Wikipedia suffered an "infiltration" by a Chinese group that "threatened the very foundations" of the site, the BBC reported. As a result, the Wikimedia Foundation has banned seven editors from mainland China and removed administrator privileges from another 12, Wikimedia VP of Community Maggie Dennis wrote in a blog post.
The foundation said it was fighting a situation called "capture," in which a group gains control of Wikipedia edits to favor a viewpoint. It has been investigating the infiltration for nearly a year, and acted following "credible threats" to volunteer safety that "led us to prioritize rapid response," Dennis wrote.
Wikimedia was reportedly concerned that elections for powerful administrator roles were being manipulated. The infiltrators were reportedly editing articles to promote the "aims of China," Dennis told the BBC. She added that "I am not in position to point fingers at the Chinese state nor in possession of information that would lead me to do so."
While some time ago we limited the exposure of personal information to users in mainland China, we know that there has been the kind of infiltration... and we know that some users have been physically harmed as a result.
Earlier in July, the Hong Kong Free Press reported on the situation with an article titled "Wikipedia wars: How Hongkongers and mainland Chinese are battling to set the narrative." It cites several disputed Wikipedia articles, both revolving around protests in Hong Kong, saying that mainland editors were "pushing for the use of Chinese state media as reliable news sources."
The group in question, Wikimedians of Mainland China, reportedly has over 300 members. In a separate article, they said the foundation had not listened to the "feelings and opinions of the community."
However, Dennis said that the personal safety of members in Mainland China was at risk. "While some time ago we limited the exposure of personal information to users in mainland China, we know that there has been the kind of infiltration we describe above in the project," she wrote. "And we know that some users have been physically harmed as a result. With this confirmed, we have no choice but to act swiftly and appropriately in response."
"To the 4,000 active Chinese language Wikimedians distributed across the world... we are committed to supporting you in doing this work into the future, with the tools you need to succeed in a safe, secure, and productive environment."