Commons:Disputed territories

This essay is essentially a recommendation on how to implement the Commons policy Commons:Project scope/Neutral point of view in the specific case of territorial disputes between countries.


Many edit wars on Commons find their origin in real wars or disputed territories. This page gives some suggestions for how to live peaceably on Commons, even when there is a fundamental disagreement in real life. It starts with the observation that Commons is a big place, and is perfectly capable of hosting more than one version of any file. The second key observation is that our mission is education, and good education involves understanding both sides of any disagreement.

This essay originated when a conflict flared up over file naming, categorization and descriptions of images and maps of the Golan Heights. Everyone agrees that the territory is disputed, but that's about where the agreement ends. My proposal can be found here, and with the backing of others, was implemented. Six months down the track, I'm pleased to report that the Golan Heights is at peace (at least on Commons), and as far as I know all of the warriors are not blocked, and have become useful contributors. The same strategies are likely to work for your very own personal dispute, try them!

Strategies for peaceEdit

  1. Both versions of any map can be uploaded as separate files, clearly labelled with their POV, and linking one another as Other Versions. Whichever map was first at a certain filename gets to stay there. The Wikipedias can decide which version is appropriate to use in which educational context. Legitimate improvements that are independent of POV can be made with complete consensus, but if anyone objects, they should be reverted and sent to a new filename.
  2. Categorization should either be neutral (ideally), or double. e.g. most of these files will be in the simple Category:Geography of Golan Heights (neutral), which itself is a subcategory of both Category:Geography of Israel and Category:Geography of Syria (double). This will work with all subcategories too. Don't add Category:Flora of Israel. Make a category called Category:Flora of the Golan Heights, then it can be a subcat of both Category:Flora of Israel and Category:Flora of Syria.
  3. Multiple languages should be used for descriptions. English, Hebrew, Arabic, ... no problem.
  4. The content of the descriptions (in all languages), should follow this neutral/double categorization system. "Place xyz, Golan Heights" (rather than "Place xyz, Israel"), will usually be sufficient, especially if w:Golan Heights is linked to the relevent Wikipedia article, users can find out more about the dispute from there.
  5. Geotag wherever possible. Putting geographic coordinates on these things is what will last and remain true for millenia. Educationally these are actually more important than the current geopolitical situation.
  6. Only add information like "building was bombed in the war" when you know that it is true, and ideally have a reference. Only remove that kind of information if you know that it is not true.
  7. Administrators affiliated with either Israel or Syria, steer clear of using administrative tools on files or users related to this topic without discussion with other admins. You are likely to be too emotionally attached.

Common objectionsEdit

  • Yes sometimes it looks like it does, but WP:NPOV is a policy of the English Wikipedia which does not apply on this site, Wikimedia Commons. In fact, Commons NPOV policy makes it explicit that the files we host here do not individually have to satisfy any particular Wikipedia-style 'neutral point of view'. We are interested in hosting material from all points of view. In fact, it helps the Wikipedias in their NPOV aim to represent all significant views.
  • The United Nations says that that version is wrong
  • The United Nations says a lot of things, and thankfully not many of them are about which version of a file Commons must host.
  • Double categorization means that at least one category is incorrect
  • The categorization system is primarily for navigation, and secondarily (or less) to declare the true state of the universe. Since some users will navigate from one country, and others will navigate from another, both are aided by being able to find the resources they want.

Further readingEdit

On a less geopolitical level, the same basic principle works for most types of disagreement over file contents. Don't Overwrite is a guideline worth reading if you often find yourself in version wars on any kind of file.