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After Russia described Wikipedia as “weapon of informational war”, activist group is accused of doxing pro-Ukraine editors and harassing them

Russia has labelled Wikipedia as a “weapon of informational war,” and Roskomnadzor ordered Russian search engines to start marking Wikipedia as being in violation of Russian laws on their search result pages.

Russia has been accused of intimidating Wikipedia Editors with arrest for allegedly spreading disinformation about the Ukraine war, reported Rest of World. The report by Masha Borak claimed that several Wikipedia editors were doxxed and their personal information was posted online by a group named Mrakoborec for publishing content labelled by Russian authorities as pro-Ukraine propaganda.

While alleging that Mrakoborec has been associated with the Russian government, the Rest of World stated that Kremlin passed a law in March 2022 to criminalise the publishing of information that it deem to be fake.

Screengrab of the article by Masha Borak in Rest of World

Wikipedia, which is owned by the Wikimedia Foundation, came under the ambit of the new law and was fined $88000 by a Russian court. The free encyclopedia which has known to have a pro-left bias was temporarily banned by the Russian government in 2015, but the decision was quickly revoked.

Wikipedia has about 1800 Russian-speaking editors, and while the editors claim that they have maintained a neutral stance on the ongoing situation in Ukraine, the Russian govt disagrees and alleges that most of them are spreading pro-Ukraine propaganda. Roskomnadzor, the communications agency of Kremlin, had threatened to block Wikipedia in March this year, after which several users in Russia downloaded offline copies of Wikipedia.

Roskomnadzor had directed the Wikimedia Foundation to remove contentious articles about the Ukraine war and accused it of disseminating child pornography. Russia has labelled Wikipedia as a “weapon of informational war,” and in July, Roskomnadzor ordered Russian search engines to start marking Wikipedia as being in violation of Russian laws on their search result pages.

Wikipedia officials seem to agree that there is an absence of pro-Russia viewpoints on the platform with respect to the war.. Anton Protsiuk, the programs coordinator at Wikimedia Ukraine, said that the Russian authorities have been fairly unsuccessful in promoting their point of view on Wikipedia. This is a shocking admission from Wikipedia, as the platform claims to accommodate all viewpoints.

Impact of Mrakoborec

So far, Wikipedia has been able to follow US laws in Russia due to the absence of an official representative office in Moscow, just like social media platforms were able to evade Indian laws in India by not having local offices. Once the organisation sets up a local office, it will be bound to abide by Russian laws and official requests to take down content.

While most countries demand that such platforms should follow their local laws and have offices in respective countries, the Wikipedia authorities are not willing to open an office in Russia. “The Russian government would like to have all the information so it can punish Wikipedia editors and maybe even the readers,” said Victoria Doronina, a member of the board of trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation remarked, justifying not following Russian law on having a local office.

Reportedly, Mrakoborec has been flagging social media content, which is critical of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, given that Wikipedia is managed by a network of editors most of whom are left-liberals and anti-Russia, such tactics have been less effective on the platform.

With doxing being the alleged new weapon in their arsenal of information warfare, the group had reportedly collected personal information of over 1000 editors of Wikipedia. “You cannot predict who is going to attack. It’s not a bear, it’s a pack of bears,” Victoria Doronina said.

According to Rest of World, the intimidation tactics seemed to have worked. Increasingly, fewer Russian-speaking volunteers are contributing to the Wikipedia edits. Wikimedia Foundation is now worried that it can affect its coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war.

As such, the responsibility to edit articles on the ongoing situation in Ukraine now rests with either pro-war Russian-speaking volunteers or those living far away from Russia and its ally Belarus.

Victims allege Russian government’s hand in doxing

In March 2022, a Belarus-based Wikipedia editor named Mark Bernstein was arrested and held up at the Okrestina detention centre in Minsk city. Just 3 months later, he was sentenced to 3 years of restricted freedom on charges of conspiring to disrupt social order.

Similarly, a Russia-based editor named Mikhail was doxxed on Telegram in March this year. His name and social media accounts were revealed online and Mrakoborec called for ‘Retribution.’ As a result, he started receiving threats on a regular basis.

Mikhail told Rest of World, “I began to act more cautiously. I closed off the social networks from outsiders and became even more careful to monitor (Wikipedia) edits that could be linked to my name and brought up as (legal) violations.”

“I am quite sad to see how the idea of the free flow of information, which has always been at the core of Wikipedia, is being suppressed in my home country with all its might, giving way to government censorship,” he added.

Another Wikipedia editor from Russia, Sergey Leschina, was forced to leave his home country and settle down in Lithuania. “I think almost everybody who edits from Russia or Belarus does it with different accounts,” he pointed out.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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