Wikipedia Owner Fined for Failing to Delete Alleged Extremist Content

The Wikimedia Foundation, owner of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, was fined by a Russian court on Thursday for failing to delete content considered extremist as Moscow pursues a drive to crack down on independent sources of information.

Wikipedia, which says it offers “the second draft of history”, is one of the few surviving fact-checked sources of information in Russian since the crackdown intensified after Moscow sent its armed forces into Ukraine in February 2022. 

The Tagansky district court said it had fined Wikimedia RUB 800,000 (nearly Rs. 8 lakh). Russian news agencies in the courtroom said Wikimedia had been charged with failing to remove materials related to a song by the alternative rock band Psychea, or Psyshit, which has been officially designated “extremist”.

Russia has now fined Wikimedia around RUB 9 million (nearly Rs. 90 lakh) in the past year, the agencies said. 

Wikimedia did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The foundation’s Russia chapter has previously said it believes other fines may be overturned, but that the number of cases against it may increase, given the number of articles on Wikipedia about the conflict.

Russia has for years sought to launch a home-grown online encyclopedia, without a tangible result so far.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday and a Russian analogue was “absolutely necessary”.

“It would contain truly verified and accurate information, objective information,” he said, “because we know that Wikipedia has many distortions, very many untruths, very many historical, factual and other mistakes.”

Russian domestic tech companies, led by entities controlled or associated with the state-owned gas giant Gazprom, have been sensing opportunities in Russia’s growing digital isolation as foreign internet firms are blocked or quit Russia. 

But while Moscow has restricted access to Twitter and to Meta Platforms’ flagships Facebook and Instagram, Wikipedia remains freely available.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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