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Russian Court Accuses Wikipedia of Spreading Military ‘Misinformation’

Khadija Boufous Khadija Boufous
18th March 2023
Russian Court Accuses Wikipedia of Spreading Military ‘Misinformation’
The Wikimedia Foundation was fined $27,000 by a Russian court (Getty)

A Russian court fined the Wikimedia Foundation $27,000 after the Russian authorities accused it of failing to delete “misinformation” about the Russian military from Wikipedia, the court’s service announced.

Russia’s New Legislation Against Misinformation

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the Russian Federation has introduced new laws restricting what people can report about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The new legislation also allows Russia to fine or block websites that spread information that does not meet Kremlin’s official narratives.

Russia passed a law imposing a jail term of up to fifteen years for intentionally spreading “Fake News” about the Russian military, Russia’s parliament announced in March 2022. The lawmakers passed amendments to the criminal code, making the spread of misinformation an offense punishable with fines or jail terms and imposed fines for public calls for sanctions against the country. 

For the Russian officials, “false information” has been spread by the country’s enemies, including the United States and its Western European allies, to sow discord among the Russian people, Reuters reported.

The lower house of parliament, known as the Duma in Russian, outlined a scale of punishments for anyone deemed to have discredited the armed forces, with severe penalties for those who intentionally spread “fake information” or called for unsanctioned public action.

Russia Accuses Wikipedia of Spreading Misinformation

In March 2022, following the law amendment in Russia, Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor said it wanted Wikipedia to remove “material with inaccurate information of public interest about the situation in Ukraine.” 

The regulator also accused Wikipedia of hosting “false information” on the Russian military and what Russia considers a “special operation” in Ukraine. 

According to Russian law, the owner of an internet resource that does not delete “illegal information” when asked to do so by Roskomnadzor can be fined up to four million roubles ($48,120.30), Reuters reported.

Later in November 2022, a Russian court fined Wikipedia’s owner, Wikimedia Foundation, two million roubles ($32,600) over content about the Russian-Ukrainian war. Russian officials said that the penalty was imposed for not deleting information that Russia asked to remove. 

According to Reuters, the two articles on Wikipedia were titled “Non-violent resistance of Ukraine’s civilian population in the course of Russia’s invasion” and “Evaluations of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.” However, our team did not find those titles on the encyclopedia.

Back then, the head of the foundation's Russia chapter, Stanislav Kozlovskiy, said there was a risk that the number of cases against the Wikimedia Foundation would increase as there are many articles on Wikipedia about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

According to Wikimedia Russia, the latest fine was imposed after the authorities accused Wikipedia of spreading “misinformation” in articles about the Russian military. The company said it might appeal the ruling but had not yet made a decision, Reuters said.

“So far, in the history of courts in Russia, Wikipedia has only had one successful experience of appealing court verdicts,” Stanislav Kozlovskiy told Reuters.

Can Wikipedia Spread Misinformation?

Wikipedia describes itself as a multilingual free online encyclopedia written and maintained by a community of volunteers known as Wikipedians through open collaboration. However, several internet users and academics consider the platform an untrustworthy source to get reliable information since the open-collaboration style can help generate and spread misinformation among the readers. The volunteering system of the encyclopedia also makes it easier to edit and modify the content.

As Wikipedia's content is sourced and shared by volunteers, the Wikimedia foundation said that Ukrainian volunteers were continuing to make additions and edits to the encyclopedia.

The Wikimedia Foundation spokesperson told NPR that the information on Wikipedia continues to be verified, fact-checked and “improved by an ever growing number of Wikipedia volunteer editors,” who determine the site's content and editorial standards.

“The Wikimedia Foundation protects and will continue to protect their ability to engage in research and contribute to Wikipedia,” the spokesperson added. 

Following the first takedown request from Russia in 2022, the Wikimedia Foundation released a statement, saying that the demand threatened censorship and that denying people access to reliable information at a time of crisis could have “life-altering consequences.”

“Wikipedia is an important source of reliable, factual information in this crisis,” the foundation stated. “In recognition of this important role, we will not back down in the face of efforts to censor and intimidate members of our movement. We stand by our mission to deliver free knowledge to the world,” the foundation asserted.

Although Wikipedia has been the most popular online encyclopedia with over six million articles, it has been subject to criticism and accusations of hosting misleading and false information on many occasions. 

Misbar has earlier reported on Meta’s new AI-powered tool to fight misinformation over Wikipedia entries and citations. According to Meta, this was the first tool capable of automatically scanning and fact-checking hundreds of thousands of citations at once.

This automated tool came after a wave of criticism over Facebook’s misinformation policies, especially that President Joe Biden accused the company of spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. Meta has chosen Wikipedia, one of the most crowd-sourced internet encyclopedias, to be its first AI model’s client. 

According to our blog, Wikipedia has already started using the new tool to scan its pages, question sources, and recommend corrections and more reliable sources to its users.

Misbar’s Sources:








Wikimedia Foundation