Wikipedia blocks pages related to US elections to combat disinformation

Wikipedia blocked its main voting page ahead of the US presidential election to allow only certain editors to make changes. This is part of preparations to combat potential disinformation and abuses related to Tuesday’s vote.

The online encyclopedia’s articles, written mostly by unpaid volunteers, are used by platforms from Alphabet’s Google to Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa to give information and context to their users.

“We’re not worried about vandals who want to mess up an article just to cause a little trouble. The Wikipedia community deals with these topics for breakfast,” said Ryan Merkley, chief of staff at the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that hosts Wikipedia said in a telephone interview.

“We’re really concerned about coordinated actors … trying to find a way to disseminate information … in a way that could result in people choosing not to vote or based on the election result, for example of influencing something that was not true. “

Internet researchers say Wikipedia, which is committed to neutrality, has become a relatively trustworthy website, while major social platforms like Facebook and Twitter have struggled to contain viral misinformation.

This year, Merkley said, the Wikimedia Foundation set up a disinformation task force for the first time to conduct voting exercises with staff and members of the community.

Last week, community members added additional protection to the US Presidential Election 2020 article so that only users who have been registered for more than 30 days and have made 500 changes to the site can change the page.

Merkley said Wikipedia saw fake accounts being created, people making bogus changes to the screenshot and sharing on social media, and attempts to use content from unreliable sources or skew articles.

He said the Wikimedia Foundation had met with industry partners and US government officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security, but it had not yet seen any state actors reported by government officials on Wikipedia.

A Wikimedia spokeswoman said there are currently 72 articles on Wikipedia related to the US election, and that about 2,600 editors are “watching” the sites for notifications of changes.

Merkley said employees rarely intervene, but there could be cases related to the election, such as direct calls for violence in which they would remove content or take action against a user.

© Thomson Reuters 2020


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