Content moderation on Wikipedia
- September 8, 2022
- Posted by: OptimizeIAS Team
- Category: DPN Topics
Content moderation on Wikipedia
- On Tuesday, India summoned officials of Wikipedia, in response to cricketer Arshdeep Singh’s Wikipedia page being edited with misleading information that stated he was a “khalistani”.
What is Wikipedia and its model for functioning?
- Since its inception in 2001, Wikipedia has become a household name. It describes itself as a “multilingual free online encyclopedia written and maintained by a community of volunteers through open collaboration and a wiki-based editing system”. This means that anyone can contribute to its pool of knowledge by making edits to existing pages for updation or correction and can even add new pages.
Are there no control mechanisms for content on Wikipedia?
- Even though majority of the content is user generated, the Wikimedia Foundation has instituted some content moderation practices.
- First, to increase its reliability and also to prevent vandalism and disruptive edits, over time restrictions have been placed on edits to the content that Wikipedia hosts. One of these restrictions is to allow certain “protections” to be accorded to particular pages.
- A page may have varying degree of protection depending on the vulnerability of the page to vandalism, disruption and abuse.
- For example, one of the highest levels of protection that can be accorded to a page is “full protection”. This means that only those users (called administrators) that have been given full edit rights (as per Wikipedia community review process) can make modifications.
- A slightly lower level of protection is “semi protection”. “Semi protected” pages cannot be edited by unregistered users.
- Another category of protection is “pending changes”, which means that changes made will not be reflected on the page unless the changes are accepted by an editor with those rights.
- Second, given that edit rights are widespread there have been instances of “content disputes” and “edit warring”. Content disputes occur when editors disagree with each other’s content. This could also lead to edit warring where editors repeatedly override each other’s contribution in a specific page. In such circumstances also, administrators can provide temporary or permanent protection to a page to prevent edits.
Therefore, can the Wikimedia Foundation be held responsible for the content that Wikipedia hosts?
What can the Indian government do if it is aggrieved by content on Wikipedia?
- In India, for intermediaries to claim the “safe harbour” of not being responsible for the content they host, under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, they must abide by due diligence requirements under the Act and its Rules.
- As per the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, there are certain categories of information that an intermediary should not allow to be hosted or uploaded on its platform. One such category is information that is “patently false and untrue, and is written or published in any form, with the intent to mislead or harass a person, entity or agency for financial gain or to cause any injury to any person”. Therefore, in the Indian context, even if the Wikimedia Foundation does not own the information hosted on Wikipedia, once Wikimedia Foundation has “actual knowledge” of such content being hosted on its platform, it would be held responsible for the same.
- In the context of the IT Rules, 2021 “actual knowledge” occurs when an intermediary has been notified by either a court order or through an order of the appropriate agency demanding removal of the offending content. In this case while neither has happened, Wikipedia administrators and editors have removed the distortion from Arshdeep Singh’s page and granted it certain protection such that only “trusted editors” can edit the page.
- Moreover, this is not the only recourse that the government has at its disposal. Previously, in 2020, the government had asked the Wikimedia Foundation to remove a map from one of its pages that incorrectly showed Aksai Chin to be a part of China. In that instance, the government had threatened the use of section 69A, Information Technology Act, 2000 for violating the territorial integrity of India. An order under section 69A would have led to Wikipedia being blocked from rendering its services in India. The Wikimedia Foundation had stated that Wikipedia volunteer editors had taken note of the grievance and were working towards ensuring that the information met Wikipedia’s quality standards.