When The Review published its Compendium of Criticisms recently, responses were largely positive. That’s not to say we didn’t come across Wiki-idealists who continued to doubt some of the facts. One counter-critic questioned Clause 2 of our summary, which focuses on the Biographies of Living Persons dilemma :
Wikipedia’s anyone-can-edit culture has allowed baseless defamation of various individuals to spread widely through the Internet.
Wikipedia’s dwindling supporters have yet to come to terms with the reality that the site has become the world’s largest and most efficient revenge platform. And on Wikipedia, anonymous character assassins can (and do) strike at any moment, round the clock, 365 days a year.
Gaging and communicating the scale of the problems that beset a project as broad as Wikipedia is often a struggle. You can highlight as many examples as you like; but the bewitched Wiki-apologists merely dismiss them as “exceptions”. There is no method of quantifying the mass antagonism caused by Wikipedia, and those within the cult seem unwilling to even contemplate the task.
To get an idea of the scale of the problem, look no further than the archives of the Biographies of Living Persons Noticeboard. This is the Smithsonian Institution of defamation, a vast virtual museum bursting with tales of false rumors, libelous comments, and revenge attacks on biographical subjects — all cataloged, dated, and folded away in neat little drop down boxes.
The noticeboard was introduced some fifteen months ago, (following the Siegenthaler controversy) but has already swelled to unmanageable levels, becoming a burden to maintain in itself. This is before one considers the complex subject matter of each case and the numerous legal ramifications, which at present appear to be (mis)handled by besieged juvenile Wikipedians way out of their depth. And the noticeboard only covers the problems that got profiled by administrators. Most of the nastiness never even finds its way into this back chamber. And worse, a lot of the horror remains entirely unattended to.
An enlightening way to spend a few moments is to browse these archives, stopping at a whim on a given date and picking a case at random. Here’s a few exhibits we discovered on our brief expedition down those dusty aisles…
Open the Vaults!
Straight off the first shelf was a woeful saga surrounding a minor BBC sports reporter. The chap was none too happy about having a biography to begin with, but in the spirit of cooperation, began embellishing his unwanted resume with a few pictures and personal details. Before he knew it, he was swarmed by teenage Wikipedians, who blocked him for editing his own biography, on the charge that he was violating their Kafkaesque “Conflict of Interest” policies. The reporter replied via email with what seems like a legitimate complaint :
OK then what say I take Wikipedia to court for publishing information about me to which you have no right, copyright or access. It seems to me that you are totally missing the point which is (1) the article is about me (2) if it’s inaccurate you’re now saying that I don’t have the right to change it because (3) you decide and (4) who the hell are you to take that decision anyway.
Fair points, each and all. In typical Wikipedia fashion, he was briefly unblocked to further plead his case, only for anonymous goons to demand that he be “Indef blocked” due to the “legal threats” in the aforementioned email. Nine months later, his biography still loudly declares his punishable crime of updating personal details on the “encyclopedia anyone can edit”. And predictably, this is now at the top of a google search for his name.
Moving on, we discovered a marginal Canadian political figure who was left to battle the smear artists himself on his biography, using the account Merlet. In despair, he arrived at the noticeboard begging that false criminal charges of “solicitation”, “paint-bombing” and other imagined offenses be removed from his name. Eventually he got a reply.
Someone else wasn’t best pleased when it was claimed for weeks that a Fox News Soccer reporter was having a romantic affair with his news co-anchor, based on no evidence whatsoever. Eventually an angry anonymous editor removed the slur as “factually untrue”, before taking it up with admins. The anonymous reverter narrowly escaped an earlier edit which asserted that the sportscaster has special powers including “X-Ray vision” and the ability to “fly at night”.
Clodhopper, Monkey Puppet and Brainchannels
Reading some of these stories can feel like being in the grip of a Mescaline fueled pop-culture mash-up. In the world of acting, we learned that urbane thespian Jeremy Irons spent his early career “clowning around with a monkey puppet“, and going by the name of Houdi Elbow, a comedy psychic and magician. Later, according to Wikipedia, he gained national fame with Spit the Dog, an obnoxious salivating glove puppet. It was British TV big-shot Chris Tarrant that anointed Irons with the words :
“I don’t know who the f— you are, but stand there, you’re going to be on the telly”.
At which point it should become apparent even to groaning WP admins that the lower section of Irons’s biography had been replaced with that of bawdy ventriloquist Bob Carolgees. But it was a couple of days before they noticed.
In a preposterous twist, Chinese official Xi Jinping was described by one anonymous wag as a “clodhopper” (a kind of bumpkin), only for the bogus epitaph to be regurgitated by mainstream media and sent down the wires as part of an in-depth character analysis of Beijing’s secretive power structure.
Elsewhere, an obscure writer found himself the victim of a week long hatchet job at the hands of someone calling themselves Brainchannels. After the rewrite was complete, the biography now asserted that the subject had “drifted into his own little world”, had “violated copyrights” with his writing, that he needed “psychological help”, and that he “thrives on his ego and attention”. Oh, and his “many attempts to gain notoriety as a celebrity seem to be linked to a mid-life crisis in which he has no wife, no family, owns no property, and lives in rather unimpressive abode”.
We found a British Earl requesting via a proxy that intrusive information (including details about the birth of his daughter) be removed from his biography on privacy grounds, quite rightly citing concerns about some of Wikipedia’s “security aspects”. WP’s “Orange Mike” (yes that guy) enforced the party line with :
A desire to keep a low profile does not strike me as anything we are under any kind of obligation to accomodate [sic]. It could become a back-channel way to exert censorship pressure.
This is typical Wikipedian dogma. Because tiresome 60s throwbacks like Mike need to prance around in bright orange boiler-suits calling themselves “y-clept Lord Inali of Tanasi” at sci-fi conventions, they can’t understand why someone with a little more self respect would rather keep a low profile. Nor can these cult-warped kooks fathom why some folks would prefer not to have their names sacrificed to a venture that crosses Public Character Assassination with Russian Roulette
…We have a problem
Our sympathy also went out to a former astronaut who struggled to counter false claims on his biography with the desperate plea of “I am this person”. The beleaguered spaceman eventually found his way through the tangled forest of Wikipedia’s back-channels to beg for intervention. His statement well illustrates the site’s climate of revenge :
Highly slanted and derogatory information has repeatedly been added to my bio. I am a retired astronaut and environmental activist. [...] These inputs have been repeatedly inserted by advocates for a huge industrial maritime complex and strip mining operation proposed for Hood Canal in Washington.
What goes around…
Browsing the very first noticeboard page, unveiled back in 2006, one comes across a familiar name: that of John Siegenthaler Snr, the journalist whose vandalized biography caused an internet-wide crisis a year earlier. You’d have thought given that brouhaha he’d be one of the most protected people on the site? Think again :
For over a day, Wikipedia was reporting that Siegenthaler had “killed and ate then-President John F. Kennedy.” Considering that this is the highest profile gaffe on Wikpedia BLP’s, this seems pretty sad.
It sure does laddie, it sure does.
All of this could end tomorrow
You see, all of this misery, antagonism, time-wasting and defamation could end tomorrow with the implementation of proper regulations. But with entrenched extremists like “Orange Mike” and “JoshuaZ” holding everyone to ransom via Wikipedia’s interminable bully-boy consensus, there is unlikely to be any change soon.
But (whisper) here’s a secret, unknown to most; an ad-hoc experiment has been taking place on one biography for a couple of years now. This article has been locked from malicious attacks, and can only be edited by trusted people close to the subject, if edited at all. The article is, of course, the biography of Wikipedia co-founder and God-King, Jimmy Donal Wales.
One school of thought at The Review holds that despite hiding behind a legal loophole in Section 230 (meaning that Wikipedia is immune from legal responsibilities until Internet reforms permit), Jimbo Wales is at the very least morally responsible for each and every one of these offenses. The theory maintains that he is personally to blame due to his adamant refusal to implement sufficient regulations.
With the onset of Wikia Search, Wales has staked his future fortunes on the dystopian fallacy of content “anybody can edit.” If he manages to reap the bonanza he hopes for, we should never forget that it was at the expense of the time, distress and dignity of thousands of real-life subjects. Thousands of real people whose horror stories are all cataloged, dated, and folded away in Wikipedia’s Museum of Defamation.