Wikipedia Did Not Ban Qatar (Not Exactly)

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Wikipedia founder Jim Wales wants everybody to know that he or his editing team did not ban the entire country of Qatar. While he shouts that correction to the zealous blogosphere, we are suddenly chilled at David Utter’s proclamation that the Scoop is dead.

So how many times can you cry wolf in the blogosphere before the wolf comes back and bites you when nobody’s looking anymore? So far, it appears limitless. Those linking are either forgiving or forgetful; or they’re very accepting of point, point, point, oops, revise, revise, apologize.

A message from Jim “Jimbo” Wales, at Wikipedia’s User Talk:

If you came here from a news headline saying that Wikipedia has banned all of Qatar, please pop right back over there and post in the comments that the story is not true. This IP number was temporarily blocked for less than 12 hours, and a block of an entire nation would go absolutely against Wikipedia policy.

Yesterday, while the rest of us were nursing the side effects of a proper New Year’s Eve party, Slashdot and TechCrunch reported that Qatar was now Wiki-persona-non-grata. And to be fair to them, that is sort of how it appeared as explained at Wikipedia.

But that the whole country was blocked was the unintended consequence of trolling for vandals. And it wasn’t an outright block. Wikipedia disallowed users from from anonymously editing entries. The problem was that IP address is the only IP address for 885,000 people, through the only ISP in the country.

“Talk about a sensational headline,” comments Erik Kalviainen at TechCrunch, referring to Michael Arrington’s “Wikipedia Bans Qatar” post title. “More accurately ‘Wikipedia prohibits anonymous edits from Qatar’s only IP address.’ Not quite as catchy, I guess.”

From Wales’ heated entry at Wikipedia, it was the headline that was most bothersome, and TechCrunch and Slashdot were the chief offenders. Jimbo was sure to be one of the first commentators in Arrington’s thread:

Well, that ip number was only blocked for 8 hours, and was already unblocked 6 hours ago. This sort of thing is completely routine and not newsworthy. What’s newsworthy is that we are LESS likely to block ip numbers like this, i.e. that we TRY to keep them blocked* for the minimum possible time.

This small rift in the blogosphere carries with it two larger issues that should be addressed in all things Web 2.0 (or in the upgrade, Web 3.0?). The first, as alluded to earlier, is the point and click light speed nature of real time information.

“Sometimes it almost seems people would be better served if the information came at a slightly slower pace,” writes Mr. Utter, whom I will now refer to as Yogi.

But also, as commentators address at Tech Crunch, it brings up something Wales should consider as his user-generated knowledge phenom develops. Anonymous editing, especially on sensitive topics (the BBC reports the vandals in this case targeted entries on the US, sex, and Muhammad’s birthday), should be revisited to decide if that’s really the way to go.

The wikiality of it is, though Wales believes “anonymous editing rocks,” that while anonymity removes the fear of speaking, it also removes accountability.

This won’t be an issue easily resolved; it’s too much along the lines of security vs. freedom debates. But we might find that as Wikipedia gains eyeballs and scores of faithful knowledge-seekers, accountability may be necessary.

*Original comment said “unblocked.” Wales follows up with the correction.


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Wikipedia Did Not Ban Qatar (Not Exactly)
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  • Shi-Hsia Hwa

    Thanks for the information on IP address blocks. I found this article because some idiot at my university has been blocked on Wikipedia, and the resulting IP address range block means that I have to log in to my account to edit anything while at work. The vandal is apparently interested in ancient Near Eastern history, a topic which I’ve never written about on Wiki or elsewhere.

    I understand fully that the Wikipedia administrators do this with the intention of preventing vandalism, but I hope they can find a better way to filter out trolls and sockpuppets without blocking innocent users.

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