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Wikipedia changes editing rules as users fight over definition of 'recession'

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Altan Gocher/DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Wikipedia has implemented restrictions for new and unregistered users who try to edit its page about recession. According to The Hill, new users and anonymous users will be able to make changes to the recession page, but their edits will be subject to review from volunteer editors.

The definition of recession has been under intense debate since last week, when the Commerce Department revealed U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) fell by an annualized rate of 0.9% during the second quarter of 2022. This followed a 1.6% contraction in the first quarter with an annualized rate of 1.6%.

Traditionally, two consecutive quarters of decreasing GDP — which measures the goods and services a country produces — is considered a recession. However, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has denied the U.S. is in a recession. During a recent appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Yellen stated, "This is not an economy that's in recession. But we're in a period of transition in which growth is slowing and that's necessary and appropriate and we need to be growing at a steady and sustainable pace." President Biden has similarly said that the current economic situation “doesn’t sound like a recession.”

Despite the common understanding of recession, there is no formal, universally accepted definition of recession. As The Hill notes, the National Bureau of Economic Research is the organization tasked with officially declaring a recession. The NBER defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and lasts more than a few months.” NBER often waits until long after a recession has begun to declare that a recession is indeed under way, according to Fortune.

As UnHerd reports, until July 11, Wikipedia included in its definition of a recession “two negative consecutive quarters of growth.” But as of July 25, any mention of “two negative consecutive quarters of GDP growth” was removed from the definition section. According to the page’s revision history, users edited the page more than 180 times last week. The page received just 24 revisions in 2022 prior to last week.

Critics have accused Wikipedia of trying to erase the popular definition of recession to align itself with the Biden administration. The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, has responded to these criticisms and defended the measures taken to restrict editing of the recession page. “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,” a spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation said. “Protecting an article is one common tool they use.”

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