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French intelligence agency catching heat over botched Wikipedia censorship

Published time: April 09, 2013 02:48
Edited time: April 09, 2013 05:41
AFP Photo / Lionel BonaventureE

AFP Photo / Lionel BonaventureE

Following a ham-fisted attempt to remove information it deemed sensitive from a Wikipedia article, France’s Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur has unwittingly made it one of the most popular French-language pages on the site.

As RT previously reported, the agency became alarmed after discovering that a French-language WikiPedia entry contained allegedly classified information regarding a military radio station out of Pierre-sur-Haute in south-central France.

Though the Wikimedia Foundation’s subsequent statements likened the information as “virtually identical” to that divulged by a report broadcast by Television Loire 7, the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur (DCRI) did not agree, as it requested that Wikipedia delete the offending text.

Wikipedia did not bend to the initial request by the agency.

The Wikimedia Foundation asked the intelligence agency what precise part(s) of the article were a problem in its view, noting that the article closely reflected information in a freely available television broadcast. The DCRI refused to give these details, and repeated its demand for the deletion of the article.

Despite resistance on the part of French Wikipedia, the DCRI decided it would single out a volunteer currently contributing to the online encyclopedia with enough admin privileges to remove the material, and summoned him to carry out precisely that. The Guardian has identified that individual as a curator with the National Library of France, which suggests the agency looked for a volunteer on whom they might have some pull.

As other outlets have reported, both the initial request by the DCRI to remove the offending material - which had been available for years - was odd enough, but singling out an individual with no direct association with the entry on the military station suggested a poor understanding of the amorphous nature of Wikipedia contribution.

According to publicly available editing records on the article in question, shortly after it was initially removed by the individual singled out by the DCRI, another volunteer restored the page.

"If the government seeks a victim be so kind as to direct them to me. And tell them that I [don't give a] fuck," the editor wrote on the page's discussion section.

The DCRI could have likely predicted the ensuing backlash, as previous attempts to force the removal of information have only incensed the deeply devoted core of editors that oversee the sprawling online encyclopedia. Some other high profile cases in the past have included petitions to remove depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, and even a lawsuit by the FBI for unauthorized use of its agency’s seal.

Meanwhile, all of the added attention brought on by the DCRI’s actions have not only exponentially increased traffic to the reposted entry, but caused it to be translated into at least a dozen other languages.

According to Wikiscan, an analytics site that tracks traffic to individual entries, the reinstated Pierre-sur-Haute military base page was the most visited on April 6 and 7, 2013, and the second-most popular page on April 8. Editors have also appended the following additional text to that entry.

"As a result of the controversy, the article became the most-read page on French Wikipedia, with over 120,000 page views during the weekend of 6/7 April 2013. It was translated into multiple other languages. The French newspaper 20 minutes, Ars Technica, and a posting on Slashdot, noted it as an example of the Streisand effect in action. The French ministry of the interior told the Agence France-Presse that for the moment it did not wish to comment on the incident."

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