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IT Ministry summons Wikipedia officials for vandalism on cricketer’s page


The Indian Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology has summoned officials from Wikipedia for vandalism on the page of cricketer Arshdeep Singh, the Economic Times reported on Monday. The ministry did not make the summons public.

Since Pakistan’s victory against India at the 2022 Asia Cup on Sunday, Singh’s Wikipedia page has been the subject of what the site’s volunteer editors termed “persistent vandalism,” with users either changing his team to Pakistan, or claiming in the article lede that he was part of a “Khalistani” team.

The Wikimedia Foundation told Entrackr in a statement that the vandalism was undone quickly. “Unlike for profit technology companies, Wikipedia is governed by principles of reliability, neutrality and transparency– the platform model, which does not include ads or tracking of users, is intended to de-incentivize the spread of viral content and misinformation,” the foundation said.

According to a review of the edits by Entrackr, the first such edit was made on Sunday by a user with an IP address assigned by PTCL, a Pakistani state-owned telecom company. 27 edits followed in rapid succession, with users undoing or restoring that vandalism. Eventually, cfred, a volunteer Wikipedia administrator from the United States, semi-protected Singh’s page, preventing unregistered users and new accounts from making further changes to the page for some time.

The right wing ecosystem amplified word of this vandalism to the point where it may have reached the government, even as Wikipedia editors worked quietly to combat it. A right wing Twitter user’s post on the vandalism shortly past midnight received over 9,000 retweets as of this article’s publication. OpIndia, a right wing publication, blamed fact checker Mohammed Zubair for the vandalism, even though all Zubair did was point out how dozens of Twitter users were calling Arshdeep a Khalistani for a dropped catch during the match.

Wikipedia pages are written and edited by volunteers, and even administrators are long-term volunteers who have built up some credibility with the community. As such, the summons puts the foundation in a tight spot, as it generally resists any attempt at country-specific censorship.

The foundation warned the Indian government in 2019 that the IT Rules, which were notified in 2021, would harm free expression online. “We remain concerned that requirements in the bill will hinder our mission to provide free access to knowledge in India,” the foundation said in a letter to then IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

“Requirements to quickly and automatically remove content that may be illegal in one jurisdiction without meeting globally accepted human rights standards are also antithetical to Wikipedia’s global perspective and reach,” Wikimedia said. That position is now under attack, as the government has reportedly asked Wikimedia about the “checks and balances of edits” on its platform, a potential prelude to an uncomfortable demand that might have major implications for Wikipedia in India.

Update (9:30pm): Added statement by the Wikimedia Foundation.

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