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Wikipedia launching new restrictions for users editing ‘recession’ page

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Wikipedia is setting restrictions on Wednesday for new and unregistered users who try to edit the page about recession.

A spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation, the company behind the online encyclopedia, told The Hill that starting Wednesday, new account users and anonymous users will be able to make changes to the English recession page, but their edits will be subject to review from volunteer editors.

After the Commerce Department announced last week the nation’s economy shrank for the second quarter in a row, the recession page drew a frenzy of users who debated the definition of a recession and how it should be reflected in the article.

The surge of users and editors on the article created a semi-lock on the page, meaning it could be edited only by logged-in users whose accounts are at least four days old and have made at least 10 edits. The semi-lock will lift on Wednesday as volunteer editors step in to review changes.

The Wikimedia spokesperson said in an email that semi-locks and reviews are tools the site uses to ensure articles are updated neutrally and factually, adding it’s “not uncommon for topics in the news to receive sudden interest on Wikipedia.”

“Volunteer editors know this, and have created tools and mechanisms for responding to an influx of edits on articles that are in the public eye in order to maintain the standards of neutrality and verifiability that govern the site,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Protecting an article is one common tool they use.”

The Wikimedia Foundation, a nonprofit, does not edit, write or review articles but supports its volunteer editors, who typically strive to use established guidelines of neutrality and reliable sourcing.

Pages can sometimes be updated hundreds of times a day by volunteers, who can make changes on any article without an account so long as the page is not locked. Discussion pages for articles are also common to facilitate collaboration.

A discussion page about the recession article shows how divisive the topic has become, with some users accusing Wikipedia’s editors of censorship, adhering to “liberal sources” or attempting to “scrub the page” of the definition of a recession.

While two consecutive declines of gross domestic product (GDP) is a common indicator of a recession, the U.S. relies on the National Bureau of Economic Research’s (NBER) Business Cycle Dating Committee, which is made up of leading economists in the nation, to officially determine whether the country has hit a recession.

The NBER’s traditional definition is a “significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and that lasts more than a few months.” 

The Biden administration has repeatedly denied the U.S. has slumped into a recession, pointing to record job growth and healthy consumer spending. Republicans argue the U.S. is in a recession and are pointing the finger at Biden and Democrats.

The recession webpage on Wikipedia reflects the arguments.

“Although the definition of a recession varies between different countries and scholars, two consecutive quarters of decline in a country’s real gross domestic product (real GDP) is commonly used as a practical definition of a recession,” the article reads, while also saying the “NBER is considered the official arbiter of recession start and end dates for the United States.”

While the information about two consecutive contractions in the economy was always included in the article, much of the debate had swirled around where on the page it should be.

The debate, however, continues on the discussion page, which is inundated with comments, opinions and messages.

Users have complained about the ongoing “sheer nonsense and vitriol,” with one person calling the controversy an “embarrassing spectacle for everyone involved.”

In the emailed statement, the Wikimedia Foundation spokesperson said changes to the article have ultimately been “limited” compared with previous versions.

The foundation emphasized that “Wikipedia is not a tool to insert opinions, it requires reliable sources to verify the facts in articles.”

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