Following an investigation by the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), the foundation that oversees Wikipedia has permanently banned seven mainland Chinese ‘power users’ from its websites globally and revoked administrator access and privileges for an additional 12 other Chinese users.
The recent bans follow an in depth investigation by HKFP in July of this year where it was revealed that a quiet battle has been waging for years over Chinese language Wikipedia pages with contributors pushing political agendas and vying for top influential spots on the global information portal.
“Battles between competing editors of the crowd-sourced encyclopaedia’s articles about Hong Kong political events have been a daily occurrence since the beginning of the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests.” HKFP reported in July.
At the time, Hongkongers working to preserve information and narratives on Wikipedia concerning events in Hong Kong were being threatened by mainland Chinese contributors with the new National Security Law. Mainland contributors threatened to report Hongkonger contributors to the city’s national security police hotline.
A quiet raging battle
“Editing wars” ensued with mainland users “election canvassing” in a bid to secure coveted administrator access roles to Wikipedia.
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“Wikipedia hosts elections for users wishing to become administrators, who enjoy more access to users and greater powers to edit articles.” HKFP reported.
In an online statement published to the internet on Tuesday, Maggie Dennis, the Wikimedia Foundation’s vice president of community resilience & sustainability said an “unrecognized group” of Wikipedia users from mainland China were investigated by the Wikimedia Foundation which uncovered “security risks” relating to the “infiltration of Wikimedia systems, including positions with access to personally identifiable information and elected bodies of influence.”
The “unrecognized group” consists of almost 300 Wikipedia users known as Wikimedians of Mainland China(WMC), which unlike the Hong Kong user group (WMHKG) is not recognized by the foundation.
“What we have seen in our own movement includes not only people deliberately seeking to ingratiate themselves with their communities in order to obtain access and advance an agenda contrary to open knowledge goals, but also individuals who have become vulnerable to exploitation and harm by external groups because they are already trusted insiders.” Dennis stated in the statement.
It’s important to note that the Chinese government has blocked its citizens from accessing Wikipedia since 2019. Despite the site being blocked on the mainland, “unrecognized groups” continue to remain active in a bid to influence public opinion abroad on political matters in China.
Users ‘physically harmed’
The unprecedented move by the upper echelons of Wikipedia came in the wake of reports of users being “physically harmed as a result of such infiltration,” Dennis said.
Without going into detail Dennis confirmed that Wikipedia had “no choice but to act swiftly and appropriately in response,” to the reports of violence.
Dennis stated that the Wikipedia community is in danger of “attack through the extortion or potentially persecution of publicly identifiable people with access to personal information.”
One of the permanently banned users, going by the handle “Techyan” is said to be a founding member of the WMC while another user known as “Alexander Misel”, who had top-level access to Wikipedia websites, was also banned.
“Banned users will be blocked from using or creating alternative accounts. Attempts to secure anonymous access from known IP locations will also be blocked,” the HKFP reported.
Remaining users from the WMC responded to the bannings stating, “Use your actions to tell everyone the mainland user community is not made from clay. The more they suppress us, the more we will resist. Now is the time for you to stand up. Struggle, fail, struggle again and fail again, and struggle once more… until victory!”