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The Media Line: IDF Asks Wikipedia to Edit ‘Hezbollah’ Entry to Reflect Terror Designation

IDF Asks Wikipedia to Edit ‘Hezbollah’ Entry to Reflect Terror Designation

The entry currently defines the organization, which has been designated a terrorist organization by 26 countries, a “political party and militant group”

By Daniel Sonnenfeld / The Media Line

The official IDF Twitter account posted a call on Tuesday for Wikipedia in English to edit its article on the Lebanese organization Hizbullah (spelled “Hezbollah” in Wikipedia) to reflect its identification by 26 countries as a terrorist organization. Wikipedia is a battleground for competing viewpoints, experts say, and the “Hezbollah” page is no exception.

The Shi’ite organization Hizbullah is a Lebanese political party with a military wing. It is also known for its virulent animosity towards Israel, and its actions against the country situated on its southern border – including against civilian targets. These have brought more than 20 countries and international organizations to designate it a terrorist organization, including the US, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab League and the European Union.

Yet, the organization’s English Wikipedia entry currently describes Hizbullah as “a Shia Islamist political party and militant group,” adding only further in the paragraph that many countries have designated it as terroristic in nature. This prompted the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit on Tuesday to tweet that “it’s time for an update,” calling for the organization’s definition to reflect its labeling as a terrorist group.

David Gerard is a veteran Wikipedia editor based in the UK. In a conversation with The Media Line, he explained the contentious phrasing, as well as Wikipedia’s treatment of controversial subjects in general, saying that the site’s “political position is basically very centrist about things, and always gives both sides of every issue.” Because of this, he said, “you end up with these understated, overly polite descriptions that people may consider quite controversial.”

He did, however, also point to the issue of politicization on the platform. “This is an example of a general phenomenon,” he said, referring to the Hizbullah dispute. “There’s a lot of things that are very controversial matters and a lot of people want a Wikipedia entry to read a particular way. This has been going on since the beginning. One of the worst sorts of ongoing permanent conflicts was anything relating to Israel and Palestine. This was one of the first perpetually running edit wars on Wikipedia.”

Edit wars are the name given to the repeated editing and re-editing of entries to reflect particular beliefs and narratives.

With controversial issues, Gerard explains, there are editors pulling in different directions and the final product has to be acceptable for all parties. Therefore, the aim is to create readable entries, but better entries could be written.

The editor also points out that Hizbullah’s entry “makes the point that they’ve been designated a terrorist organization and it makes that point unambiguously.” He further adds that “the article contains all the information you need.”

But Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, international spokesperson for the IDF, explains that including the information simply isn’t enough – it is an issue of location and weight. “Most of us read the headline at best, and maybe the subtitle, and then we move on. I want the essential matters, what the organization does, what its raison d’être is, to be the most visible,” he told The Media Line.

One who knows nothing of the Middle East and Hizbullah, Cornicus says, should first learn about the organization’s actions and aims, as well as its Iranian sources of funding, before moving on to its political and civic activities. “And in our eyes, the emphasis should be on its terror attacks and its murder of civilians.”

The IDF spokesperson also adds that he greatly values Wikipedia as an educational enterprise. However, “because of their size and centrality, they have a responsibility to be precise.”

In line with this assessment, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement to The Media Line that “our office occasionally looks at Wikipedia entries when the subject matter is relevant to the messaging we want to get across. We do this in order to better understand what information is given to the average individual on the internet and to find misinformation that should be dispelled.”

Further, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said, “It is our hope that our tweet will inspire some of Wikipedia’s editors to update Hizbullah’s Wikipedia entry by highlighting the fact that Hizbullah has been recognized as a terrorist organization by some of the world’s most influential nations, such as the US, UK, Germany, Japan, and Canada.”

Wikipedia as a battleground for competing narratives has a long history. Dr. Yael Weiler-Israel, a historian, Wikipedia expert, and long-time contributor to the internet encyclopedia, told The Media Line that Wikimedia – Wikipedia’s parent company – had a declared policy of objectivity and apolitical coverage, but “in actuality, that is very far from the reality ‘on the ground.’” She adds that not nearly enough is being done by the company to keep the encyclopedia’s content as objective as possible.

“English Wikipedia is known for the fact that there are groups of Palestinian writers, of anti-Israel writers, organized groups,” says Weiler-Israel, “and they certainly see Wikipedia as a tool for shaping public perception.”

“It isn’t OK that this is going on,” she says. “It shouldn’t have been this way and it doesn’t suit what Wikipedia purports to be” – an objective, apolitical encyclopedia.

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