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Thursday, October 5, 2023

Russians Are Downloading Wikipedia En Masse As A Ban Looms

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has now entered its fourth week, with no end in sight. As a result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions, the country has become largely isolated from the West, whether it is through sanctions and boycotts, or Russia itself cracking down on its citizens’ access to information from around the world.

Wikipedia is one source of information specifically targeted by the Kremlin.

Knowing that this enormous source of free knowledge could soon be taken away, those in Russia are downloading the entire Russian version of Wikipedia in order to be able to access the content offline.

It seems like a daunting task to download all of Wikipedia. Kiwix, a company that runs a free web browser that is specifically designed for offline reading, has made the process relatively easy. All 1.8 million articles in the Russian-language version of Wikipedia are available as a downloadable torrent from the non-profit. (In case you wondered, Wikipedia’s terms permit this.) The file weighs in at 29 GB.

For Slate, Annie Rauwerda dug into Kiwix’s public statistics and found that downloads of the Russian-language Wikipedia have spiked in recent weeks. So far this month, it has been downloaded 148,457 times. As Rauwerda points out, that’s a more than 4,000 percent increase in downloads when compared to January.

Russian censorship agency Roskomnadzor (abbreviated to Roskomnadzor) threatened to block Wikipedia earlier this month. The Kremlin contested the Wikipedia entry about the “Russian invasion of Ukraine (2022).” The page does not follow the Kremlin’s proposed propaganda surrounding the war. Russia aims to cut off access to any media that does not follow its official narrative.

Russia’s request for Wikipedia to censor itself was rejected a few days later by the free encyclopedia.

Although Wikipedia has not been banned in Russia yet, many fear that the possibility is very real, as Kiwix’s download statistics demonstrate. Putin has already restricted access to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Wikipedia can easily be next. It wouldn’t be the first time Russia blocked Wikipedia either.

Wikipedia torrents from Kiwix are one of the many tools Russians have used to avoid being totally cut off from the outside world. With entries like “Russian Invasion of Ukraine (2022)” bringing objective facts to the people of Russia, it will be hard for Putin to continue telling his own version of events. Also, that’s a crucial aspect in helping end the war.

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