Jimbo’s 2015 Wikimania speech

Wikimania 2015 – Jimmy Wales “State of the Wiki: Free Expression and Wikipedia”

Video at YouTube and Commons.  Crossposted to Wikisource.


Clausura_Wikimanía_2015_Jimbo_WalesHello. [Applause] Wooo.

Okay, so,  I always used to say that this was my most difficult speech of the year because…and people say ooh, is it a hostile audience? I say, no, they’re a great audience, they love everything about it, but the problem is that they know more about Wikipedia than I do, so that always makes it very difficult.  So, over the years, my talk has become more and more…ceremonial, more and more traditional, and there’s a lot of fun things that we do.

We’re going to start off with a thingy about how long people have been editing Wikipedia.  And so I want everybody to stand up if you were editing Wikipedia by 2015.  So, if you edited this year or before, then everybody stand up. Which means basically everybody stand up. [to Jan-Bart de Vreede, outgoing chair of WMF Board of Trustees, sitting next to Lila Tretikov in the audience] “you’ve never edited?”…[de Vreede holds up one finger] “at least once?”

And so now stay standing up if you started 2014 or before. Ooh, not many people sat down.  2013 or before.  Okay, we’re losing a few people now.  So stay standing up if you edited in 2012 or before.  Wow, this is getting to be quite a lot of people. 2011.  Oooh, quite a lot of old-timers here. 2010. 2009. 2008. 2007. 2006. 2005. I’m seeing a little bit more gray hair in the audience now. [laughter] 2004. 2003.  Wow. [applause] 2002. Ah, a handful of people I know. James in the back. And finally 2001. I think it’s Florence(?)–was there any others? Florence and me, we’re the old-timers now.

[2:39] But I also want to do something new that I’ve not done in the past, and this is, I’m going to just do two years.  This is not how long you’ve been editing, but how many Wikimanias you’ve attended. So how many people here have attended at least five Wikimanias, could you stand up.  Great. [Applause] And how many have attended at least ten Wikimanias, this is the decade club.  So this is the … Woo. [laughter and applause] So, I used to do this countdown, and it was always fewer and fewer people who had attended all the Wikimanias, and I just thought, from now on we actually should do the decade club. The five year club and the decade club, so it’s a growing club every year. ‘Cause I’m sure there’s quite a number of people out there who are 8 or 9 years and there’s also will be people who were with us in the early years but missed one here and there, who just will come back pretty soon.

Formal Recognition

[3:39] So one of the things in terms of the state of the wiki is that this year we’ve gotten a couple of really amazing pieces of formal recognition—major European awards.  One of them, quite well-known of course in the Spanish-speaking world, but well-known globally, is the Princess of Asturias Award. [applause] It’s amazing. The thing that I really am happy about this award is that we won in the category of international cooperation, and people often think of Wikipedia as a technology story. Sometimes they get the idea it’s a story about knowledge, but very seldom are we recognized for being a group that really promotes international cooperation which is obviously very, very visible here at Wikimania.  We’ve been given as well another prestigious prize, the Erasmus Prize. This one is awarded by the king and the queen of the Netherlands, again, a very great honor.

Stroopwafels and the Dutch conspiracy[4:39] For me one of the fantastic things—and everybody who is a Wikipedian will have encountered this—one of the fantastic and annoying and fun things about working Wikipedia is how many people you run into who have a conspiracy theory.  We’re always coping with crazy conspiracy theorists who are telling us crazy things, and I say, you know, we have respect for everyone, let’s help the conspiracy theorists.  Here’s my conspiracy theory. [laughter]  The Dutch monarchy secretly controls Wikipedia. Now, proof? Of course there’s proof, even if some of it is a little bit “citation needed”.   First of all, Jan-Bart is Dutch. [laughter] He also wears the royal family color orange. [powerpoint slide of Jan-Bart de Vreede in orange].  Here’s King Willem-Alexander.  Also wears orange.  Ha, then we come to our new chair, Patricio [Lorente].   So the theory has a few weaknesses, right?  He’s Argentinian.  Orange?  Well, bear with me, there’s proof. [Photo of orange-faced Lorente] I photoshopped him [laughter] to be orange.  And also Queen Máxima of the Netherlands is wearing orange…and is also Argentinian. [photo of Queen Máxima] Coincidence?–you decide.

Freedom of Expression

[6:04] Okay, well that’s enough fun.  Now I get to the meat of what I wanted to talk about this year. One of the big issues that faces Wikipedians, something that we all take very seriously, is the issue of freedom of expression. And I want to talk a little bit about freedom of expression and some of the things that the Wikimedia foundation is doing, some of the things we in the community are doing and facing. So one of the first things that I encourage everyone to do is to go and take a look at transparency.wikimedia.org.  This is the number of requests from governments to modify or remove content from Wikipedia.  As you can see, our legal department is not someone you want to tangle with.  The number of requests granted: zero.  Woo. [applause] Now, this is something that people in this room will understand, I think, better than people outside the movement.  People outside the movement who who hear this might think Wikipedia never takes anything down.  People post horrible things and they refuse.  That’s not it at all. One of the reasons this number is so low is that we as a community are so responsible for making sure that we have reliable sources, that crazy stuff doesn’t get put into Wikipedia.  So, the best way if somebody’s got a genuine complaint is to come to the community and say, here’s a problem, and we always try really hard to fix it.  And if they don’t like it, even after we fix it—it’s almost never the case—that the Foundation would step in to do anything about it.  So far, zero point zero percent. I’m really, really proud of that and Geoff (Brigham) [points towards audience], really proud of the legal team for their approach [applause].

What people fear

[7:41] So, when we think about governments trying to manipulate Wikipedia, here’s what people outside Wikipedia fear. Most people assume that it would be just very easy for a government to come in and edit Wikipedia and basically control the information in Wikipedia simply by editing.  But we all know this is seldom true.  It’s very hard to sneak things by the community.  Obviously there’s always a little bit of noise around the edges, not just from governments but from PR companies and things like this, but by and large we understand this problem and it’s not a super terrible problem.  It’s something that we always have to be conscious of and grapple with.  What I”m more concerned about is three kinds of cases.  And I’m going to give two specifics, and one is more of a philosophical thing for us all to reflect on.

[8:25] So one, obviously, filtering and blocking, and China is the biggest example of that. I’ll talk about that in some detail.  Another is intimidation or pressure on individual Wikipedians.  There are many cases I could discuss around the world, but there’s one I want to talk about in particular in Venezuela, just because it’s a classic type of example that we need to think about and we need to think about how we can strongly support our Wikipedia volunteers.  And then the philosophical problem, which is: if the government controls all the reliable sources in a language, or “reliable” sources, or if some users are excluded, what does that mean for Wikipedia.


[9:02] So first thing I want to talk about is China.  China, of course…we have had long-standing issues with blocking and filtering.  We were completely banned in China for about three years, then we were open to China for quite a long time. I visited the minister in China twice.  He’s visited me in San Francisco a couple of times.  And we got to a kind of a stand-off position where they filtered certain pages. We, of course, will never cooperate in that filtering, but we can’t stop people from filtering their own network.  And, you know, it seemed fairly stable.  But recently we were blocked again, completely blocked in China. And because we’ve moved to HTTPS everywhere, actually the process of negotiating with the Chinese government to get unblocked I believe is going to be more difficult.  So, I’m really busy next week, but the next week is devoted to basically beginning the process of outreach, working with the Foundation and the Foundation legal department to try to make the proper approach to the Chinese authorities to see what we can do about this…(shrugs).  Well, we’ll see what we can do, but I’m not sure.  So that’s a really interesting problem and one that I fear is going to become a bigger problem in other countries in years to come.


[10:15] I’m going to talk about Venezuela.  And this is just an example. This is one user, who gave permission for me to talk about his story. But I think it’s illustrative.  There are other Wikipedians around the world who face similar types of problems.  So this user is an active participant in many protests throughout 2014, 2015, helped to draft the English Wikipedia article on the protests, and began adding articles on Venezuelan political figures from January.

jimbo wikimania venezuelaBAs a photographer, took this picture in particular, and after he began covering this information, by updating photographs of the protests, etc., he began to receive anonymous threatening calls, first to the father, then to him, saying you don’t know who you’re playing with. So he cancelled his phone and went to another country.  Then he was told that his passport has been cancelled, and so he was unable to return home.  And it’s all very complicated. He can’t return home, and he probably can’t stay, so he’s in a bit of a situation at the moment. He only manages to talk to his family over Skype. They’re very careful not to discuss any political issues because he’s concerned about reprisals against his family.

The important thing to understand about this user is, he’s not a particularly political person.  He wasn’t using Wikipedia to organize protests.  He was merely documenting in a neutral manner the facts on the ground there. These are the kinds of problems that some Wikipedia face, and we as the community really need to help people like this in whatever small ways we can.   One of the things we need to do is think about security, think about helping people find new user names, all the kinds of things that they are asking us to do, we should try to help if we possibly can.

Philosophical problem

[11:58] The next thing I wanted to talk about is a bit of a philosophical problem, and this is something that I think a lot about and I encourage you to think a lot about. Unfortunately I’m raising questions for which I don’t have any very good answers.

[12:11] So, Wikipedia always relies on high quality third party sourcing.  This is one of the bedrock principles of Wikipedia: is “citation needed”. We want to find good sources.  But in some places, the governments get control of all the sources in that language.  So, our Venezuelan friend I was just talking about was talking about how the Venezuelan government controls now almost all the newspapers and all the television stations. But they don’t control the entire Spanish language media, of course, and so that is a lesser ability to control what happens.  But in some languages, the language is only spoken within one country, so that all of the sources that the community finds easy to use are …corrupted, basically.  And this becomes very difficult.  So then it becomes necessary, if the community wants to write good quality material that’s neutral, to use sources from outside the country, which means outside the language. But obviously, for Wikipedians, in some places that’s very, very difficult.  Fewer people, you know, a small subset of people, will be able to get the English language press, and so on.  And oftentimes, the foreign media, wherever you are based, they may cover the large issues, but they may not cover local politics and local issues, which are incredibly important. And so, in those cases, the only sources that are available are “apparently” reliable sources, but we know that they are controlled and one-sided. And that’s really problematic, and I don’t think that we right now have a really good solution for that.

[13:34] The other thing is that if some users are excluded through a filter, or a block outside the country or inside the country, then bias of other users becomes more prominent.  My favorite example of this, and it’s actually one of the arguments that I will be using with the Chinese government is, if the Chinese government blocks Wikipedia, then the only people who can edit Wikipedia are people who are outside of China. Which inherently means that the perspective of the Taiwanese, the Hong Kong, the Chinese diaspora everywhere, becomes the dominant perspective, because almost no one can edit from within China. This is a problem, and probably a problem that is negative for China.  So, one of the things I always tell them is, you’re not just blocking information from coming into the country, you’re blocking the Chinese people from speaking to the rest of the world, and that’s a really critical thing. But it does mean that in places where there are filters, it means that some subset of potential users is not allowed to edit. Others are, and there may be some systemic bias in where they’re coming from, that may be hard to correct.   Now, this one I think the community, by being thoughtful and cautious, can deal with that. Certainly, I would trust the Taiwanese and the Hong Kong Wikipedians to be careful to think about the Chinese mainland perspective as they’re writing. But interest in what people find fascinating and worth writing about will be different, and it does change the character of the work. So I think this is very, very interesting.


[14:59] So, for me personally, I’ve decided I’m stepping up my personal efforts, in the area of freedom of speech. As many of you may have heard, earlier this year, actually it was last December, I went to Dubai to give a speech, and they surprised me when I arrived and said, well, you and Tim Berners-Lee are sharing a prize, five hundred thousand dollars each, the knowledge prize.  And I said, Oh, wow, that’s amazing, and sort of, started to think about it.  I’d never even anticipated something like this happening. And then I started looking at the human rights record of Dubai, in particular, freedom of speech, in particular, the treatment of certain on-line media.  And I realized I couldn’t–this was coming directly from the leader of Dubai–I felt I couldn’t in good conscience keep this money, but I also couldn’t in good conscience give it back, to someone I think is a very bad person. [applause] So, what I decided to do is to set up the Jimmy Wales foundation for freedom of expression. So I put all the money–I’m putting all the money–into the foundation. Obviously, five hundred thousand dollars is not a lot of money. You know, it’s not the Gates Foundation, unfortunately. But I am going to try and have some impact.  The basic concept and the mission, is two-fold. So, one: in many, many cases all around the world, people contact me sometimes and they say, Oh Jimmy they’re about to pass this terrible law that’s against freedom of expression. It will impact our work as Wikipedians, it will impact bloggers. Can you write an editorial for the newspapers, they’ll print what you say, and it can have some influence on raising awareness of the issue. In the past typically, I’ve tried to do it sometimes, but I’ve mostly had to decline, because I don’t have time to research the latest… law in Australia or something like this, right? It becomes very difficult. So now, I will have time to do that sort of thing. I’ve hired Orit Kopel… if she could stand up, so you’ll all know her. She’s a human rights lawyer, based in London. [applause] This is also her third Wikimania. So she’s been well known to the Wikimedia community in Israel for a while.

So, the one thing we want to do is sort of give me the ability to have a louder voice and actually speak on those issues.  And the other thing is to actually provide assistance, legal assistance, shining a light on, raising awareness, helping coordinate other NGOs who are doing work for people specifically in the digital space, so bloggers who are being persecuted, people who are arrested for something political they said on Twitter, but importantly, and obviously nearest and dearest to my heart is Wikipedians in trouble. Again, five hundred thousand dollars is not enough to fully fund massive legal cases, but it is enough for me to be able to help people find legal resources and to have someone, or two people, who can be full time on trying to assist. One of the things I want to do is ask for your help, because a lot of times I hear about a story and I realize I only heard about the story six months after it happened.  I just want you to know that I’m here to hear these stories, and I have a little bit of resources to be able to actually focus some attention and to help.

[18:18] One of the problems in this area is that information is hard to come by. It’s very difficult sometimes to understand what’s going on.  In preparation for this speech, I had heard some good things about Farsi Wikipedia. Now obviously in Iran, there are some issues around freedom of expression, there are some very sensitive topics, and I’d heard that the Farsi Wikipedia does a really good job of maintaining neutrality and being very, very careful about these things.  So, I decided to go and look at one of the entries—I just was doing this the other day, so I didn’t have time to actually ask a Wikipedian to help me.  I went to the Farsi Wikipedia—this is the entry for homosexuality—and I thought, well, I’ll just try to get the gist of what’s going on here, so I ran it through Google Translate, which is never a good idea. Let me actually zoom in a little bit so we can read this. This is kind of interesting: “Gay provided the English word for gay men usually have the word Lesbian or …Wales?” Wales???  “Lesbian or Wales?” Google Translate, you keep using these words; I do not think they mean, what you think they mean.

[19:35] So the point is, when I hear about a case involving freedom of expression, it will be really helpful to me to know some people who are interested.  Just, you know, get in touch with us and register your interest, so when we hear about a case, we can come and ask you. You know, because sometimes you hear, you know, it’s terrible, this blogger has been arrested in such-and-such a country. Then when you really start to dig into the case, you realize they were actually making violent death threats.  Okay, that’s not the kind of case I’m interested in.  It’s very hard for someone outside to really understand what is somebody being persecuted for, and does it make for a really good solid case to make public.

[20:08] So now we come to ..that’s the end of my freedom of speech part, for the most part.  And we come back to the ceremonial part. And this is my award that I give every year for Wikipedian of the Year.

Wikipedian of the year

[20:20] In 2014, those of you who were here last year in London, you remember I put up, and I said, future process for Wikipedian of the year.  I said, look, I’ve made this page and we’re going to have a community consultation.  We’re going to think about how this award is given, instead of me just making it up out of my head every year. And so what happened is, here’s the same page yesterday. I got one comment.  And that’s my fault:  I didn’t actually carry on and actually set up a community process.  So I would love to have some people get in touch with me and help me through that process.

There’s a couple of interesting things about this, though. I got a few emails from people saying, look, one of the problems is, if we just have a big vote on Meta, the biggest problem is, the process should highlight contributors in small projects–that’s been the tradition, and it’s something that I would want to continue–then the process shouldn’t just be a popularity contest.  We don’t want the winner of this every year to be, you know, a popular editor on English Wikipedia because they can get the most votes. So, when I say a community process, I’m not even sure I know what I mean by that.  I think probably it might mean a volunteer committee or people appointed by me or partly by the chapters–I don’t know exactly–where people can quietly deliberate, and really think this through and make choices according to a set of principles that aren’t just about popularity. They’re about highlighting interesting people and doing interesting things.  So, we’ll see what happens next year. I might just be up here telling you what I thought up, or maybe will have done some kind of a process.

Wikipedian of the year 2015

Bishop_Kung in pectore[21:49] For this year, this just comes directly from me, and I’m going to tell a little bit of history before I give the award.  This is Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei. He was a Catholic leader in China, and …a leader of the Catholic church there. And he was imprisoned along with many priests and church leaders in 1955, and was only released in 1986. So, I’m not a Catholic, but I think that people should be able to express their religious beliefs, and to work in a religious manner, unmolested, and so I have a lot of sympathy for this case.  But what’s really interesting, is that there’s been a long tradition and it’s very rare, in which the pope, who chooses the cardinals of the church, which are the ultimate body who choose the next pope and so forth—he can make someone a cardinal in a process called in pectore, which means he makes someone a cardinal but he doesn’t tell anyone. He doesn’t name the person.  And the main reason he does this, is if the safety of that person would be put at risk if they were named publicly.  So he made him a cardinal. This guy, when he got out of prison in ’86, he eventually came to Rome.  And the pope told him in 1989, by the way, you’re a cardinal; I just didn’t mention it.

So for 2015, I learned of a remarkable case of a Wikipedian, but to name this person would put them into danger, and I’ve been asked not to do it. And so the Wikipedian of the year 2015 is …in pectore.  One of our brave heroic colleagues, who, I hope in a few years time I can tell you the whole story. [applause]

In Memorium

[23:39] So now, Wikipedian of the year is always just one award, it’s one person, it’s always a very, very difficult choice.  And so I just wanted to go through a few other people and recognize and honor them.  The first one is in memorium, so… I can’t possibly begin to pronounce the name. I know there’s some people here from Maithili Wikipedia, but Babu Ji I can pronounce.  I heard this story about Babu Ji. Babu Ji was born in 1938. Seven decades later, in 2008, was his first edit to Wikipedia. So, 70 years old.  And over a few years time, he created, started, and expanded in a major way 1,935 articles, he uploaded 350 images, and he passed away earlier this year.  And he was quite a father figure to the Maithili community and I thought he deserves some recognition, so a round of applause, please.

Honorable mention

[24:32] And then I’ve got a couple of honorable mentions. These are people who are doing amazing work, in Wikipedia again, who deserve some recognition.  We have Susanna [Mkrtchyan]. And I think she should come up on stage.  I’m sure she’s in the room somewhere.  Susanna can you come up?  Yes, here she comes. If you look at her name you might think I’m giving this award on the basis of having the most number of consonants in a row with no vowels, so I’m not even going to attempt to pronounce her last name, but I’ve got a little bit written up here.  I’d like to recognize—Susanna, how do you…? [crosstalk] “Muckurchon”…just like it’s written …from Armenia.  Susanna has been instrumental in the Armenian Wikipedia community and initiating off-wiki activities, including a massive awareness campaign under the slogan “One Armenian, One article”.  She’s organized national wiki conferences and a very successful program called Wikicamp. [applause] Wikicamp is a summer camp for youth which includes intensive training and contribution to Wikipedia and Wiktionary.  She’s innovative, collaborative, and collegial, and a model Wikipedian.  Congratulations.

[26:09] We’ve got one more honorable mention, Satdeep Gill. I believe he’s here as well. Please come to the front?  Here he comes, from way in the back. Satdeep is one of the most active Punjabi editors. His father Turan (?) whom he recruited is the most active editor. Is your father here? (Satdeep: “No.”) He should have come, he might have beat you for the award. He’s been organizing and teaching workshops on university campuses, encouraging his peers to contribute to the Punjabi Wikipedia, which serves one hundred million speakers, so this is a major language. Punjabi Wikipedia was growing very slowly for several years, but Satdeep and his efforts directly and indirectly have made Punjabi Wikipedia the fastest growing Indic Wikipedia in the past year, growing 80 percent in active editors over the last year. It’s amazing. [applause] He’s recently completed a series of 100 new articles in 100 days, part of the 100 wiki-days hashtag initiative, personal challenges, and adding covers to Punjabi Wikipedia about traffic from–oh I can’t even pronounce that word–Teotihuacan. [crosstalk] Is it Mexican? [laughter] Great, the pyramids. …through Judith Butler and Popeye the Sailorman—a very important topic, stream of consciousness. His dream is to unite the Punjabi Wikipedia with the Western Punjabi Wikipedia; two wikis, sharing one language, separated by a different writing script. And I think that a fantastic idea. So honorable mention: Satdeep.

And, that’s all for me. Thank you.


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