Wikimedia disputes claims of Saudi ‘infiltration’ of Wikipedia

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Two groups had reported that Wikipedia had been infiltrated by the Saudi government. (representative)

Dubai, United Arab Emirates:

The Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, has disputed a report by activists claiming it found evidence that the Saudi Arabian government “infiltrated” its team in the region.

The claim was made by Beirut-based digital rights group SMEX and Washington-based Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), founded by Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

In a joint statement on Thursday, the two groups claimed a Wikimedia investigation “revealed that the Saudi government had infiltrated the highest ranks of the region’s Wikipedia team.”

They cited “reliable sources and whistleblowers” for information.

“There are material inaccuracies in the SMEX/DAWN statement,” the US-based Foundation said in a statement later Thursday.

There was no finding in our investigation that the Saudi government was ‘infiltrating’ Wikipedia and influencing users, the parent organization said.

However, it said some users “who may have been Saudi” were among those it banned.

Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations.

A Wikimedia investigation last year ended with lifetime bans for 16 users who “engaged in significant conflict of interest operations and posed a threat to the safety of other users” in the Middle East, according to Wikimedia.

“A number of users with close ties to third parties were editing the platform in a coordinated manner to further the purpose of those parties,” it announced last month.

DAWN and SMEX had said the Foundation’s reference to “close ties” points to Saudi citizens acting as agents of the Saudi government.

“While we don’t know where these volunteers actually reside, the bans of volunteers who may have been Saudi were part of a much broader move that has banned 16 editors worldwide in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region,” the statement said. Wikimedia Foundation. in his new statement.

Wikimedia’s latest statement also made no reference to prison sentences reported by DAWN and SMEX, which could not be independently confirmed by AFP.

According to the activists, Saudi Arabia jailed one administrator for 32 years and sentenced another to eight years for refusing to comply with Saudi Arabia’s alleged infiltration efforts.

“Administrators” are volunteer administrators with privileged access to Wikipedia, including the ability to edit fully secure pages.

The arrest of Osama Khalid and Ziyad al-Sofiani on the same day in September 2020 “appears to be part of a crackdown on Wikipedia administrators in (Saudi Arabia)” in an effort to control content, the activists said.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)

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