British media storm over Wikipedia changes

In the past week we have seen considerable interest from British newspapers, radio and television in the forthcoming trial of Flagged Protection on the English Wikipedia.

Wikipedia logo (Copyright Wikimedia Foundation - Fair use)
Wikipedia logo (Copyright Wikimedia Foundation - Fair use)

Wikimedia UK have fielded more than half  dozen enquiries, been quoted in four newspapers, had three radio interviews and two television interviews. The media response has been coordinated by Mike Peel, Chair of Wikimedia UK, helped by David Gerard, volunteer press contact for the Wikimedia Foundation and Andrew Turvey, Wikimedia UK’s secretary. The interest all started from an article in the New York Times on Monday headlined “Wikipedia to Limit Changes to Articles on People“. When the story crossed the Atlantic, British media companies started contacting Wikimedia UK rather than the Foundation, so they could have someone local to talk to and in the same time zone.

Much of the news reporting has been exaggerated and misleading, typified by “Newsnight”‘s headline “Is the philosophy of Wikipedia dead?“. Throughout our media work we have tried to give a more accurate and balanced view, explaining the background to the trial and the impact this will have on Wikipedia. We have not proactively contacted the media and have only responded to enquiries as they have come in.

Wikimedia UK takes no position on the ongoing discussions within the community about this trial, and are only concerned to make sure that the media represent the changes fairly and accurately and that potential contributors, users and partners leave with a good impression of the project.

The current status quo on the English Wikipedia, which has been in place for many years, is that when an article receives an above-average amount of vandalism, the article would be “protected”. For vandalism conducted by unregistered users, semi protection would result in all unregistered and new users (New being nothing more than a few days old) being unable to edit an article.

The configuration that is currently planned for a trial of 2 months has two parts. The first is “Flagged Protection”, which will be used in place of protection on some articles on living people. This allows everyone to continue editing, but changes by new users have to be checked by users that have been around for longer. The second is passive “patrolling”, which just serves to make identification of vandalism easier. The first part has been the subject of a great deal of confusion amongst the media (and indeed, amongst Wikipedians); it is easy to confuse applying this tool to a few pages with applying it to all Wikipedia pages.

A list of media within the UK that have covered this story is given below, along with the link between the stories and Wikimedia UK. Please note that some of the links are only valid for seven days.



  • 25th: Radio Five Live, 6:40pm – live interview with David Gerard
  • 26th: Radio 2, Chris Evans, 5:30pm – live interview with David Gerard
  • 26th: 4fm (Ireland), Lunchtime on Four (link only live for 7 days),  2:41pm – live interview with Andrew Turvey

Newspapers / Online

  • 25th: BBC Wikipedia to launch page controls – with quotes from Mike Peel
  • 25th: The TimesWikipedia to end editing free-for-all – with quotes from Mike Peel
  • 25th: UKPATrial editing of Wikipedia entries – with quotes from Mike Peel
  • 26th: Daily MailThe Wikipedia police: Encyclopedia site recruits 20,000 editors to stop malicious tampering with entries – no contact with WMUK
  • 26th: The TelegraphWikipedia ends unrestricted editing of articles – no contact with WMUK
  • 27th: The IndependentThe Big Question: Why has Wikipedia changed editorial policy, and will it improve the website? – quote from Mike Peel