Saudi agents are said to have infiltrated Wikipedia

The government of Saudi Arabia is said to have used Wikipedia administrators as agents to control the content on the platform. This emerges from a recent report by the NGOs Smex and Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn).

The Saudi government is said to have infiltrated Wikipedia. – CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

In a joint report, Smex and Dawn accuse the Saudi government of having infiltrated the Wikipedia platform with the help of administrators. In this way, Riyadh tried to manipulate content about political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. Dawn is based in Washington, DC, and was founded by Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated in 2018. The Lebanese NGO Smex campaigns for digital rights in the Arab world.

In their report, the organizations cite “interviews with sources close to the company” and interviews with two imprisoned former administrators. The two admins had already been sentenced to several years in prison by Saudi courts at the end of 2020. According to the court, they had published information critical of the government about the state persecution of opponents of the regime. The administrators were sentenced to 32 and 8 years imprisonment respectively.

Platform expulsion due to “conflicts of interest”

The allegations against the Saudi government tie in with an investigation by the Wikimedia Foundation. The foundation owns the Wikipedia internet portal. According to Wikimedia, the reason for the investigation was “suspected conflicts of interest […] in the MENA region”. After the investigation was completed, 16 Wikipedia users were banned from the platform for life last December due to “conflicts of interest”. The reason given by Wikimedia was that they had maintained “close links with external parties” and pursued the goal of supporting their interests on Wikipedia.

According to media reports, the Wikimedia Foundation contradicts the claim that Wikipedia was explicitly infiltrated by the Saudi government. This cannot be checked because the foundation has not yet published the detailed results of its investigation. This is exactly what Smex and Dawn call for in their joint statement.

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