Explained | Content moderation on Wikipedia

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Source: The post is based on the article “Explained | Content moderation on Wikipediapublished in The Hindu on 8th September 2022

What is the News?

India has 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?

Wikipedia is 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.

This model has its advantages so far that it allows democratization of knowledge and unhindered access to editing. But this has also resulted in concerns relating to the reliability of the information that it hosts.

What control mechanisms exist for content on Wikipedia?

To increase reliability and also to prevent vandalism and disruptive edits, restrictions have been placed on edits to the content that Wikipedia hosts. These restrictions include: 

First, it allows certain “protections” to be accorded to particular pages. A page may have varying degrees of protection depending on the vulnerability of the page to vandalism, disruption and abuse.

Second, given that edit rights are widespread there have been instances of “content disputes” and “edit warring”.In such circumstances also, administrators can provide temporary or permanent protection to a page to prevent edits.

How does the Wikimedia Foundation control Wikipedia?

Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit organization. It controls Wikipedia through: 

First, the foundation legally controls the servers on which Wikipedia’s content is hosted. This means that they are in control of the user activity information generated on the servers. 

Second, it also exercises control over who the “system administrators” of Wikipedia are. System administrators are in a position to exercise considerable power because they can take decisions of blocking users or reversing edits in some circumstances.

Can the Wikimedia Foundation be held responsible for the content that Wikipedia hosts?

There is no settled position on this. Typically, the architecture of Wikipedia is that of an intermediary i.e. it hosts content generated by its users. 

However, in previous challenges to content on Wikipedia, there have been rulings that the Wikimedia Foundation does not own the content, and does not have the legal responsibility for it. 

What can the Indian government do if it is aggrieved by content on Wikipedia?

In India, Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 provides intermediaries to claim the “safe harbour” of not being responsible for the content they host. But for this, 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.”

Therefore, in the Indian context, even if the Wikimedia Foundation does not own the information hosted on Wikipedia, once the Wikimedia Foundation has “actual knowledge” of such content being hosted on its platform, it would be held responsible for the same.

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