Archive for the ‘BLP Issues’ Category
Lessons Learned (Again)
How much time should pass before you can say, with reasonable assurance, that the media has utterly failed to follow up on a story you thought was important?
It’s been over three weeks since the story of Ron Livingston’s lawsuit against “John Doe” - for using Wikipedia, Facebook, and other websites to spread a gay-rumor hoax - was plastered all over the internet. Maybe that isn’t enough time, but so far at least, the not-so-anonymous John Doe spreading the false rumor has gotten away with it completely. Livingston will probably drop the lawsuit, since the culprit presumably has no money, lives in a different country, and (having been caught) isn’t likely to continue his antics for the foreseeable future. And, by extension, Wikipedia will have gotten away with it too, despite having facilitated the whole thing for almost two years.
It’s fair to say that my own feelings in this regard constitute sour grapes. After all, our intention in researching this situation and in identifying Mark Binmore as the culprit (though WR member Tarantino had the scoop on that, not me) was to point out a serious weakness in Wikipedia’s BLP policy, and by extension, to shame Wikipedia into finally doing something substantive about the overall problem. Every little bit helps, but it looks like anyone who thought this case might be the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, and caused Wikipedia to finally implement preventative features against online defamation, was mistaken.
So what did we learn? Read the rest of this entry »
“Lee Dennison” does not exist.
He’s a fictional character, made up by a man named Mark Binmore, a sufferer of something that might be termed “Multiple Online Identity Disorder” - though I prefer the term “Wikiphrenia,” just because I personally own the domain name.
Anyone who appears on the internet claiming that “Casting Director Lee Dennison” is “dating” someone (always a male celebrity) is lying, and indeed, is probably Binmore himself, using one of his many pseudonyms. These include “Lee Kaay,” “Cheekychops,” “Dean Saunders,” “Harry Dennison,” “mickeybloke,” “Ben Humble,” “Jamie Lowe,” “Ram Sweet,” “Pukkabosh,” “nick baker,” “cheekymonkey,” “Fergis,” “Luc Ferrier,” and “Lawrence Davis,” among others. All of these pseudonymous accounts, on Wikipedia, Facebook, and literally dozens of celebrity-gossip message boards and blogs, are operated by the same person.
Binmore himself apparently works for a London-based Alcohol Rehabilitation Program called Foundation66, and also appears to own (at least partially) a Bed & Breakfast in Beziers, France, called the Maison de l’Orb. He has authored a non-existent book of his copious amounts of poetry, and he is also the registered principal of a telecommunications equipment company called “Qualitiwork Ltd.,” the address for which is a mail drop also used by the fictitious companies “Lee Dennison Associates,” “Fushion UK,” “Fushion Pukka Bosh,” and “Kitty Lips.” All of these seem to have been made up out of whole cloth, some with no supporting web presences whatsoever.
In fact, the closest Binmore has been to an actual motion picture production is probably his own basement.
When an online encylopedia goes bad
This entry comes from Guest Blogger RMHED, who probably doesn’t really care how you pronounce his name.
There sits on Wikipedia a short biography of a minor British showbiz personality - let’s call him Mr X. It is unloved and unwatched. How do I know this? Well, for over 7 weeks now, the article has contained two paragraphs of creative nonsense about Mr. X’s career. The first paragraph was added on April 22nd, the second on May 14th, and neither of these additions were referenced. Both paragraphs are humorous, especially the longer one, which goes into detail about a very downmarket game show Mr. X supposedly hosted. Needless to say, this game show is entirely fictional, but it was just plausible enough to cause me to actually check to make sure.
These two paragraphs now make up more than half of Mr. X’s short biography. Shouldn’t this poor abandoned biographical article be deleted? Or does its continued existence really help Wikipedia fulfill its mission of encompassing all human knowledge?
Wikipedia’s Biography vandalism crisis reaches new depths. This time, for the most watched article on the whole site. What more needs to be said? See here for news coverage.
(Screenshot taken from Wikimedia’s own site)
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.
Wikipedia Reviewer DocGlasgow wrote this essay on Wikipedia last week, attempting to address the major problems facing Wikipedia’s treatment of Biographies of Living People (BLPs). These articles are at the front line of Wikipedia’s culture of defamation and anonymous revenge. DocGlasgow’s full study can be found here.
DocGlasgow : To solve or mitigate a problem, you must first define it. This page is a workshop with the intention of trying to answer “What is the BLP problem(s)?”. Suggestions on the talk page are very welcome.
Ways in which a biographical article can be harmful to the subject
By harmful I mean either legally or ethically: that which may cause unjustifiable and avoidable harm or distress to the subject.
1. Un-reverted nonsense
(Including bad-faith personal attacks, and patently obvious untruths).
Vandalism is probably the aspect most easily understood by Wikipedians, it includes articles which have been blanked, filled with nonsense, or include obvious abuse. Although this is perhaps the category on which most article patrolers focus, it is usually the least harmful to the subject. Contrary to popular opinion, abusive commentary (”tom smith is an asshole”) or patent untruth that would deceive none (”Britney comes from mars” “Prince Philip is really a woman”) are highly unlikely to be legally actionable, and although it may embarrass or annoy the subject, actually reflect worse on Wikipedia than they do on the target. Verdict — whilst the crime-prevention element of vandal slayers are obsessed with it, it is in fact mostly harmless.
2. False allegations
Here we are talking about the untrue, but credible, allegation inserted into an article. Some of these may be intended as vandalism, others may have more malicious intentions. Whatever the case, these may cause the Foundation legal concern (it is not the point of this examination to consider the Foundation’s immunity). More importantly, they can be distressing to the subject, or indeed patently damaging to the reputation, career, or commercial interests of the individual. Whilst false allegations and rumours are the stuff of the internet, the fact that Wikipedia is a self-described “encyclopedia” which protests a commitment to factual accuracy, may lend credibility to untruths. Mirrors and google may perpetuate the lies even if it is removed from Wikipedia. Verdict – highly harmful.
Previous Wikipedia Review editorials have exposed Wikipedia’s failure to apply basic ethical standards when writing about living people, and its capacity to cause serious harm to the reputations of the subjects of their biographies. This post reviews the efforts of Barry Kort (Wikipedia user name: Moulton), an academic who is currently a Visiting Scientist at MIT’s Media Lab, and examines the problems he encountered improving the Wikipedia biography of colleague Rosalind Picard.
Picard is a director at MIT’s media lab, and was one of many academics manipulated by propagandists advocating the teaching of the pseudo science “Intelligent Design” in US schools. Picard had signed a petition later misused by Creationist advocates as evidence of a “Dissent from Darwinism” without her consent.
In turn, editors at Wikipedia stridently opposed to “Intelligent Design” maintained a biography of Picard that was little more than a hatchet job aimed to discredit her assumed beliefs. Which were in fact unrelated to the Creationists’ goals, but had become entangled with their propaganda nonetheless.
When Moulton arrived at the article, it looked like this.
Having failed to enforce a modicum of biographical standards on the article, Moulton was soon blocked from the site. His situation is a common occurrence for those who attempt to combat dominant cliques at Wikipedia.
Moulton initially wrote this blog post about his experiences, which was reprinted in the online newspaper at Utah State University. The article includes a link to another essay called “Scathing Glances” on Moulton’s own personal blog, which goes into more detail. The below post is a reproduction of Moulton’s second essay written in August 2007:
Last month, The Review reported from the vaults of Wikipedia’s Museum of Defamation, otherwise known as the Biographies of Living Persons Archives. We examined the ease by which character assassinations and misinformation against individuals can be propagated via the power of Wikipedia.
Most of our sample findings from the archives detailed obvious problems eventually resolved after repeated demands for attention from administrators; but many other complaints concern more subtle forms of defamation, not easily identifiable to the average Wikipedian.
In January 2008, the Australian journalist Ed O’Loughlin wrote a long response that appeared in the deletion debate of his Wikipedia biography. In the correspondence, O’Loughlin stated why he was requesting deletion, and why he, like many others, would rather not have his reputation tested by a project as volatile and prone to abuse as Wikipedia.
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…
Read the rest of this entry »
Thanks goes out to The Review’s resident business brain, Selina for highlighting Jimmy Wales’s appearance before a US Senate committee in December to discuss the potential of the New Internet Technology for the US government. The committee sat through a session of the usual Mimbo-Jimbo, including Wales’s announcement that Wikipedia was “a carrier of traditional American values”. An enthusiastic Senator Joe Lieberman (pictured), who chaired the committee, introduced the irksome God-King with these words:
“We’re very glad to have as a witness Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia, one of the most thrilling examples of what collaborative technology can produce. And we’ve asked Mr Wales to take us through some of the ideas behind Wikipedia.”
Due to the ideas behind Wikipedia, articles are constantly being reshaped by Wikipedians with information appearing and disappearing all the time. At any given moment, an article could carry new information never before seen, or it could be lacking in information that had been present in the article for years. The reader must learn to understand this new dynamic collaborative technology - which offers great potential for us all!
Jimmy Wales, who in contrast has his article permanently locked and fully protected from damaging mistruths at all times (see that little lock symbol in the corner), was kind enough to extend the same protection to Senator Lieberman’s biography — for six hours while the hearing took place. After Jimmy had left the building, Joe’s biography was unlocked and the dynamic collaborative process resumed in earnest. The article subsequently stated that Lieberman was a “flaming homo” and a crossdresser for the rest of the day.