How Wikipedia found itself at the centre of a major corruption scandal in Pakistan

Maryam Nawaz Sharif – image by Junaidro via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Written by Saqib Qayyum – Pakistani Wikimedian

On the early morning of July 11th, as a controversy developed in Pakistan over the release date of a Microsoft typeface, Calibri, unidentified individuals (both supporters and opponents of the Government of Pakistan) rushed on to Wikipedia’s Calibri entry to amend the information about the font’s release date.

Documents handed over to an investigation team by Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister’s daughter, were found to be typed in Calibri. The documents were dated as 2006, but the Wikipedia article noted the commercial release date being in 2007. The documents pertain to an ongoing corruption investigation into the business dealings of the Sharif family and their offshore bank accounts, which were revealed by the Panama Papers.

Supporters of the government insisted that the font was released prior to 2006 but opponents repeatedly changed the release date to 2007. As per an earlier version, the article stated that the font was designed in 2004 but was released to the public in 2007. The designer of the font later himself confirmed that though he started working on the font in 2004, it was released for internal purposes at Microsoft in or around 2006 and for commercial purpose in 2007.

As I am part of Wikipedia’s counter-vandalism team, I have been engaged in the reverting of unverified information being added to the Calibri page by anonymous users. But as the edit war grew and the sensitivity of the issue became obvious, I had to ask an administrator to lock the page to restrict any further edits in order to avoid misleading information being spread outside of Wikipedia.

Page view statistics for the Calibri article

But perhaps my clean up of the page and most importantly shutting down open editing of the Calibri entry has made Wikipedia and me a part of a major corruption case surrounding the Government of Pakistan. Since my name is prominent on the revision history page, many people, especially opponents of the government (which includes a major opposition party that brought the corruption case to court), assumed that I was the one tampering with the release date (removing release date 2007) and accused me of being pro-government. But on the contrary I was actually removing the unverified release date (2004/2006) which was being added by pro-government users. Following the Wikipedia page being protected, social media went crazy and the news went viral on Pakistani channels.

The Guardian noted that people praised Wikipedia for its quick action to lock the page, and I hope that this experience is an important example of how quickly establishing a disputed fact can stop Wikipedia itself from being dragged into a political dispute. As well as answering people’s ordinary questions, we should remember that sometimes, important political issues can depend on establishing the facts about a particular subject.

And while after this ‘Fontgate’, calls for the removal of Prime Minister have become stronger, it is yet to be seen whether as something as ordinary as a font can bring down the government of Pakistan as many publications have suggested.

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For anybody interested in the details of the details of the edits that I made, they are as follows:

In my 1st edit, I removed unreliable sources, even though if they were supporting the release year 2007.

In my 2nd edit, I added a few Reliable Sources (RS) which were supporting the year 2007, and added a reference to the corruption case which was noted by Quartz

In my 3rd edit, I added the [[Category:2007 introductions]] and removed [[Category:2005 introductions]]

In my 4th edit, I reverted the font release date from 2006 to 2007.

In my 5th edit, I reverted the edit which removed the verified information that I added in my second edit.

In my 6th edit, I removed the information which said the font was created in 2007, and added that it was actually created in 2004.

In my last edit, i added in the side box the font release year as 2007 and the page was locked.

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