Response to Niehaus vandalism

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Draft response to news report about vandalism on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Niehaus

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Statement by Wikimedia ZA

Wikipedia is the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, and exists in over 250 languages, including a number of South African languages. English Wikipedia has a particularly strict policy on biographies of living people, and any claim must be supported by a reference to a source for that claim. Edits that do not comply with this policy are reverted as soon as they are noticed by one of the automated patrol scripts or a patrolling volunteer editor. Blatant vandalism is usually reverted within minutes to hours, particularly on high profile articles, which are watched by a large number of editors, but more subtle or obscure edits may be missed for longer periods.

The content of the articles is written by people with different opinions. Whether the content is true is often debatable, but it should always be supported by a reliable source, and the article content emerges by a process of consensus.

The freedom for anyone to edit is a founding principle of Wikipedia, and means that no-one is prevented from contributing provided that they comply with the terms of use and project policies. This freedom can be misused, and it also means that people who want to slander others are able to vandalise the articles. This vandalism is usually cleaned up very quickly, which was also the case in the Carl Niehaus article.

The timeline of the vandalism shows how Wikipedia has active methods in place to counter vandalism, and that the Wikipedia community takes personal attacks seriously.

On 10 December 2017, someone who was not logged into the site (an "anonymous user") tried twice to add a vulgar insult to the page. This was cleaned up in less than a minute both times, the first time by "ClueBot NG" - a program that reviews Wikipedia edits and rejects obvious vandalism, and the second time by a Wikipedia user.

On 12 and 13 December, various anonymous users vandalised the page with insults against Mr. Niehaus, and this vandalism was again cleaned up by Wikipedia users and the same bot that cleaned up the initial vandalism.

None of this vandalism stayed on the page for a full day, and before the end of the 13th, a Wikipedia administrator had protected the page, so that unregistered users and new users are now blocked from editing the article.

People will always use free speech for good and bad purpose, for example in the comments below the PoliticsWeb article about this incident. On Wikipedia, by far the majority of the users use the platform to spread knowledge, and restricting people's ability to edit the articles freely is always a last resort, but it is used in cases like this where this freedom is being abused by people who choose to spread hatred.

As more people from South Africa start to edit Wikipedia, this kind of vandalism on South African articles is cleaned up ever faster, and at the same time, more local editors will also increase the quality and range of local content covered on Wikipedia. The public peer review process that makes Wikipedia so useful relies on members of the public correcting mistakes they find on the articles hosted on the site. The more people do this the stronger the peer review process becomes. As such we would like to use this unfortunate event to call on more people to be bold and make editorial contributions to Wikipedia articles. Especially articles on South African topics and especially articles written on other language Wikipedias such as isiXhosa, isiZulu, or Afrikaans Wikipedia.

Wikimedia ZA is a non-profit volunteer driven organisation that functions as the Wikimedia chapter for South Africa. The chapter exists to promote Wikimedia projects and values in the country such as Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, and Wikidata.

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