Chapman University’s Dr. Shira Klein is available to speak to the recent ruling by Wikipedia’s arbitration committee in response to her February study documenting Wikipedia’s distortion of the Holocaust, which went viral with more than 40,000 views.
In an unprecedented move, the Arbitration Committee (Wikipedia’s so-called Supreme Court) opened an arbitration case on its own, trying to determine for itself what went awry. Both the distorters and their opponents are highly active in this case. The committee’s (ArbCom) May 11 verdict was anticipated to determine whether Wikipedians are willing to fight disinformation. However, the ruling misses the mark entirely when it comes to confronting the falsification of history, says Klein, associate professor of history at Chapman University.
“There is a systemic problem here that goes way beyond the distortion of Holocaust history. Indeed, this problem should concern every human on the planet. This is the seventh most viewed site in the world, yet the safeguards Wikipedia has in place for battling disinformation are scarily ineffective,” says Klein. “If the history of the Holocaust is permitted to be distorted, the same is probably true for other cases we have yet to discover. With ChatGPT amplifying Wikipedia on an unprecedented scale, this new failure is all the more worrying.”
The ruling bans two distortionist editors from the topic area, but the ruling is appealable in 12 months. The proposed remedies lack depth and consequence, says Klein.
“By ignoring the egregiously false content our article flagged for them, and focusing only on editors’ conduct (e.g. uncivil language), Wikipedia has once again failed, and miserably so,” Klein says. “The arbitrators have done nothing about source misrepresentation, or about using fringe sources, which are the crux of the problem. So the message of this case is, there’s no problem with falsifying the past; just be nice about it. This has tragic results: they have just banned an editor who had brought in trustworthy scholarship, and let another editor go free who has authored blatantly antisemitic content.”
The arbitrators are not historians, Klein adds. “They have zero content expertise, so they have no idea when an editor is spinning lies. More than that: They are bound by Wiki policy to steer clear of content. ArbCom was simply the wrong solution to begin with. What they should have done, which some editors suggested, was to ask historians for help.”