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The woman who corrects the history of Nazism on Wikipedia

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Within a few years, Wikipedia user Kecoffman, pseudonym of Ksenia Coffman, became known for having edited, deleted or rewritten thousands of entries in the largest and most well-known online encyclopedia in the world: in particular, those that told the Second world war in a way that glorifies Nazism or German military operations, often based on unreliable or misleading sources.

In a long interview, Wired told how Coffman realized that often the Nazi-related rumors in the English version of Wikipedia (and not just in English) lingered in excessive detail and heroic anecdotes, with the result of glorifying the army and other German corps and reducing atrocities of the Nazi regime. With patience and meticulousness, Coffman dismantled and rewrote over 96,000 entries one after the other and created more than 3,200 pages, becoming the 735th Wikipedia editor of the approximately 121,000 authors who constantly update the platform. In doing so, however, she has often been criticized by other editors, according to which her method is too rigorous, or even a form of censorship.

Coffman was born in Moscow, where she graduated in Computational Linguistics, the discipline that studies the relationships between languages ​​and computer systems; after completing his studies, he obtained a scholarship in California to specialize in managerial and financial subjects, and still today lives near San Francisco, in Silicon Valley, where many companies and technology startups are based.

It all began in 2015, when he found himself reading a Wikipedia article about the SS, in German Schutzstaffel (“Protection squads”), the special militias in charge of police duties in the period of the Nazi regime, which actively participated in the persecution of Jews and in extermination operations in concentration camps. Coffman noticed some images she thought were “visually very disturbing”, including photographs of SS officers in poses that seemed captivating to her; similarly, in other linked pages, machine gunners and SS officers were described for their heroic deeds, which overshadowed the war crimes often committed by the same people.

Coffman then began to carefully examine the sources cited in various Wikipedia articles about World War II, one of his favorite topics, by removing pieces that had been drawn from biased sources or that came from unverified documents; if in his opinion the remaining information was insufficient to justify the existence of a full page of Wikipedia, he erased it entirely. He began to edit entries almost every day, a bit as a hobby, but he became passionate about the strict guidelines to follow to modify the pages: at the beginning he modified about 1,400 entries per month, now in the same period of time he revises about 5 thousand.

– Read also: The guardians of Wikipedia’s climate change page

Coffman’s interest shifted to historiography, that is, the way in which historical events are told and interpreted. She concluded that in many cases on Wikipedia the events had been distorted to the point of risking to transform historical memory: not because whoever wrote them was necessarily on the side of the Nazis or in bad faith, but because in her opinion the detailed and adventurous language that it may appeal to a very small circle of readers and military history experts it would not be part of the historical reconstruction, but it would be more typical of “fan fiction”, the kind of fiction written by fanatics on a certain topic.

To give some examples, Coffman edited the story page of Arthur Nebe, the senior SS officer who was responsible for the idea of ​​using gas to asphyxiate people, later used to carry out the Holocaust. The article said that Nebe had conducted the first experiments on Soviet psychiatric patients and that he later worked to “reduce the atrocities committed,” for example by providing his superiors with data on more deaths than they actually had been. killed. Coffman explained that she felt “utterly disoriented” to see how Nebe’s responsibilities were mitigated and therefore deleted the quote, which she had found in a collection of essays from 1995, but next to the phrase “this, of course, does not it makes no sense. “

Among other things, Coffman reviewed some sentences from the Wikipedia page on July 20, 1944, in which he told of the – failed – plan organized by some German officers to kill Adolf Hitler, which had been described as “an imposing gesture”, which would have “Saved their honor and that of their families, that of the army and of Germany.”

In this regard, he also helped to shed light on the so-called “myth of the clean Wehrmacht”, a still widespread historiographical misunderstanding through which attempts were made to rehabilitate the role of the German army (Wehrmacht), arguing that apart from a few corrupt members the army it would have been largely unrelated to the crimes of Nazi Germany.

– Read also: The Neverending Story of Hitler’s Teeth

Coffman also dealt a lot with the pages of various German soldiers who had been awarded Nazi honors, whose military exploits were told in great detail and often in positive tones. By eliminating all anecdotal and unverified elements, Coffman ended up reducing the page to a few lines of text, and in some cases the page was erased altogether. A good example is the page of Kurt Knispel, a Wehrmacht tank driver, which after Coffmann’s intervention was reduced to just four lines. On the contrary, the Italian language page itself is very long and full of adventurous details.

On Coffman’s “wiki user” page you can read a comment from 2017 in which a user says: «In the past, the fact that various articles on the Second World War seemed to praise the German version, for its ability, heroism, etc., had bothered me. , but I never realized the extent [in cui lo facevano]. I am really impressed and I thank you for improving Wikipedia ».

However, not everyone admired Coffman’s work, indeed, many criticisms came to her from other editors of the platform, who contested her approach considering it too rigid, and accused her of wanting to censor some aspects of the story, which in others situations according to them would not be removed.

Among other things, Coffman has been accused of waging a campaign that “discredits volunteer editors who add their content to the encyclopedia with pleasure” and in good faith. So far, however, in the most intense discussions among Wikipedia’s WWII experts, the platform’s administrators have agreed with her, and even the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee – an internal commission that has the last word on controversies between authors – has expressed the his support, expelling from the site a user who continued to object to his corrections in an insistent manner.

Responding to an editor who had challenged some of his interventions, Coffman wondered if we should “continue spreading disinformation when it can be eliminated,” adding that he believes Wikipedia’s standards need to be higher.

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