A wiki war occurs when Wikimedia platforms, Google search, and various blogs are weaponized to suppress edits by groups of online users or to intimidate and harass other users on the web.
One kind of wiki war is an ‘edit war’ that occurs on Wikipedia between the editors, working through disagreements on what should be published in a Wikipedia article, employing various tactics of editor suppression to remove the dissenting editors from the article.
On an encyclopedia that ‘anyone can edit’, this can mean just about anyone can find themselves involved in one.
The other type of wiki war is when various wiki platforms (often outside of Wikipedia), such as RationalWiki, Encyclopedia Dramatica, Metapedia, Conservapedia, KiwiFarms, etc are used as staging grounds to publish embarrassing or defaming information against targets within these communities.
These tactics are abused by many interest based groups, from political campaigns and fake news, to niche related issues, like Gamergate.
Wiki wars are far more nefarious than just a bunch of nerds arguing over oxford commas.
Veteran Wikipedia contributor and Rational Wiki founder David Gerard calls these “battles to the death for insanely low stakes”.
The winner of the wiki war gets to control the narrative and influence the global audience via prime real estate on Google search.
The narrative voice of Wikipedia appeals towards credibility, notability, and reliability. Wikipedia’s own guidelines encourage us to trust the narrative voice on Wikipedia with it’s emphasis on ‘neutral point of view’ editing, a paradise where only disinterested editors without any bias are tirelessly improving the encyclopedia.
The value of Wikipedia as a powerful online publisher gives any shrewd agenda editor a touch point to disseminate references, context, and in some cases mis information and misdirection to influence every one interested in a search topic.
The winner in the wiki war essentially gets to control the broadcast signal around a specific narrative.
The losers in a wiki war are banned from editing an article in the least, and can face harsher repercussions, such as doxxing, harassment, reputation destruction, and stalking, as detailed on this site.
If Wikipedia fails to adopt the narrative applied by any activist editor, there are a host of other wikis down the food chain that will more easily publish their narrative, all using WikiMedia software.
Wikimedia software functions as a foundation for wiki war activities
Wikipedia is horribly complex and horribly time consuming. One of the hurdles in producing this site was actually detailing the full arc of events in a Wiki War while working through the labyrinth of the platforms software. Wiki Wars are very complex, and in a heated event they can often require 8 – 16 hour work days in heated consensus or research.
“Wikis” in general are widely adopted via WikiMedia’s software, which is the underlying platform housing the majority of most online wikis beyond Wikipedia.
Any flaw, therefore, on Wikipedia is repeated across all wikis running off of Wikimedia’s software.
This complexity cloaks discoverability of what is actually occurring in one, and unless someone has been directly involved, they are almost impossible to bring attention to.
The weaponization of WikiMedia
WikiMedia doesn’t discuss this phenomenon much, nor how dark and sordid they can become.
WikiMedia appears to promote a very idealistic message for fundraising and TED talks. ‘An encyclopedia anyone can edit’ is a worldwide adopted brand playing off of a naturally infectious utilitarian message.
So ‘Wiki Wars’ are sometimes reported as ‘cutesy’ little fun things happening on the worlds greatest thing since slice bread or only reserved for a dozen or so highly significant topics which Wikipedia always seems to be able to account for.
The idealist message of what the internet can offer can often distract from genuine real world problems, such as fraud, harassment, fake news, propaganda, manipulation, slander, libel and tracking that are occurring online.
If we are to obtain the utilitarian ideal of what knowledge building, collaborative platforms offer, these darker problems will need to find a resolution.
Currently, I believe there is no solution to the problem on Wikipedia. Wikimedia has no solution and probably won’t, as they’ve already given control and responsibility to solve this problem over to the community.
This I believe is where WikiMedia has been somewhat irresponsible.
They tend to sort of stick their heads in the sand, removing themselves legally from any liability for any abuse that occurs on the platform they created, pass of the responsibility to an unmanaged and anonymous online community with plenty at stake with little to no proper oversight.
It makes one question who is really benefitting from giving all the power and responsibility to a community that is growing toxic. All they have to worry about is fundraising and spreading the utopian message at TED talks while the darker narratives resulting get ignored like an unwanted step child passed off to a halfway house left to hold the keys to the kingdom.
Buried out in the open.
We do not see the darker natures in these narratives about Wikipedia because these narratives are buried out in the open.
Even Wikipedia’s article on ‘edit wars’ – with a list of the ’10 lamest edit wars of all time’ is an article of humor. The public narrative may assume that ‘edit wars’ only happen on a small handful of articles and are ultimately corrected.
Yet the recent #Gamergate #Sockpuppet Twitter war has helped expose how problematic the situation is on Wikipedia.
I believe this is just a natural signature of ideological struggle in society. We should expect it.
Any article that may have a potential ideological focus or is an emotionally charged news event is likely to have, at some point – some sort of conflict between editors who are attempting to frame a narrative of it on Wikipedia.
So just how common are ‘wiki wars’ on Wikipedia?
Currently, there is no way to tell other than by visiting various noticeboards on Wikipedia and trying to figure that out from reams of discussions and accusations flying back and forth. There is no way to have a platform wide accounting of the problem because ultimately, no one is really accountable on Wikipedia.
However, the more time that carries on – the more the faulty architecture of Wikipedia becomes exposed, and what’s becoming exposed is that Wikipedia has no real solution to the problem. So if the problem happens a lot – then the leading source for global public education can only head down a path of discredit for Wikipedia if no solution emerges.
GamerGate and women’s issues on Wikipedia expose the issue to the mainstream.
I think the issues with feminism and Gamergate on Wikipedia may be the smoking gun to the much broader problem.
As Wikipedia is a predominantly male community – ‘females’ and female related issues by default are the first minority voice heard on Wikipedia, so that’s what is attracting the most attention in the press and blogosphere.
Wikipedia’s community is comprised of 15% female editors, giving them a smaller voice comprised to the male voice at 85%.
But what if how Wikipedia treats women is how Wikipedia community treats any minority voice?
What percentage of Wikipedians make up Muslims? Homosexuals? Animal rights activists? Chiropractors? Those percentages are far fewer than 15%. Are we only hearing about #gamergate because it’s the largest minority voice on Wikipedia?
So what is the cause of this problem on Wikipedia? Is it a male dominated point of view? Perhaps – but I’m not sure if that’s just a symptom of the problem on Wikipedia, not the cause.
This Magazine recently wrote an article on the ‘wiki gap’ and how that played out on the Gamergate controversy to one point of view.
In the wake of last year’s Gamergate controversy—the most modern of culture wars and, no matter what its supporters say, a debate that’s explicitly vitriolic toward women—Wikipedia became a battleground with people on both sides working to create ostensibly objective articles while fundamentally disagreeing on what the objective facts were.
This is known as an “edit war” and they happen all the time, usually resulting in an article lockdown or sanctions against specific contributors/editors. In this case, it was five feminists and Gamergate critics who were banned from making further edits, leaving the pro-Gamergaters free to enshrine their version of events as truth on Wikipedia’s pages.
In discussion with other #gamergate activists or commentaries, some believe the opposite happened. They believe a ‘feminists’ perspective governs the Gamergate events on Wikipedia, and claims the article is failing to cite legitimate sources.
I am myself unfamiliar with the full series of events, I only mention gamergate in relationship to minority voice issues and the breakdown in reasonable consensus building.
This ‘conflict of idea’ is what is unmanageable on Wikipedia. This is where Wikipedia breaks down. This is where Wikipedia in reality becomes vulnerable to being a DIY propaganda engine that shreds the principles of a neutral point of view into a paper bin.
This website details my own investigations into two wiki wars – the Rupert Sheldrake wiki war and the Deepak Chopra wiki war (not yet published), along with the continued harassment I still receive from editing on Wikipedia.
While the subject matter of the mind/body suite of subjects on Wikipedia is an example of just one of many problem areas riddled with agenda based editors, this should not be confused as an ideologically driven study or an indictment on either ‘skepticism’ as an ideology or Rupert Sheldrake’s or Deepak Chopra’s views or histories.
It was just chance that I happened upon Rupert Sheldrake’s situation and from there Deepak’s. One of my frustrations has been raising the level of the discussion to the very real and significant overall problem on Wikipedia.
This is not an ideological driven study from my perspective.
Yet to this day, this website and me personally have been framed, and often harassed – as someone who is paid to promote Rupert Sheldrake or Deepak Chopra’s ideas.
So that is what a ‘wiki war’ is. A battle of information, opinion and propaganda in the global battle to control the narrative of the one true neutral point of view.
Here’s hoping it does not evolve into a ‘wiki apocalypse’, where we lose one of the greatest achievements in the history of the world, the first true example of a collaborative and compelling medium.
Read NEW WWHP article. ‘Wiki War ingredients: Wiki Noise, Digital Wildfires, and Social Propaganda’
Read more: Wiki Gap