The battle for editing rights over Wikipedia’s Chinese-language pages has escalated in recent months. As a result, the organization has banned a series of editors for “infiltration by China.”
Wikipedia, the nonprofit online encyclopedia written by volunteers, has banned access to seven volunteer editors. Another twelve have lost their admin rights. In a lengthy statement, Maggie Dennis of Wikimedia Foundation explains that these people were banned because they were apparently part of an attempted infiltration by Chinese interests. Physical threats were also used. The editors are all linked to a Chinese organization: ‘Wikimedians of Mainland China’. The latter is talking about unfounded slander.
Wikipedia is the world’s most popular free encyclopedia, so the version of history it contains matters. The editing section is, therefore, often a battlefield of different voices, especially for politically sensitive articles. For example, in recent months, this has been the case with a series of articles about the protests in Hong Kong. The so-called ‘edit battles’ on the Chinese-language pages of the site are mainly fought by Hong Kong volunteers and volunteers from mainland China.
Hong Kong has long had a special status within China, with more freedoms and participation than is common in the rest of the country. In recent years, however, the Chinese government has strengthened its grip on the city, including electoral reforms and a security law that allows the suppression of protests and various media outlets.
It goes without saying that both sides in this conflict have a radically different view of these facts. According to China, vandals have been organizing riots in Hong Kong for months, while Hong Kongers talk about peaceful protests for more democracy.
So that battle seems to have escalated on the pages of Wikipedia as well. The Hong Kong security law means, among other things, that newspapers such as Apple Daily were closed and journalists were arrested. That climate of repression continues online as well. For example, in recent months, according to the news site Hong Kong Free Press, there has been ‘election manipulation’ in the election of new administrators, who had to ensure that volunteers from the mainland were elected. Those admins have more rights to edit articles but also access to more user data.
There are said to plan, among other things, to report Hong Kong volunteers to the city’s police so that they too could be arrested under the security law. It led to a situation where Hong Kong volunteers feared for their freedom if they made adjustments to politically sensitive articles.