Introduction

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According to a tiny handful of Wikipedia editors and admins, I’m the engineer of a vast and co-ordinated global social media experiment for creating conflict. I’m a ‘fringe’ promoter, a conspiracy theorist, a charlatan for ‘pseudoscience’ and hold ‘views’ outside the mainstream. I’m also a well known internet troll with an anti-social personality disorder and am borderline autistic, a ringleader for countless sock puppets and in bed with PR agencies as well as just being plain old incompetent. According to them, as colorful as such a description it is, I’m just that sort of ‘peculiar person‘.

This description of me was used as a form of reputation destruction and distortion that a group of activists used to get admins on Wikipedia to ban me indefinitely from the platform in addition to further off Wikipedia site harassment.

I’m not that interesting of a person to get this much scrutiny. I am a casualty of a ‘wiki’ war. The article I was editing is not even something that controversial, it was not an article about Israel/Palestine, Islam, Jesus or JFK conspiracy theories. I was simply editing a biography of a living person – a notable individual who has as many detractors as he does supporters.

If this reads to you like another case of online harassment, it is. If you think that Wikipedia must have clear policies and guidelines against this sort of thing – they do. If you think admins should guard and protect against this from happening – they didn’t. 

Please don’t think however that I take this as a victim or just a disgruntled editor who lost his voice. I’m not.

I’m a huge supporter of collective editing platforms and the usefulness of their utility and a developer of a collective editing platform myself. Harassment and bullying is a disruptive annoyance on Facebook or discussion forums but poisonous to consensus building. Additionally, mis framing and reputation distortion techniques are draconian, McCarthesque political practices  usually reserved for the political arena, not something you would expect governing one of the worlds most important and respected encyclopedias.

Read more: About

Since my own sanction in Oct of 2013, other editors who have joined the article have been threatened with similar treatment and banned. It’s still happening, other admins are literally threatening recently banned editors that if they do not go quietly from Wikipedia, they may find similar ‘media attention’ as other problem editors, i.e. yours truly.

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Activist editors game Wikipedia, a case study

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This entire case study is a detailed summary with evidence provided in links which shows how Wikipedia’s own guidelines, notice boards and committees are gamed by activist editors. It shows how personal attacks are leveraged by experienced editors and admins. It is suggested by this study that this may be a symptom of an increasingly shrinking and increasingly insular community who may be blind to its own toxicity to its core principle of neutrality.

Read more: Activism as mentioned in this study

Read more: Tim Farley, it’s time to be honest about activism on Wikipedia

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Other points of view on the issue

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This happens more than you think, as this recent discussion on Reddit reveals. Its turning away countless new editors and is responsible for more leaving. Sophisticated studies are showing that Wikipedia is in decline. ‘Polluted’ editor culture is often mentioned.

In case you think I’m driven by my own bias in writing this, see how neutral editors with no opinions on the topic note the same.

Read more: Liz – A neutral editor’s point of view

Read more: Next steps – The Capn

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We simply can’t have bullying influence articles on Wikipedia

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I write this account both for selfish and unselfish reasons. My selfish reasons are to clear my name online and the attack on my reputation that was waged on me from editing on Wikipedia.

The unselfish reason is that this is simply ‘wrong’, both morally, ethically, and yes perhaps even legally. That Wikipedia is turning a blind eye to its own internal online harassment is troubling and I believe a genuine and reasonable  concern. What happens when the largest repository of knowledge becomes run amok with bands of activist editors who have bullied their way to the top of the food chain?

This case study shows this happening in one particular instance. It is the hope that seeing how this can happen in one instance may prevent it happening in another. I believe this study may be unique because the evidence shows where the flaws are in Wikipedia’s own internal process. 

Admittedly, I may appear to bring a ‘idealistic enthusiasm’ to this project, but if I do I do so without apologies.

As a big supporter of collective editing platforms, even a developer of one myself, I believe we must not allow online bullying and harassment to ‘work’ on any consensus building platform, much less the worlds largest website and repository of knowledge. 

Even Google and Apple assume the credibility of Wikipedia’s meta data and distribute it directly to their users, regardless if its corrupted meta data gamed by agitated editors. 

So while my case study is about me – the problem on Wikipedia is not. And that is what my case study addresses.

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A Biography of a Living Person poses a unique problem

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This happened on a very well known and contentious article on Wikipedia about biologist Rupert Sheldrake and a ‘bona fide’ wiki war occurring there long before my arrival. This wiki war has captured the attention of the BBC, Forbes, The New Republic, The Huffington Post and a microsphere of bloggers, with mainstream skeptics like Jerry Coyne and Sheldrake supporters such as Deepak Chopra escalating the wiki war to the mainstream.  

Read more: The Battle Begins

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I was surprised to find detractors of a notable living person controlling his biography on Wikipedia

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To me it did not seem appropriate that vocal detractors of a living biography would be allowed to control his Wikipedia article. It was as if members of the Tea Party would be allowed to control the biography of Barak Obama, or if the biography of George Bush was controlled by the editorial staff at the Huffington Post. Regardless of the ideologies or beliefs, that’s clearly not an environment that would produce a neutral point of view nor is it in line with the principles of Wikipedia.

I was just one of a handful of outside editors or bystanders that came in to help. Speaking for pretty much most of the other editors on the page, we just wanted the article to be more neutral. 

I took this challenge of getting the page towards a more keen neutrality pretty seriously too. I spent weeks doing research into Wikipedia guidelines and even hired an experienced Wikipedian as a consultant to make sure my participation was in tune with Wikipedia’s rules. This is partially why this whole experience was so surreal to me. I made such an effort to operate with integrity to Wikipedia’s principles. I was shocked to see all of these guidelines and rules as I understood them ignored and editors like myself who diligently tried to stick to them harassed and banned.

Read more: How I got involved.

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Overview: Harassed in first three days of participating

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Within three days of my six week presence on Rupert Sheldrake’s ‘Talk’ page, I was outed and harassed by a Wikipedia editor called Vzaak who immediately issued several warnings to me and then exposed personal information about me on the siteThis is was only one of many forms of bullying, harassment, and personal attacks.

I took Vzaak’s behavior into dispute resolution on day four – causing Vzaak to pull back her attempts to harass me.

Although Vzaak offered me an olive branch (a sign of resolution between editors) and agreed to stop harassing me with my personal information, she continued anyway after I accepted her peace offering. 

Continuing Sept 20th, Vzaak initiated a campaign of ‘reputation destruction and disruption’ against me through the talk pages of other editors throughout Wikipedia. This campaign was used to ban me indefinitely from Wikipedia and harm my identity off Wikipedia, which continues to this day.

Read full story: Enter Tumbleman

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Overview: Hunted and hounded

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As evidence shows, Vzaak became the ring leader in a co-ordinated effort with other editors to harass and personally attack me further, continually spreading personal information about me and seeking to sanction me off of Wikipedia.

Vzaak’s campaign for reputation distortion became apparent to me when I presented my ‘Request for a New Consensus’ on the ‘Talk’  page in question on Oct 8th.  

Vzaak, IRWolfie, Louie Louie and Roxy the Dog plotted various ways to create a ‘sanctionable’ event against me, beginning first to sanction me for spreading ‘conspiracy theories’. This backfired. A few days later they found found a third way to sanction me for ‘sock puppetry‘, accusing me of operating more than one account on one Wikipedia article.

One user I was accused of being even came back to Wikipedia to clear my name and his. And even though their tools used to verify such accusations determined it was technically unlikely we were the same person – he was sanctioned anyway by Mark Arsten and instigated by Vzaak because he showed up to defend me in the AE hearing as you see here.

Read full story: A Request for a New Consensus

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Overview: Five attempts to sanction me, one finally works

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Just as an admin was set to clear me of sock puppeting charges, and Vzaak tried to stop it – a second AE hearing on me started. This time the charge was ‘trolling’. The evidence of me trolling was based on the personal information from eight years ago Vzaak continued to spread around. Not one admin noted that this was a personal attack, or cared. Any personal attack was good enough for them. No evidence of my behaviors in ‘Talk’ were ever substantiated, indeed my contributions were supported by an equal number of other editors who strongly opposed the banning. Not one admin respected anything they said.

They then made a pillory, with admins and editors hailing my trollish ways, completely oblivious to the traumatizing experience they were delivering. This second hearing was an incredibly organized process that concluded in under 24 hours with less than half of the support of everyone commenting. 

Read: The Case for Sockpuppetry

Read: The Second Trial of the Tumbleman

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Overview: Highly questionable sanction

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My banning was challenged by other editors quite powerfully, as found in this AE noticeboard here, other editor talk pages  and admins pages involved.  More recently, TheCapn instigated an Arbitration Request for a hearing on the issue. His requested was deflected to the lower appeal Arbitration Enforcement to handle the problem.

Read more: Aftermath

Read more: Next Steps – TheCapn

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Overview: Tumbleman ban sets off ‘cultural’ war momentarily

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After I was banned admins and editors jumped in and wrote on my talk page, calling me incompetent, autistic, a troll, an ego maniac, a conspiracy theorist, and a heap of other awkward and libelous associations. If the intention behind this ‘mob mind’ was not so abusive, the entire affair would be comical, as one editor commented it was like watching Monty Python’s ‘Blasphemy’ sketch.

Shortly thereafter a wiki war began to happen on my own talk page. Admins and activist editors began an argument with supportive editors, with the final attack being an article created about me on Rational Wiki. Craig Weiler blogged about ‘The Trial of the Tumbleman’ and somehow I unwittingly became involved in a cultural war between skeptic activists and supporters of Rupert Sheldrake’s research.

Ironically – the entire experience as the evidence will show was almost step for step with a ‘humorous’ essay on Wikipedia called ‘How to Ban a POV you don’t like’. Its meant to be written as a joke, but the irony is its exactly what happened.

Read more: Tim Farley, its time to be honest about activism on Wikipedia

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Don’t take my word for it, please check the evidence

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Although my story is going to be covered with my own point of view, what protects you from my unavoidable bias is that Wikipedia records everything. Everything that happened is archived. I present evidence with each claim I make in each link provided. This article you’re reading now is the wireframe for everything. Each link provides and overview of the context of what happened to links on Wikipedia that support it in evidence and the chapter for context.

I believe we need to shine some light in these dark little crevices. I believe we need to give this a proper review. This is a factual case study of how harassment and bullying is used to control an article on the worlds most popular site. This is what it looks like. This is how it happens. This is how it will continue to happen.

So hello world, come meet your guardians of knowledge.

Wikipedia, we have a problem.

Read next:  The Battle Begins

 

 

rome viharo
dec 21, 2013

NOTICE: This is a work in progress. I am collecting similar stories for further study here and if you have a case or story please advise.

Tim Farley, it’s time to be honest about activism on Wikipedia

email: reportabuse AT  wikipediawehaveaproblem DOT com

 

12 thoughts on “

  1. Hi, I’ve been studying the creation of a scientific social network for three years now. I strongly believe that this is a solvable problem, but I also notice that people tend to make the same characteristic mistakes when approaching it. It appears that that which motivates people to read about scientific controversies tends to filter out the entrepreneurs and other people who get sh*t done in this world. In other words — and you might have heard this before — what got you here will take you no further.

    I’ve decided to publish what I’ve found thus far on this subject online in an attempt to create more intelligent dialog on this subject — which I’ve found is TOTALLY absent. It’s my firm belief that true rational scientific discourse must be DESIGNED. It will never become commonplace without an infrastructure which is intentionally designed to elicit it. And to do that, the site has to take what humankind already knows in the subjects of philosophy, psychology, sociology, social networking, critical theory, science education research, marketing research & branding (yes, trust me on this, it’s important) — etc — and apply them to this problem space.

    Please feel free to use my thread (http://www.thunderbolts.info/forum/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=14667) as a basis for ideation on this subject. What I believe we need to do first is to make ourselves into the world’s leading experts on scientific social networking by creating fluency in all of the relevant subjects. Then, without any particular dogmatic attachment to any of those ideas, we need to imagine solutions to real-world problems which actual people run into. Somewhere in there, there is a core technology which applies to lots of these specific solutions. What is that core technology?

    Either way, I am deeply committed to this subject matter, and so I would ask to please be kept int he loop on any effort to reform online discourse.

    • Chris thank you for this can you email me? I would like to speak with you about this and inform you of progress with AL 0 1 2, which is such a design. I could really user your insight. rome AT wikipedia we have a problem DOT com

  2. Wikipedia is a useful resource for factoids. For example, if you wanted to look up the population of Nottingham, England, and a brief synopsis of its history. However, on many more complex issues — that should be open to debate — it is dangerous and unreliable. This is because it is dominated by ideologues.

    Very often these bigots hide behind words like skepiticism. In reality skepticism means to doubt certainty, and yet these bigots are certain of their worldview, and seek to denigrate all others by various means. Thus it is fair to describe the influential clique of Wikipedia editors (we know who they are) as pseudoskeptics. They are mean-spirited and continually act in bad faith.

    A number of leading scientists in addition to Rupert Sheldrake have had their work and biographies misrepresented and distorted by the Wackopedians. This situation is anti-scientific.

  3. One sad thing about this mess is that investigations (skeptical but honest) into what is termed Fringe science, or pseudo-science, etc. is absolutely crucial to the progress of science, in the long run. If everyone who came at a problem with a different perspective had as her reward being banned, we would still be wondering what those funny bright dots in the nighttime sky are. Einstein would have died a postal clerk. There’s enough marginalization in doctrinaire science in all its ventures without Wikipedia and other potentially good ventures joining in and piling on.

    I am looking into a “fringe area” with great delight – the Universe as plasma with isolated areas of cooler condensed matter, harboring, in one known instance, anyway, somewhat sentient life forms. Including Rupert, you, and me. Astronomers and astrophysicists know that what they are looking at at great distances is almost all in the fourth state of matter – plasma; i.e., matter stripped of one or more electrons, as a low or high enough fraction of non-ionized components as to make the electric force significantly more powerful than that of gravity in the observed phenomena. Nonetheless, the current approach is to rely on gravity as the prime mover and creator, possibly because it is more tractable, and mysterious, requiring the funding of searches for “other things” that will help gravity-based mathematical solutions better describe and predict the events observed in space.

    I am as skeptical of the electromagnetic explanations as of the gravity explanations, in this niche area, but am drawn to the dark corners and dismissed areas because scientists seem to avoid them so widely. And, truth be told, there is good work in the fringe-y areas by some who work in mainstream astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology as their profession and first love.

    Wikipedia does not reveal this. It assiduously moderates this discussion, too, as an assault on What Everyone Knows Is the Truth, just as it does on Rupert Sheldrake. Science isn’t about truth, beyond the simple observation that we will never know it all. It is about finding and improving models of our understanding how things work. We, ourselves, are working objects in that view, and thus cannot stand too far apart from scientific enquiry, ourselves. If fringe science is wrong, it will come out in the wash, when people investigate carefully, critically and honestly. If it’s ever right, we need to know it, right?

    So press on, Rome. You are appreciated more than you might realize. There are a lot of people fed up with Wiki and the controllers of communications and knowledge than you may ever know.

    Jim

    • ha ha thank you! I am not your cousin but that’s just what he would probably say too. I am going to be collecting similar stories from other editors – so pop me off an email at rome AT wikipedia we have a problem dot .moc

  4. Thank you for fighting for truth, and trying to spread it. Wikipedia has changed in the last 12-24 months. They have never been like this before. Now they are either operating with a gun to their heads, or have been forcibly infiltrated. They also have already started ‘failing to archive’ certain edits/edit wars. When I accused them of having guns to their heads, on the Crop Circle Talk Page, they simply didn’t reply. No denials, no attacks, just nothing. I think that says something. There is a war on for control of the internet, and our minds. Maybe we should ask the BBC to start a ‘BBC-Wikipedia’. (Who else can we trust?) Be well, blucat, David.

    • thanks for the support Dave. I’ve heard many editors report a similar issue. I think mine is unique because the evidence is so clear. I don’t think what’s causing this however is anything ‘sinister’, i think it’s just ‘group think’ and the down side of human nature. Although the article i edited on was a biography, the particular biography is well known for engaging in what is called Fringe research. But this case study should not be looked at as an indictment of skeptical activism. This can happen in any article on Wikipedia where different ideologies have to work through an issue. What this case study shows is that if you have a number of editors who have the bias of their own ideology, the system can be gamed. I don’t think the behaviors of the editors involved is a reflection of their beliefs, although I do admit that most I have met online through this experience who are avowed ‘skeptics’ engaged with ‘skeptical’ activism can certainly be a cranky bunch, no doubt. Thanks for sharing and thanks for helping to get the word out.

  5. It does not surprise me that you were treated this way. The psuedoskeptic movement is a hate group full of ignorant and closed minded individuals. In the end they will lose, because they are defending a position that has been proven false. Truth will triumph in the end as more facts come to light. The mind simply cannot be reduced to the brain.

    • Thx for commenting! It certainly appeared that way during this whole ordeal. I expect dirty tricks from political groups, but if you claim to argue for science and empirical thinking, you would at least expect logical and empirical arguments that would easily refute the opposition. If their positions were so reasoned on the article on Wikipedia, why the need for all the dirty tricks? They have recently banned a few more editors, and now they are claiming that anyone who does not agree with them are in violation of Wikipedia’s core principle of neutrality. they appear to be a very draconian bunch!

  6. A most thorough and erudite presentation Rome – well done!

    I was active on Sheldrake’s talk page shortly before you started contributing and ran into the same impenetrable bulwark and the same bully tactics, though I gave up early. Have experienced this on other topics as well (Quakerism). I applaud you for sticking with it so tenaciously.

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