[WikiEN-l] Tearing down the Chinese Firewall

Erik Moeller eloquence at gmail.com
Sun May 14 21:53:39 UTC 2006

On 5/14/06, Jimmy Wales <jwales at wikia.com> wrote:

> Our official position is that the block is in error, that there is
> nothing about Wikipedia in general which fits into the category of
> things that are normally blocked, and we hope that the block will
> eventually be lifted when we are able to reach the right decision makers
> to explain the situation to them.

I hope so, too, though it seems even less likely now that local
corporate interests (Baidu.com) are involved as well. There are at
least three things we can also do which, I hope, are relatively


There are NPOV pages on Wikipedia and Wikibooks about Internet
censorship and the "Great Firewall" in particular:


Improving this information and keeping it up to date almost certainly
guarantees its (read-only) availability due to its free content
nature, at least against origin-based filters.


Improving our mechanisms of authentication and authorization will, as
a side-effect, allow any user of Tor or similar anonymization tools to
go through a process of creating a trusted account (which might be
upgraded in several steps) for editing. This will be especially
relevant when we have single login, and moreover, when we start
federating our authentication system with other websites. The process
could consist of a new user first having to chat with a human to get
permanent editable access, or having to go through a captcha-like
process. The user would be pseudonymous, and the pseudonymous identity
would be protected by whatever tool they use.

This is by no means limited to China or even to the problem of
censorship. Selective authorization of trusted users within a
non-trusted group is equally applicable, for instance, to the problem
of vandalism from school IPs.


If the new Chinese fork by Baidu.com changes GFDL content, whether
they like it or not, we are legally allowed to incorporate their
improvements into the Chinese Wikipedia (provided that Baidu or the
contributors have the exclusive rights to the content in the first
place).  This situation is not entirely dissimilar to the Spanish
Wikipedia fork "Enciclopedia Libre" which, for some time, was quite
successful. At the time, I was told that Spanish Wikipedians were
actively copying over improvements. I hope the same will happen on


Now, if we do all this, there's one additional little step we could
take. As noted above, the fact that Wikipedia is free content itself
helps to guarantee the availability of the text. So, while China's
Wikipedia block is bad, I think in the long run it primarily hurts
editors, not readers, who will hopefully find mirrors of the content.
Now imagine most mirror copies of Wikipedia content carried a notice
like this (in the applicable language):

"The Wikipedia article ''Galileo Galilei'' is licensed under the [[GNU
Free Documentation License]] (see [[history]]). The [[latest, openly
editable version]] of the article is located on Wikipedia. If you
cannot access or edit Wikipedia, please see the [[Wikimedia Content
Access Guidelines]]." [*]

This last link would point to a locally hosted copy of a file which
explains various issues, including prominent information about
accessing Wikipedia through any kind of filter, and about setting up a
trusted account for editing as described under b) above.

Getting these guidelines included by mirrors could, perhaps, be
accomplished by attaching a footer like this to our database and HTML
dumps.  It would be clear that these guidelines exist not for
political reasons, but as a matter of providing and protecting access
to knowledge. It seems to me that giving a child in Africa a free
encyclopedia or textbook is, inherently, based on the same motivation
as giving a child in the PRC access to our knowledge and learning
resources, to wit:

"Imagine a world in which every single person is given free access to
the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing."

To me, this easily translates to: "We don't care who you are or where
you live. If you cannot read or edit Wikipedia, we will help you." Far
from an all-out campaign against censorship (which I support
separately, but not necessarily wtihin Wikimedia), it would be a small
step to try to better inform those who cannot otherwise contribute,
and who are aware of the risks.


[*] Anthony, you don't need to tell me about the literal requirements
of the GFDL. :-)

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