Reports that Wikipedia has banned the residents of Qatar from editing entries have been greatly exaggerated.
In response to posts on TechCrunch and Slashdot titled "Wikipedia Bans Qatar" and "Wikipedia Blocks Qatar," respectively, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales posted a note on Wikipedia to correct the record.
"If you came here from a news headline saying that Wikipedia has banned all of Qatar, please pop right back over there and post in the comments that the story is not true," Wales wrote. "This IP number was temporarily blocked for less than 12 hours, and a block of an entire nation would go absolutely against Wikipedia policy.
"In all language Wikipedias, such an action would require a series of administrative processes, and would never ever be undertaken lightly, nor without extensive attempts at direct negotiation with the ISP and/or nation in question," Wales explained.
In an e-mail, a Wikipedia spokesman elaborated, "Qatar has not been banned from Wikipedia. Apparently Qatar basically has only one ISP, and nearly all of its traffic shows as coming from a single IP address."
He explained that the IP address "was briefly blocked (from editing, not from viewing) because of a burst of spam or vandalism coming through it. Normally this is a fairly routine action, but the person who blocked this IP address was unaware that it effectively blocked an entire ISP or country, and as soon as people figured out what had happened the block was removed. The whole thing lasted less than half a day, and there is no way we would ban an entire country from contributing to Wikipedia."
Wales considers the reports of a ban inaccurate. "I object to the story completely," Wales wrote in e-mail. "A block of an IP number is not a 'ban' in our usage. It's just part of how Wikipedia functions."
Wikipedia's discussion page for the IP address in question, 184.108.40.206, notes that the address "has been repeatedly blocked from editing Wikipedia in response to abuse of editing privileges. Further abuse from this IP may result in an immediate block without further warning." This is not quite the same thing as "Wikipedia Bans Qatar," but headlines seldom have room for subtleties.
The irony here is that Wikipedia, repeatedly pilloried for inaccuracies, finds itself on the defensive against bloggers who play fast and loose with the facts.
For example, in a post titled "Wikipedia Bans Qatar," TechCrunch's Michael Arrington wrote, "Qatar, home to nearly a million people, has been blocked from editing any entry on Wikipedia 'due to a large volume of spam and vandalism.' "
Qatar may indeed be home to 885,359 people, according to a July 2006 estimate in the CIA World Factbook, but this supposed ban affected far fewer of them than TechCrunch's headline suggests. Qatar has only 219,000 Internet users, and almost certainly not all of them bother editing Wikipedia entries. The IP address in question was the source for some 200 edits in December, according to Wikipedia's spokesman.
Really, the story, if it even deserves media attention, should have had a headline like "A Few Hundred in Qatar Inconvenienced for a Half Day by Wikipedia Administrative Error."
Good luck getting anyone to read that.