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Wikipedia’s ‘Supreme Court’ tackles alleged conspiracy to distort articles on Holocaust



(JTA) — When a pair of professors earlier this month published a paper accusing a group of Wikipedia editors from Poland of revising articles to distort the history of the Holocaust, their research went viral.

Most academic articles are seen by dozens or hundreds of people at best. This one, published in The Journal of Holocaust Research, hit more than 27,000 pageviews within weeks.

The paper’s reach was fueled by its analysis, unprecedented in the academic literature on Wikipedia, and its finding that a dedicated group has for some 15 years manipulated a source of information used by millions in ways that lay blame for the Holocaust on Jews and absolve Poland of almost any responsibility for its record of antisemitism.

The paper caught the eye of not just scholars and journalists but of the people in charge of resolving disputes over editing on crowd-sourced Wikipedia, the seventh-most popular website on the internet and one that is seen as the last bastion of shared truth in an ever-fracturing online environment.

Typically, disputes among Wikipedia editors are resolved through community consensus mechanisms, but occasionally those mechanisms fail and allegations are brought to Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee, a panel of elected editors known as Wikipedia’s Supreme Court

“Wikipedia is not exactly democratic but anarchistic in a way that actively discourages any sort of an authority coming to solve a dispute,” said Joe Roe, a veteran Wikipedia editor who served on the committee in 2019 and 2020. “The Arbitration Committee is a very limited exception.”

In this case, something especially unusual happened. The Arbitration Committee, or ArbCom, decided to look into the allegations without receiving a formal request to do so. No one could recall the committee taking such a step in its nearly two decades of existence. 

“A myopic decision here could result in untold numbers of people being fed a distorted view of Jewish/WWII history, which could have very real consequences given the recent amplification of violently antisemitic rhetoric by mainstream public figures,” wrote a user named SamX in a public post about the case. “ArbCom needs to get this right.”

The article that triggered the opening of the case was published under the title, “Wikipedia’s Intentional Distortion of the History of the Holocaust.” It accused 11 current and former editors of intentional distortions to numerous articles relating to the Holocaust in Poland. The paper referred to the editors by their usernames but also provided their real names if they had publicly identified themselves on Wikipedia message boards. 

“Due to this group’s zealous handiwork, Wikipedia’s articles on the Holocaust in Poland minimize Polish antisemitism, exaggerate the Poles’ role in saving Jews, insinuate that most Jews supported Communism and conspired with Communists to betray Poles, blame Jews for their own persecution, and inflate Jewish collaboration with the Nazis,” wrote co-authors Jan Grabowski, a historian at the University of Ottawa, and Shira Klein of the history department at Chapman University in Orange, California. 

Normally, mistakes on Wikipedia, whether intentional or not, can be quickly fixed by experienced editors who deploy a set of rules regarding sourcing and style. But in this case, the alleged distortionists know Wikipedia’s mechanisms well enough to at least appear to follow the rules and are willing to spend time arguing with other editors who step in to intervene. It becomes harder to get to the truth because they work to discredit established historians and prop up fringe voices to create the semblance of a real-world debate over historical events, according to the article. 

In one of the dozens of examples documented in the study, the alleged distortionists have tried to pass the self-published work of an antisemitic Polish writer named Ewa Kurek as a reliable source. Kurek has said that COVID-19 is a cover for an attempt by Jews to take over Europe and that Jews enjoyed life in Nazi ghettos. An editor named Volunteer Marek argued in a backstage conversation among editors that Kurek should be cited as any “mainstream scholar” would be. And another editor, working on an article about a 1941 massacre of Jews in Poland, added Kurek’s claim that minimized the number of Jewish victims and exonerated Polish perpetrators. 

Jewish school children pose for a portrait in the 1930s in Wizna, near Jedwabne, Poland. New research revealed that members of the Polish community killed their Jewish neighbors on July 10, 1941 during World War ll despite previous claims that Nazi Germans were entirely responsible. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski apologized for the massacre of hundreds of Jews by their neighbors during ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the murders. (Laski Diffusion/Getty Images)

One thing the research didn’t discuss is what motivates these editors to invest so much time and effort into distorting Wikipedia. Klein said the omission was deliberate. 

“We’ve been very careful not to make any assumptions on what drives them or what their politics are,” Klein said. “Instead, we’ve tried to focus just on what they’ve done, which is in the written record. And as we say in the article, we don’t see any evidence of them being tied to a government or being in the service of anyone else.”

Klein’s disclaimer obliquely points to a larger challenge around the historical record of the Holocaust in Poland. A central tenet of the country’s ruling Law and Justice party is defending the image of ethnic Poles and imposing nationalist narratives on the past, especially the period of World War II. While history shows that many Poles participated in the persecution of Jews, Poland’s nationalist right insists on portraying Poles only as victims or heroes. 

In 2018, the Polish government passed what’s known as the Polish Holocaust Law, which makes it illegal to slander the Polish nation or blame the country for Nazi crimes. In practice, the law has served to censor scholars and chill debate. 

Grabowski, Klein’s co-author on the paper, has for years sparred with the nationalist right over Poland’s historical memory. He sued a Polish group that accused him of publishing lies about Polish history in 2018, and in 2021 was ordered by a Polish court to apologize for his research before an appeals court ultimately overturned the order

Domestically, Poland’s ultranationalists have largely won the war over the public discourse, which has freed them to focus on the global scene, where English-language Wikipedia is regarded as a major battlefront. 

In this atmosphere, even something as basic as the background of Yiddish novelist and Nobel prize laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer can become fodder for debate. For years, Singer was at the center of a fight between two editors over whether Singer was best described in the first line of his Wikipedia article as a Jewish or Polish author. The eventual compromise — “Polish-born Jewish American” — lasted for almost two years until Feb. 23 when someone again dropped the “Jewish.”

The Wikipedia editors now being accused of distorting articles to further nationalist narratives have rejected the allegations against them. 

“I have not engaged in any ‘Holocaust distortion,’ on Wikipedia or anywhere else. I am not a ‘right-wing Polish nationalist,’” said Volunteer Marek in a public comment on a Wikipedia message board that was endorsed by at least one other alleged distortionist. “I am not part of some nefarious ‘Polish conspiracy’ on Wikipedia which seeks to manipulate content. All of these accusations are ridiculous and absurd. They are particularly disgusting and vile since they go against everything I believe in.”

In the debate about how to handle the case, dozens of arbitrators and ordinary Wikipedia editors — all volunteers — spoke of the situation on a Wikipedia message board as something close to an existential crisis for Wikipedia. Not only was the website accused of being used to spread antisemitic propaganda, but it was also alleged to be vulnerable to large-scale manipulation by a small group of bad-faith actors. 

There is little confidence in the community that a solution is within reach. By its own rules, the committee isn’t supposed to decide on disputed information. It’s more of a disciplinary body that evaluates the behavior of Wikipedia editors and can ultimately decide whether to restrict their editing privileges or ban them outright. 

But figuring out if the accused editors have indeed evaded safeguards and undermined Wikipedia’s integrity would seem to require that the arbitrators become experts on the history of the Holocaust in Poland. 

The decision to take up the case serves to acknowledge that the committee failed to solve the problem when it last considered complaints about editing related to the Holocaust in Poland about two years ago. That was during Roe’s tenure and he says the committee was distracted by another dispute at the time. 

“It can’t be escalated further than it already has in our mechanisms,” Roe said. “The best we can do is what’s currently happening now — just put it through those mechanisms again, and hope that something better will come out on the other side.”

In explaining why the committee must nevertheless take on the case, an arbitrator who goes by Wugapodes commented that the only other choice is to kick the can down the road. 

“This will not be an easy issue to resolve, but the committee was not convened to solve easy issues,” Wugapodes wrote, pointing out that the timing is right given the attention and involvement of outside experts and editors. “We can leverage these resources now or wait for this decade-long problem to get still worse.”

By a vote of nine to one on Feb. 13, the committee decided to open the case. The proceedings, which start with an evidence-gathering phase, are expected to last up to six weeks, after which they can decide to ban and restrict offending editors. 

Beyond that, an unorthodox last resort option is also available. Wikipedia’s so-called Supreme Court could ask for help from an even higher authority: the Wikimedia Foundation, a nonprofit that owns the encyclopedia. The foundation intervened in 2021 in what some see as a similar scenario of a far-right takeover on the Croatian-language Wikipedia, hiring an outside expert to disentangle the web of obfuscation and banning a set of editors. 

Roe said that his tenure on the committee in 2019 and 2020, which featured related complaints about the editing of articles on the Holocaust in Poland, helped lead him to believe that Wikipedia should embrace change, at least when it comes to controversial political topics. 

“I would like to see these difficult and politically charged content problems be referred to a new body made up of external experts, and that we don’t insist on doing everything internally among the community volunteers,” Roe said.

But he acknowledged that such a scenario is unlikely to result from the Poland dispute. 

“It’s not a popular view and it kind of goes against the general idea of Wikipedia,” he said. 

The post Wikipedia’s ‘Supreme Court’ tackles alleged conspiracy to distort articles on Holocaust appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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