WikiBilim: Functionary And Spinmeister Working For Kazakh Government
Sixteen years ago, Larry Sanger had the idea for a wiki-based encyclopaedia anyone could edit: the “wiki-pedia”. On January 15, 2001, he and Jimmy Wales launched the site. Today, it’s everyone’s go-to place for quick factlets.
Wikipedia’s convenience is undeniable. But its anonymously compiled content has flaws and quirks traditional encyclopaedias never had. Understanding these is vital for wiki-literacy.
To illustrate the issues, website The Register publishes sixteen of Wikipedia’s biggest cock-ups. One of them is The Kazakh Wikipedia.
In April 2015, Jimmy Wales noticed that the smiley chap he’d named “Wikipedian of the Year” in 2011 for his state-funded efforts to expand the Kazakh Wikipedia was a functionary and spinmeister working for the Kazakh government. Oops! The Kazakh regime is known for its iron-fisted suppression of free speech. Having repeatedly sung the Kazakh Wikipedia’s praises, Wales eventually distanced himself from the Kazakh PR effort. By then, large swathes of the Kazakh Wikipedia had become a mere copy of Kazakhstan’s official state encyclopaedia.
Kazakhstan’s government in 2011 sanctioned a foundation called WikiBilim, which creates material for a Kazakh Wikipedia. The organisation, which has 25 staff, is backed by Kazakhstan’s sovereign oil wealth fund and run by Rauan Kenzhekhanuly, an ex-government official.
The movement attracted the attention of the Samruk-Kazyna National Welfare Fund which approved solid financial backing for it. Organisational support was also provided by the Ministry of Communications and Information and the KazContent Company.
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has banned a critic from his page on the website for raising his friendship with Tony Blair and support of work funded by the authoritarian Kazakh regime. Blair announced in September that he would close down “the bulk” of his post-political business ventures, which involved associating with some of the most autocratic leaders in the world, including Nursultan Nazarbayev, the dictator of Kazakhstan. He suggested that he regrets working as an adviser to Nazarbayev. Remind, that he earned millions in the role. He said: “I’m happy to say we worked there… but of course, it turned into a big stick to beat us with.”