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Indian tech minister picks a fight with Wikipedia over cricketer's dropped catch

Also separatism, nationalism, and whether Big Tech does enough to police user-generated content

India’s IT minister has picked a fight with Wikipedia after alleging that Pakistani entities edited a page describing a member of the men’s national cricket team in ways that suggest the player has separatist affiliations.

The edit happened after India’s national team lost a game against Pakistan. Despite being neighbors and probably the world’s two nations most interested in cricket, political tension means India and Pakistan seldom play against each other save in multilateral tournaments. Just such a tournament – the 2022 Asia Cup – is currently under way and weekend clash between the two sides saw Pakistan triumph.

During the match, Indian player Arshdeep Singh dropped a catch that should not have been difficult for a professional athlete to complete.

Indian cricket fans are not exempt from the kind of social media excesses that can be found elsewhere and he was roundly criticized for his effort. But on Wikipedia matters went to a different level because Singh’s page was edited to – falsely – state he had been picked to play for Khalistan, a notional independent homeland for Sikhs.

The implication of the edit is that Singh’s loyalties may not lie with India, which could explain why he dropped the catch. That the edit appears to have been made by someone from Pakistan, which India asserts is constantly attempting to destabilize it and/or promote sectarian violence, made the edit more controversial.

India’s IT minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar took exception with the edit and criticized Wikipedia for allowing it.

Indian media report that India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) wants to haul Wikipedia execs in for a “please explain” session.

Chandrasekhar is Harvard-educated former Intel staffer (he helped design the 486 architecture) so it would be extraordinary if he does not understand that Wikipedia articles are open to editing by anyone and that the site does not apply strict user verification requirements.

But India is currently even more sensitive than usual about social media’s influence on the national conversation because among the claims made by security whistleblower Peiter "Mudge" Zatko was that India’s government forced Twitter to employ a mole who could view user data.

India’s government has also proposed powers to censor social media and already has laws on the books requiring social media companies and other “intermediaries” to identify individuals who post content India deems irresponsible or dangerous. Chandrasekhar’s tweet suggests he thinks Wikipedia is on the wrong side of those laws.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, appears to be silent on the matter but has promoted founder Jimmy Wales’ recently-expressed opinion that India is critical to the future of the open encyclopedia.

India, meanwhile, lacks a personal data protection law but is working on a new law to regulate digital media.

Back on the cricket field, India and Pakistan could meet again in coming days as the Asia Cup moves towards its final matches, potentially inflaming matters further. ®

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