the wikipedia review

It’s only a website… it’s only a website…

Wikipedia Vandalism Study - US Senators

with 5 comments

Several months ago, a number of Wikipedia Review members joined me in a project to methodically enumerate one calendar quarter’s worth (4Q 2007) of edit data underlying the 100 Wikipedia articles about the (then) current United States Senators.

What we found was alarming at times. While most vandalized edits were brief in duration and clearly juvenile in content, a substantial portion of edits were plainly intended to be hurtful and defamatory against the Senators — and they lasted for not just minutes, but hours, days, even weeks at a time.

Using the Wikipedia page traffic tool, we attempted to interpolate the number of “page views” that each Senator’s article likely witnessed during the damaged edit. The damaged edit that saw the greatest number of page views before correction regarded Senator John McCain: “McCain was born in Florida in the then American-controlled Panama Canal Zone“, which lasted for over 3 days, under about 93,000 views where nobody noticed or bothered to correct this obvious error.

In all, the median duration of a damaged edit was 6 minutes, but the mean duration was 1,440 minutes (exactly 24 hours). These 100 articles were viewed approximately 12.8 million times in the fourth quarter of 2007. Over 378,000 of those views could be considered “damaged”, yielding a 2.96% rate of damaged views. There were about 13.2 million article-minutes during the quarter, and over 901,000 of those article-minutes were in a damaged state — 6.80%.

But, please, don’t get lost in the net “damaged” versus “acceptable” rates. Rather, keep in mind that the Wikimedia Foundation allows anonymous editors to append the article about Hillary Clinton with “hillary needs to die and chop of her penis”; or to modify the article about Bob Menendez to say “Menendez and Jacobsen have since divorced because he was cheating on her”; all without any meaningful effort to change the parameters of editing to disallow this kind of drive-by hatred and libel.

The team behind this study invites you to see for yourself:

We encourage you to find for yourselves the “worst of the worst” and react according to your conscience. Blog about it. E-mail your friends about it. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Contact your state’s two Senators to let them know about the damage that not only existed on Wikipedia, but continues on.

Ask yourself why this level of inaccuracy and defamation is tolerated on what purports to be a reliable, free encyclopedia. Why is it even legal? Learn more about what constitutes an “attractive nuisance” and what entities Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was intended by the framers of that law to protect. Is Wikipedia merely an “interactive computer service”?

We hope that this database will be educational for all who take the time to review it.


Written by Selina

October 5th, 2008 at 9:06 am

5 Responses to 'Wikipedia Vandalism Study - US Senators'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Wikipedia Vandalism Study - US Senators'.

  1. An excellent study and posting.

    Yet another reason why WP should not allow IP editors.

    An interesting topic for a future study would be to take all IP edits for a given timeframe and determine what percentage of them are “damaging” edits.


    6 Oct 08 at 3:23 pm

  2. Now that they know this, what are they able to do about it?

    John A

    11 Oct 08 at 9:25 am

  3. Clearly nothing has happened.


    8 Jul 09 at 11:32 am

  4. I used to think it was a bad thing to have anybody posting, but then I trad that the accuracy rate of Wikipedia is higher than that of most “prestigious” Encyclopedias.

    Rick McKnight

    28 Dec 10 at 6:39 pm

  5. @Mr. McKnight: If only that were true. (It isn’t.)

    Even so, “accuracy” isn’t the only thing that makes for a good encyclopedia, is it?


    14 Apr 11 at 6:03 am

Leave a Reply