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  • 08 Mar 2017 5:36 AM
    Reply # 4654507 on 4569576
    The Making of a Wiki-Lie

    Chilling story of one twisted oddball and a handful of anonymous activists who appointed themselves as censors to promote their own warped agenda on a website that's a byword for inaccuracy 

    By GUY ADAMS FOR THE DAILY MAIL, London

    PUBLISHED:  4 March 2017

    Michael Cockram is a ginger-haired 35-year-old from Bournemouth who, like many men his age, offers a window into his soul via Facebook. Here, you will learn that he’s ‘single’, is a fan of graffiti and folk music, and has worked variously as an ‘artist’ and ‘education management professional’.

    Cockram boasts 153 online friends, and claims to live in Angoisse, a village in the Dordogne in south-western France. He also appears to take great pleasure in regularly circulating obscene images and racist sentiments via the social network. His Facebook page includes an image of two gay men performing a sex act in public, a photograph of a naked, dark-haired man having oral sex with himself, and a painting that depicts bestiality between a man and a sheep.

    Three years ago, Cockram wrote on his timeline that ‘all Muslim men admitted to Paradise will have an ever-erect penis and they will each marry 70 wives, all with appetising vaginas’. Around the same time, he declared: ‘If you gently lick the outside of a Kinder Egg, you can slowly recreate the changing skin tones of Michael Jackson.’

    It’s lubricious, utterly unedifying stuff. Indeed, a casual observer could be forgiven for pigeon-holing Cockram as a bigoted oddball who spends rather too much of his life in darker corners of the internet.6 Yet in the modern world, bigoted oddballs who are over-familiar with the internet can wield tremendous power — and this potty-mouthed man is a case in point. For when he’s not posting obscene images or racist sentiments, Cockram is a regular editor of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, where (according to multiple posts on his Facebook feed) he operates under the alias ‘Hillbillyholiday’.

    Last month, ‘Hillbillyholiday’ was the architect of a cynical PR stunt which saw this newspaper publicly smeared by damning its journalism ‘unreliable’. He and 52 like-minded anti-Press zealots, almost all of whom remain anonymous, collaborated in a vote which persuaded Wikipedia, the sixth most popular website in the world, that it ought to ban the Daily Mail.

    The move by the online encyclopedia — which was founded in 2001 and has in a few short years become a hugely influential source of information — was revealed in the pages of the Left-wing Guardian newspaper. It reported that Wikipedia’s editors had decided, in a democratic ballot, that the Mail’s journalism cannot be trusted.

    No statistics were offered in support of this claim, which, incidentally, came days before the Mail won Sports Newspaper Of The Year for an unprecedented fourth straight time, and was shortlisted for 15 awards at the British Press Awards, the news industry’s Oscars. (Indeed, as we shall see, the Mail has an enviable record on accuracy.)

    Neither did Wikipedia, nor The Guardian, bother to shed much light on how this decision was reached. If they had, then it would have become apparent to readers that this supposed exercise in democracy took place in virtual secrecy, and that Wikipedia’s decision to censor the Mail — the only major news outlet on the face of the Earth to be so censored — was supported by a mere 53 of its editors, or 0.00018 per cent of the site’s 30 million total, plus five ‘administrators’.

    Curiously, though it has now placed a ban on this paper, the website remains happy to use the state propaganda outlets of many of the world’s most repressive and autocratic Left-wing dictatorships as a source for information. Wikipedia has not, for example, banned the Chinese government’s Xinhua news agency, Iran’s Press TV or the Kremlin mouthpiece Russia Todd.

    Neither does it place a black mark against Kim Jong-un’s in-house propaganda outlet, the Korean Central News Agency, which in 2012 published a report claiming that archaeologists in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, had discovered the remains of a 1,000-year-old unicorn lair.

    Wikipedia even heralds Exaro, the now-defunct British website notorious for making false claims about an establishment paedophile ring which saw a number of innocent people arrested, as a valid ‘investigative news source’. And yet, it has declared that the Daily Mail — one of the most popular mainstream newspapers published in any Western democracy — is somehow too ‘unreliable’ to be included on its site.

    In an era where the term ‘fake news’ is increasingly used as a desperate slur, with Donald Trump applying it to CNN, the BBC and any major outlet that tends to disgruntle him, it’s tempting to suggest that both Wikipedia and The Guardian are guilty, in this deeply disturbing saga, of creating what might be regarded as false news.

    More worrying, this ban has set a dangerous precedent, raising profoundly troubling questions about free speech and censorship in the online era. And ultimately it provides an object lesson in the way well-organised campaigners from extremes of the political spectrum are now seeking to impose their prejudices on society by seizing control of the most valuable resource of the internet age: information.

    To understand how, you must first understand Wikipedia and the manner in which it works. Founded in 2001 by Jimmy Wales, husband of Tony Blair’s former diary secretary Kate Garvey (Alastair Campbell played bagpipes at their wedding), the site is an encyclopedia whose pages can be written and edited by anyone in the world. Wales has said he wants it to contain ‘the sum of all human knowledge available to all in their own language’.

    Over time, the theory goes, successive contributors, or ‘editors’, will gradually improve and update every Wikipedia article. Thanks to the so-called ‘wisdom of crowds’, they will slowly but surely create an ever-more-valuable repository of facts. Today, Wikipedia has more than five million pages in English, and is visited about 269 million times a day, making it more popular than the sales site Amazon.

    Thirty million people have now registered as ‘editors’, of whom around 130,000 have been active in the past six months. Since it’s easily accessed online by Google, billions more use its pages as a key source of what they assume is accurate and unbiased information.

    That’s the theory, at least. However, in practice, the site — so quick to smear the Mail as ‘unreliable’ — has itself become a byword for inaccuracy. Banned as source material by many universities, Wikipedia’s reputation for carrying fake news has seen it claim (among other things) that Robbie Williams eats domestic pets, that the Greek philosopher Plato was a Hawaiian surfer who discovered Florida, and that the TV news presenter Jon Snow has been patron of the British Conifer Society. (For the record, Mr Snow himself has said: ‘I hate conifers and I’m not the society’s patron.’)

    Victims of ‘Wiki-lies’ have over recent years included some of the loftiest figures in the land. Take Lord Justice Leveson, whose vast report on the Press informed readers that the Independent newspaper had been founded by a man called Brett Straub.

    In fact, Mr Straub is a Californian student whose name had been uploaded to Wikipedia by way of a prank. Leveson’s team had simply cut-and-pasted it from the online encyclopedia into the report without checking: quite a boob for a man who lectured the Press for sometimes getting facts wrong.

    Behind the scenes, Wikipedia is supposed to be run along broadly democratic lines, with groups of users making key decisions and founder Jimmy Wales describing himself as its ‘constitutional monarch, like the Queen’. He doesn’t wield executive power, and, indeed, has occasionally fallen out spectacularly with users of the site.

    In 2005, they discovered that Wales had edited his own Wikipedia entry to remove references to the pornographic nature of a search engine he once ran called Bomis Babes (which contained images of ‘lesbian strip poker threesomes’ among other things). The references were soon re-added. In 2010, he deleted 1,000 pornographic images from Wikipedia only for furious users to restore 900 of them.

    As a result of its devolved structure, major policy decisions that affect the online encyclopedia are supposed to be vigorously discussed in chat-rooms and then put to a vote. That’s the idea, at least. Yet as the recent censorship of the Daily Mail shows, the website’s version of democracy does not always work perfectly in practice.

    For this momentous decision was made not by a large proportion of the site’s billions of users, or even by many of its 30 million editors, but instead as the result of an online debate in which just a few dozen people participated, despite the fact that it took place over a month.

    There was then an election, in which a mere 77 of them voted, with 53 endorsing a ‘ban’ on the Mail. As elections go, it’s hardly a popular landslide. No further steps were taken to gauge the opinion of Wikipedia’s wider user base, or to establish if there was any evidence to support the contention that this paper is somehow ‘unreliable’.

    The wheels of this stunt were set in motion on January 7 by ‘Hillbillyholiday’, whose attitude towards the popular Press is evident in the fact that he also uses the alias ‘Tabloid Terminator’ and who has included an image of himself burning a copy of the Mail on his profile page.

    In the past, he has declared: ‘If the Daily Mail were a person, I would kick them square in the nut.’ He’s also said he ‘hates The Sun and thinks anyone who treats it as a reliable source is stark raving mad’. Using an obscure chatroom browsed by some Wikipedia editors, he kicked things off by saying: ‘Should we prohibit the use of the Daily Mail as a source?’ He continued: ‘I envisage something just short of blacklisting.’

    Blacklisting is a term which in its modern context was popularised by the Nazis, who drew up a ‘Black Book’ of 2,820 Britons, including the philosopher Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill, who would be sent to concentration camps if Hitler won the war. Discussion was then joined by a number of other Wikipedia editors with either Left-wing political leanings or wider anti-Press agendas. Steven Slater, a fortysomething science fiction fan from Essex, declared this newspaper a ‘fake news’ outlet.

    Another regular contributor was an American called Guy Macon who has said: ‘Kill it. Kill it with fire. Under NO circumstances should the Daily Mail be used for anything, ever.’ All of them were apparently of the view that the Mail is far more inaccurate than any other news organisation on the face of the Earth. Yet they failed to cite any data to back up their contention.

    Indeed, asked for evidence to support this claim, ‘Hillbillyholiday’ simply claimed that this newspaper had more of press regulator IPSO’s sanctions against it than his favourite title, The Guardian. He failed to state that The Guardian is not regulated by IPSO, so can’t possibly have been sanctioned by it. In other words, this opponent of the popular Press was using a deeply misleading claim to accuse someone else of inaccuracy.

    As it happens, like every newspaper in the land, the Mail does of course sometimes make mistakes. In common with most titles, we correct all significant factual errors pointed out to us, via the Corrections and Clarifications column. According to IPSO’s own report, the regulator’s figures suggest the Mail’s record is better, not worse, than our peers.

    In 2015, with our sister website MailOnline, the Mail published more than half a million stories; IPSO upheld complaints against two of them. By way of comparison, five articles in The Times had complaints of one kind or another upheld against them, along with four in the Daily Express, and ten published by the Telegraph group. This would tend to suggest that Wikipedia’s decision to ‘ban’ the Mail was based on naked prejudice rather than any empirical evidence.

    It should be noted here that, ironically enough, the Mail wrote to all its writers and reporters three years ago instructing them never to rely on Wikipedia as a single source, such were the concerns about its accuracy. Of course, the Wikipedia ban would never have made headlines if news of the website’s debate result had not promptly been leaked to The Guardian which — surprise surprise — has Jimmy Wales on its board.

    The Left-wing newspaper carried a short report of the Daily Mail ban in its print edition, and a longer one online. Each was originally published before this newspaper was in a position to comment. Its online report was then re-published, with a quotation from a spokesman for this newspaper describing Wikipedia’s ban as ‘a politically motivated attempt to stifle the free Press’.

    Amazingly, that comment was edited by The Guardian prior to publication to remove criticism of Jimmy Wales for editing his own Wikipedia page. Disgracefully, it was also altered to remove the crucial information about just how few of Wikipedia’s 30 million editors had been responsible for the ban. This was only subsequently added into the online story after further representations by the Mail. Even then, The Guardian did not include the fact that the ‘vote’ had been endorsed by just five anonymous administrators.

    Talk about fake news! Because, of course, by now this misleading story had been validated by its publication in a well-known national newspaper, and was being repeated verbatim by other news outlets, particularly from the Left — showing just how corruptible information has become in the online age.6

    To this end, it’s worth noting that while the number of articles in English-language pages of Wikipedia has more than doubled in seven years, the number of people editing the site has declined by a quarter — thus concentrating editorial power in a small number of hands, and creating a narrow nexus of obsessive meddlers.

    Today, around 90 per cent of these editors are men, and most are white. Only a tiny proportion come from outside the developed world. Most are under the age of 40 and have a liberal world view. Some could be accurately described as cranks.

    Such a man is Michael Cockram, whose Facebook page (in between the obscenity and racist bile) also celebrates juvenile acts of vandalism that appear to have been carried out on Wikipedia entries. ‘The common tadpole, also known as a polliwog, is in fact not from frog eggs, but from goose poo,’ reads one. ‘Tadpoles can sing at a frequency higher than what humans can hear.’

    This, then is the bizarre individual who, with a self-selecting handful of other zealots, has managed to ban a major popular newspaper from the world’s sixth largest website. It’s a perverse state of affairs, and one which must, surely, rile Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Only last month, he wrote in The Guardian on the subject of fake news, arguing: ‘None of us is comfortable with the social media giants deciding what’s valid or not.’

    Yet here is Wikipedia, a social media giant whose pages are riddled with inaccuracies, unilaterally deciding, at the request of a handful of people, that a major newspaper is somehow not valid. I asked the website’s parent organisation, the Wikimedia Foundation, how it squares Wales’s ethos with recent events. It refused to answer.

    Perhaps it has something to hide. After all, financial papers filed by the Foundation show that, for an organisation that calls itself a ‘small non-profit’ business and begs users for donations (‘the price of a cup of coffee’) to keep it afloat, it enjoys bulging cash reserves. The Foundation’s accounts show it has assets of more than $90 million (£73 million), and spent $31 million (£25 million) in salaries last year, up from $26 million (£21 million) the year before. Since the same documents state that it employs 280 members of staff and contractors, their average salary appears to be more than $110,000 (£90,000).

    Meanwhile, the Foundation’s last tax return showed that its former executive director, Lila Tretikov, earned $308,149 (£251,000), plus another $18,213 (£15,000) in ‘other’ compensation, while former boss Sue Gardner was on roughly the same. Are these amounts not excessive? Again the Foundation refused to answer my questions about the subject.

    Perhaps they feel no need. For theirs is a world where it has become troublingly easy to ignore awkward questions, or indeed everything, from a newspaper which an infinitesimally small number of their members happen to dislike.

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4280502/Anonymous-Wikipedia-activists-promote-warped-agenda.html#ixzz4aX3ywkW9 


  • 09 Mar 2017 9:32 AM
    Reply # 4656749 on 4569576
    DEGREE APPRENTICESHIPS.......BBC: Judith Burns, Education Reporter 9th March 2017

    Degree apprenticeships, encompassing university and work, are "on the verge of significant success", says a report. Almost 5,000 people will begin degree apprenticeships in 2017-18, nearly eight times as many as when the scheme launched in 2015, says Universities UK.

    The scheme was already reaching people who would not otherwise have gone to university, the report found. But more needed to be done to communicate the benefits, said UUK President Dame Julia Goodfellow. The degree apprenticeship scheme operates across England and Wales, although people can apply from throughout the UK. The UUK study, launched to coincide with National Apprenticeships Week and based on a survey of 66 English universities, found:

    §  At least 60 higher education institutions (91% of the sample) were currently looking to introduce degree apprenticeships from September

    §  By then, there will be more than 7,600 people on degree apprenticeships courses

    The current growth was driven by the need to meet key skills shortages, the researchers found, with chartered management, digital and technology solutions and engineering the top three areas of provision."Degree apprenticeships could play a key role in reducing skills gaps and skills mismatches," says the report. Additionally, with course fees shared between government and employers, the scheme offers particular benefits to people who might not have considered a degree, says UUK. However, the report also found "a general perception among institutions" that awareness of the scheme among individuals and employers remained too low.

    The report urges government and universities to increase efforts to publicise and improve understanding of degree apprenticeships and their fundamental role in supporting social mobility and raising productivity. Many larger companies, which are liable to pay the apprenticeship levy of 0.5% on payrolls from next month, are already aware of degree apprenticeships, say the researchers, but they want greater efforts to make small and medium sized enterprises aware of them.

    "Many people feel they have been left behind in the drive to increase higher level skills in recent years," said Dame Julia. "Degree apprenticeships are an excellent way to get to these harder-to-reach groups while, at the same time, ensuring that what we deliver on campus meets the needs of students, the local area and its employers. The report shows that there is a still long way to go in communicating to students and employers how degree apprenticeships work and the mutual benefits.

    "We would urge the government to work with us to do more here as part of its industrial strategy. The artificial dividing line between academic and vocational education is gradually disappearing. Degree apprenticeships build on the work that universities already do to deliver skills that employers need," she added.

    Robert Halfon, skills and apprenticeships minister, said: "With our reforms to apprenticeships, we are challenging the idea that a traditional university course is the only way in to a top career."


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