Syrians in the Six Day War. The region was annexed to Israel in 1981 as part of the application of the Israeli law on the Golan Heights. The dispute over the region started in 2000 with the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the UN declaration that Israel had withdrawn completely from Lebanon. Hizbullah claimed that the Farms are Lebanese soil and saw them as a pretext to continue its attacks on Israel, despite the complete withdrawal.  Many international bodies asked Syria and Lebanon to All geographical names used are the most common among Hebrew speakers. The political status of the region is described carefully. There is a geographical description of the region.
English The Golan Heights is a plateau on the border of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. One of the territories captured by Israel during the Six-Day War, the Golan Heights are currently under Israeli control, though claimed by Syria. Formed of volcanic rock it rises up to 1700 ft above the surrounding land, it drops off to the west to the Sea of Gallilee, the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret, and to the south to the Yarmouk River. The Sea of Galilee and Lake Kinneret are two names for the same geographical entity. Mentioning them as separate entities is probably an error. It is unlikely that an Arab would use the name Kinneret.

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