First Lady Melania Trump Labeled ‘Porn Star’ on Wikimedia’s Wikidata Site

First lady Melania Trump (L) arrives in the East Room to deliver remarks during the White House Opioid Summit March 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. The summit was organized to focus attention on the national opioid addiction crisis and how to combat the epidemic. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Numerous high-profile pages on Wikidata, a data site affiliated with Wikipedia, contained long-standing defamatory vandalism according to criticism site Wikipediocracy. This included First Lady Melania Trump, who was labeled a “former sex worker and porn star” on Wikidata for more than a week. Many Wikipedia-affiliated sites use Wikidata’s information, so the description consequently appeared at her page on Simple Wikipedia, whose target audience expressly includes children, and remained for over a week.

Other prominent figures affected include Aquaman star Jason Momoa and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was labeled a “rapist” on Wikidata for months. Wikipediocracy’s exposé was authored by veteran administrator “Fram” after he was banned by the Wikimedia Foundation, an unprecedented ban that prompted an editor revolt.

Numerous sites are under the umbrella of Wikipedia’s owners, the Wikimedia Foundation, each serving varying functions. All are ostensibly open to contributions from the public. Wikidata has been one of the most touted sites by the Foundation in recent years with them seeking to integrate it into various other Wikimedia sites, including the English Wikipedia. Unlike the latter, Wikidata pages are not articles, but tables of information about a subject. Like Wikipedia, Wikidata is relied on by the Big Tech Masters of the Universe. Wired notes Wikidata’s structure is particularly well-suited for artificial intelligence and computers, prompting its use for virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

Despite Wikidata having several times more pages than Wikipedia, its active community is several times smaller. In a September piece for Wikipediocracy, Fram highlighted many instances where Wikidata thus proved vulnerable to vandals on even the most high-profile pages. He reported that a vandal edited the Wikidata page for First Lady Melania Trump to label her a “former sex worker and porn star” with the vandalism only removed nine days later. On other Wikimedia sites, such vandalism would be contained, but Wikidata’s integration into other sites meant the derogatory label appeared on image repository Wikimedia Commons and Simple Wikipedia, which uses simplified English and explicitly lists children as part of its intended audience.

Many Wikimedia sites struggle with vandalism and Wikidata is no different. In its piece on Wikidata, Wired reported Wikidata vandalism tricked Apple’s Siri into prematurely reporting the death of comic book legend Stan Lee by four months. While removed within hours, Fram’s piece establishes plenty of vandalism is not removed quickly. Usual subjects of long-standing vandalism tended to be more obscure or from other parts of the world such as Mexican actor Cesar Bono and Bollywood actress Sara Ali Khan, whose Wikidata pages were vandalized for weeks and the vandalism propagated to other Wikimedia sites as a result.

A particular point of vulnerability for Wikidata Fram identifies is vandalism in non-English languages. On the Spanish Wikipedia, the page for Jason Momoa, who played the titular role in the Aquaman movie and is married to actress Lisa Bonet, used Wikidata’s description of him as a homosexual for weeks. Country music star Billy Ray Cyrus was described in the native South American Mapuche language as a “porn actress” from 2015 to after Fram’s piece was published.

Such issues with Wikidata are a long-time concern for critics of Wikipedia and members of its community with Fram particularly active in drawing attention to the problem. Fram raised issues with Wikidata vandalism appearing on the mobile version of English Wikipedia in 2017 and his efforts resulted in the exclusion of Wikidata descriptions. His efforts also ended up before the Arbitration Committee, often likened to a Supreme Court, and a motion by the Committee halted community efforts to force integration of Wikidata into the English Wikipedia.

His work to counter integration of Wikidata into Wikimedia sites, especially English Wikipedia, was part of Fram’s broader criticism of actions taken by the Foundation and connected figures on the site that he felt were harming Wikipedia’s reliability and overall quality. Claims Fram was uncivil with error-prone members on the site were described by the Wikimedia Foundation as “harassment” to justify banning him for a year in June of this year.

In his first response to the ban, Fram took the opportunity to highlight long-standing vandalism to the Wikidata page on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who had been described as a “rapist” on the page since late March. The label was removed and associated revisions deleted shortly after he noted it. Kavanaugh was previously targeted by users of Wikimedia sites, including by a ban-evading editor on Wikipedia.

The Foundation banning Fram represented an unprecedented intrusion into Wikipedia’s self-governing process and sparked a revolt. Although the Committee was eventually permitted to review Fram’s ban and overturned it, they cited him “excessively highlighting” other’s failures to argue against restoring his administrator privileges. Evidence presented during the largely private case included his past conflicts with editors over integration of Wikidata into Wikipedia, though much of the case evidence was criticized as misrepresented and as coming from dubious sources.

Problems with Wikidata’s integration into other Wikimedia sites and popular virtual assistants mirror the issues with Big Tech’s reliance on Wikipedia as a response to the “fake news” issue. Using the Wikipedia model to “fix journalism” has also been pushed by co-founder Jimmy Wales with his news outlet WikiTribune. Aside from vandalism, both Wikipedia and WikiTribune have suffered the same issues of widespread political bias.

T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.

.

Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.