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.
“Director IJsbrand van Veelen goes looking for the truth behind Wikipedia. In this film, “Wikipedians,” the folks who spend their days writing and editing articles, explain how the online encyclopedia works. In addition, the parties involved discuss Wikipedia’s ethics and quality of content. It quickly becomes clear that there are camps of both believers and critics.
The documentary introduces us to the main players in the debate: Jimmy Wales (founder and head Wikipedian), Larry Sanger (co-founder of Wikipedia, now head of Wiki spin-off Citizendium), Andrew Keen (author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy), Phoebe Ayers (a Wikipedian in California), Ndesanjo Macha (Swahili Wikipedia, digital activist), Tim O’Reilly (CEO of O’Reilly Media, the “inventor” of Web 2.0), Charles Leadbeater (philosopher and author of We Think, about crowdsourcing), and Robert McHenry (former editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Britannica).”
Time : 48:12
Broadcast date: April 7, 2008
Direction: IJsbrand van Veelen
Interviews: IJsbrand van Veelen / Marijntje Denters / Martijn Kieft
Research: William de Bruijn / Marijntje Denters
Production: Judith van den Berg
Commissioning editors: Jos de Putter / Doke Romeijn
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:
“If people can write a functional open source operating system, there is no reason why they can’t write an encyclopaedia.”
This comparison keeps turning up, and while it sounds reasonable on a sloganeering level, its fundamentally wrong.
The driver for the development of Linux is real and pressing - the movement of mass computing to a monolithic, corporately-controlled standard is stiflingly unhealthy, and OSS breeds diversity and invention. Particularly, had LAMP [Editors note: Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP] not been created, a lot of the web innovation of the last decade likely wouldn’t have happened. Good-quality developers were drawn to OSS for good reasons, and established a decent level of governance because you just can’t engineer software without it. Because the technically incompetent don’t last long, Linux benefits from a virtuous circle: better software = more users = more developers = better software.
On 23 March 2008, Canadian journalist Rachel Marsden posted the below to her user space on Wikipedia, she posted the same thing to Jimbo Wales’s talk page. Marsden had conducted a brief affair with the Wiki God-King, who then ordered changes to her biography on her behalf. In early March, Wales posted a long personal message on Wikipedia detailing the end of their relationship. Marsden’s response some three weeks later, posted to the same place, was hastily deleted by Wales’s Wiki-minions and Marsden was unceremoniously blocked from the site.
Rachel Marsden : As anyone who has ever cared about Jimbo here knows, the only way to have any sort of rational or caring discussion with him is in the Wikimatrix here. Alright, fine. Game on, sweetheart. Newsflash: Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia; it is a cult. I wouldn’t even be included in a real encyclopedia. I want the Wikipedia entry about me deleted. I don’t know why this is such a difficult concept to accept.
This post was submitted to the forum by The Review’s resident Wikipedia Watcher Daniel Brandt. The post was in response to a piece in The Register by Cade Metz researching Roger McNamee, the major donor to the WikiMedia Foundation.
Daniel Brandt: The New York Times yesterday quoted Florence:
Florence Nibart-Devouard, the chairwoman of the Wikimedia board, who has never met Mr. McNamee, did not sound enthusiastic.
“It’s not a huge concern right now, but I am not comfortable with the concept,” she said, of venture capitalists consistently making donations to the foundation. “I would much prefer a varied diverse base of donors, some could be large, some could be long-term friends, who help in finding new friends. I hope the foundation won’t rely on these relationships.”
She said that she had proposed a resolution, passed recently, to require that any donation larger than 2 percent of revenues be approved by the board. And she said she would “make some noise” if a venture capitalist were to try to become a board member.
In the same NYT piece, Jimbo very strongly stated that Wikipedia will always remain nonprofit, and he will continue to show the door to greedy venture capitalists.
I think there’s a conspiracy going on, and Florence’s reaction is reasonable, but too little and too late. She’s in over her head. Jimbo is pushing bullshit to distract from the conspiracy. It’s sort of hard to tell, because Jimbo is almost always unbelievable. Maybe that’s by design!
Wheel-Warring in WikiDrama, like political give and take everywhere, follows an oft-observed model. The model presented here applies in general to all WikiDrama at any level of intensity, from a simple reversion to clamorous kerfuffle and brouhaha. It has 5 stages.
1. Mimetic Desire for One’s Point of View
One editorial clique establishes their Point of View as an editorial objective and other editors react with a countervailing drive for their complementary Point of View.
2. Mimetic Rivalry for More Prominence
Now the editorial cliques begin competing for prominence. Whatever winning strategies emerge, the less experienced editors copy them. To survive in Wikipedia, an editor must become deft at gaming the labyrinthine rules of the system.
Recently we focused on the plight of Overstock.com representative Judd Bagley, and his efforts to have Wikipedia acknowledge that feuding journalist Gary Weiss was using a number of aliases to “control” articles related to the company.
Other media sources have examined how Wikipedia came to be used as, in Bagley’s words, “a literal weapon against me and others”. Here we examine how a group of leading Wikipedia administrators, some of whom were in private email communication with the journalist, acted as opinion leaders in the Wikipedia community, thus implicitly sanctioning and encouraging others to side with Weiss and against Overstock.
Bagley and Overstock became known as “Enemies of the Wiki” for exposing the details of Weiss’s edits. And like a cult on the attack against “heretics”, the inner core of Wikipedia administrators set to work demonizing Bagley. Bagley’s perfectly legal and legitimate efforts to highlight the anonymous targeting of Overstock were twisted into accusations of “stalking” and “evil harrassment” from Wikipedians. Characterization of his methods eventually became so exaggerated by the Wiki-cult that they mutated into blatant falsehoods, reminiscent of the lies propagated against Wikipedia critic Daniel Brandt. Below are examples of this systematic character assassination by leading administrators taken from Wikipedia’s talk channels:
(It should be noted that Bagley’s claims regarding Wikipedia were later proved beyond reasonable doubt in an extensive evidence collecting process by concerned administrators. The wider claims regarding the US financial markets, which were at the center of the dispute, were in line with measures taken by the Securities and Exchange Commission this year. This week, Bagley will be appearing with Wikia CEO Gil Pechina on a panel, discussing “Web 2.0: The Emerging Law of Wiki, Blogs and Social Networks and Its Impact on Traditional Business and Entertainment”, where the matter will no doubt be discussed.)
[Bagley] is an obsessive troll. And I thought we’d learned our lesson about “sleuthing” established editors. It’s got nothign to do with that other site you’re involved in, other than as the venue for Bagley publishing his possibly fraudulent evidence. I don’t know why anyone would give him the time of day, he’s so obviously off in laa-laa land on this subject.
The following post was written by Sam Vaknin, author and a noted critic of Wikipedia. The piece was in response to an article supporting Wikipedia that appeared in Science Progress journal, and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.
It is a question of time before the Wikipedia self-destructs and implodes. It poses such low barriers to entry (anyone can edit any number of its articles) that it is already attracting masses of teenagers as “contributors” and “editors,” not to mention the less savory flotsam and jetsam of cyber-life. People who are regularly excluded or at least moderated in every other Internet community are welcomed, no questions asked, by this wannabe self-styled “encyclopedia.”
Six cardinal (and, in the long-term, deadly) sins plague this online venture. What unites and underlies all its deficiencies is simple: Wikipedia dissembles about what it is and how it operates. It is a self-righteous confabulation and its success in deceiving the many attests not only to the gullibility of the vast majority of Netizens but to the PR savvy of its sleek and slick operators.
1. The Wikipedia is opaque and encourages recklessness
The overwhelming majority of contributors to and editors of the Wikipedia remain anonymous or pseudonymous throughout the process. Anyone can register and members’ screen-names (handles) mean nothing and lead nowhere. Thus, no one is forced to take responsibility for what he or she adds to the “encyclopedia” or subtracts from it.
This amounts to an impenetrable smokescreen: identities can rarely be established and evading the legal consequences of one’s actions or omissions is easy. As the exposure of the confabulated professional biography of Wikipedia Arbitrator Essjay in March 2007 demonstrates, some prominent editors and senior administrators probably claim fake credentials as well.
Two important Wikipedia related stories were published this week. These stories illustrate why people should take Wikipedia’s negative impact on our culture seriously, before it is too late.
The first report told of the collapse of the leading French Print Encyclopedia Quid, which canceled its annual publication due to lack of advance sales, citing competition from Wikipedia for the shortfall. According to the Independent Newspaper:
The book’s publisher, Robert Laffont, says the whole concept of the print encyclopedia can no longer compete with the free information available on the Internet. Quid, produced by a family team for the past 45 years, has suffered especially at the hands of the French-language version of Wikipedia, the do-it-yourself web encyclopaedia.
Meaning that a legitimate, credible body of work has become the first major conquest in Jimbo Wales’s cultural war.