On its surface, Wikipedia seems like a tremendous thing: create a globally accessible online encyclopedia, constantly expanded, updated, and corrected by the entire Internet community. And, indeed, the project has gained substantial momentum over the years, sprouting innumerable localized versions and finding the accuracy of its science articles favorably compared to the famed Encyclopedia Britannica.
Yet the collaborative nature of Wikipedia makes it vulnerable to pranks, article vandalism, and users editing articles to put their preferred spin on events, people, and topics. Last year, Wikipedia saw U.S. political operatives engaged in partisan vandalism as they malevolently edited articles describing political opponents; now, Wikipedia has slapped a 12-hour ban on anonymous posts originating from the Persian Gulf state of Qatar due to “chronic vandalism and spam”.
According to Wikipedia, the organization originally placed a 30-day block on a particular IP address in Qatar to prevent further acts of abuse. The IP address turned out to be a proxy server belonging to QTel, Qatar’s only ISP, meaning the block potentially applied to a wide range of Internet users throughout the entire nation of Qatar. Wikipedia topics vandalized included pages about sex, the United States, and the birthday of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
Qatar is one of the wealthiest Middle Eastern nations, with a total population of about 630,000. It is also the home of the Al-Jazeera Arabic television news network.
According to Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales, the address ban was in place for less than 12 hours, and an outright block of an entire nation “would go absolutely against Wikipedia policy” and would never be undertaken without extensive attempts to resolve issued through other channels.
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