Come play the Wikipedia BLP-Palooza!

Last week Entrepreneur online featured a guest writer, Amy Osmond Cook – who blogged about “what she learned when her Wikipedia page was deleted”.

Her biography or “BLP” (Biography of a Living Person) was on Wikipedia for a few months, before, she says, “a Wikipedia editor deleted my article” where she claims it was “taken over by trolls”.

Amy will probably do a better job than I of telling her story about what happened, but what stood out to me about her post was her letting the cat out of the bag with quite a large bang.

Her main conclusion was “The real rules of the game are hidden, political, and bizarre.”

After doing some research, including speaking directly to WikiMedia foundations legal counsel – Amy Osmond Cook shrewdly blogged about how to game the system if you want to improve your Wikipedia biography, company page, or any Wikipedia article really.

Specifically, she noted, playing by the rules is a waste of time since the Wikipedia community has their own shadow rules they play by – the best thing for you or anyone to do is covertly hire a paid editor, anonymously. Her entire post walks you through it.

The Great Game.

When Amy says that “The real rules of the game are hidden, political, and bizarre”, she is referring to the levels of justifications experienced Wikipedia editors use to justify doing virtually whatever they want on the encyclopedia, including the harassment and suppression of other editors they are trying to remove from editing.

Let me show you how the game is played – and I will even end with showing you how to falsify what I am saying, by going in and playing the game yourself. By doing so – I predict you will discover the same set of evidence many of us who are investigating Wikipedia’s toxic community also are.

Two sets of rules.

Not that long ago, Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger visited the wiki entry on the Discovery Institute, which is a mess when you visit it. The Discovery Institute is a hot topic for activist editors on Wikipedia since they are challenging the accepted neo-Darwinistic model of evolution by introducing an “intelligent design” alternative. Nothing brings out the activists like intelligent design, and in this case, they use their dominance on Wikipedia to stage criticisms of the organization.

My ignorance on the subject of evolution could fill volumes – so again I have nothing to add or question about the topic, but that didn’t stop Larry Sanger.

As the originator of and the first person to elaborate Wikipedia’s neutrality policy, and as an agnostic who believes intelligent design to be completely wrong, I just have to say that this article is appallingly biased. …  I’m not here to argue the point, as I completely despair of persuading Wikipedians of the error of their ways. I’m just officially registering my protest. —Larry Sanger (talk) 05:30, 8 December 2017 (UTC)

Larry Sanger holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is fervent on the concept of “neutral” point of view writing, especially on controversial topics. He is also the designer of Wikipedia – so some would expect that his “opinion” on the status of the article would hold some weight.

Nope. That meant very little to Wikipedia’s shadow community. Following Sanger’s comment, an editor decided to make the article neutral by removing the obvious “skeptic” demeaning bias the article had. Within minutes that editor was reverted.

Following on the heels of this event was the BLP deletion of a notable paleontologist, Günter Bechly from Wikipedia (the English version at least, his German article is still up). Günter Bechly’s work in paleontology was notable enough for paleontologists, as they named a number of taxa after him. Wikipedia itself holds an article stub for taxa named by Günter Bechly.  (rolls eyes) they deleted this on Wikipedia after exposure from the publication of this article. (see update below)

Having taxa named after the scientist who discovered them would probably be the very definition of “notability”.

Why would they delete this article?

Günter Bechly recently joined the Discovery Institute, another scientist coming out in favor of Intelligent Design. Opps.

That is the “hidden” rule within this peculiar shadow community. A curious mixture of quirky and creepy. Don’t be a supporter, don’t endorse, don’t have any interest or curiosity any “fringe” subject matter, don’t align yourself with any subject, group, or person that deviates in any way from a what appears to be a very narrow, often juvenile interpretation of scientific orthodoxy.

My four-year case study shows that if you break their hidden rule, or even if you are suspected of breaking the hidden rule in the future, Wikipedia’s skeptic community will begin to weaponize Wikipedia and other MediaWiki’s in bizarre social vendettas against the subjects.

Even though many Wikipedia editors mentioned that Günter Bechly did pass the WP:Prof “test”, and he has actual taxa named directly after his contributions to the field – this shadow group of editors and admins were able to enforce the ‘WP: Notability” argument to remove his BLP to justify their vendetta against the subject.

The hidden rule is what governs, the external rule is just used to enforce the hidden rule.

And it is a game to be played using a continually collapsing context and a rabbit hole of twisted logic and rationalizations which fly in the face of human dignity and collaborative consensus building, and Wikipedia’s own five pillars.

Welcome to Wikipedia’s BLP-palooza!

It’s not the rules of the game that count, it’s how you can use the rules of the game to get what you want out of the encyclopedia. Günter Bechly is actually fortunate it is just a deletion, it would be far worse for him if his biography began to be shaped by those critical of him.

Let me give you some another example of how this game is played on Wikipedia.

Tim Farley – an online skeptic influencer, often mentioned in this case study for his role in this shadow Wikipedia community of “skeptic activists”, has his own Wikipedia article.

Such accomplishment. Great skepticism. Wow.

Is he a notable programmer? Not by Wikipedia’s standards. Is he a notable writer?  No. What is Tim Farley’s notability, at least in relation to the encyclopedia? Zero.

His claim to fame is a website called “What’s the Harm?”, which also is its own Wikipedia article, which is only cited by other skeptic organizations on the web, with no major publications. Yet his biography reads like his notability is well established.

Tim Farley’s articles on Wikipedia were written by Susan Gerbic, and specifically using dozens of sources that Wikipedia’s own policies would not allow on any article. Additionally, she knows Tim personally and credits his lectures encouraging skeptics at TAM (The Amazing Meeting) to edit Wikipedia as the inspiration for her to create Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia.

Remember, I only refer to this set of editors as “skeptics” because this is literally how they refer to themselves, specifically that way on Wikipedia.

Not only does Tim’s article fly in the face of WP: Notability policy, it was written with a clear Conflict of Interest by Susan Gerbic, someone who questionably is funded to edit on Wikipedia, thus technically being suspicious as “paid editing” to boot.

I know him also and that seems a shame if we can’t work on this page because we personally know him. So I think as long as we are neutral there won’t be a problem.  SGerbic (talk) 00:18, 7 March 2011 (UTC)

I’m fine with Tim having his bio on Wikipedia, even though Wikipedia guidelines as they apply to others clearly do not apply to Farley. What I do have an issue with is the “two sets of rules” policy that this shadow community enforces.

For example,  Tim Farley himself wrote a highly critical article of Deepak Chopra and the conflict of interest for having individuals who knew Chopra edit his Wikipedia article, bragging about how skeptics exposed Chopra for this on Wikipedia.

Tim Farley, proud of the very skeptic activity on Wikipedia that he was a thought leader of, gloats back on Twitter when one of Deepak Chopra’s own representatives to Wikipedia gets blocked from editing, an action that was taken specifically by Farley’s own group of editors.

What’s more, Deepak Chopra is not only allowed but encouraged by WikiMedia Foundation to have a responsible representative on his article, a fact that Tim Farley misrepresents to his Twitter followers and directly violates on Wikipedia, thus preventing a biography of a living person the path of recourse promised them by the WikiMedia foundation.

Two sets of rules.

Play the game.

See for yourself.

My entire case study is falsifiable, especially around the work I did on Wikipedia on Rupert Sheldrake’s and Deepak Chopra’s BLP pages.

Go to Sheldrake’s article.

Question why it does not reference “biologist” in the lede sentence and request the article reflects a common encyclopedia entry. Don’t worry, this isn’t meatpuppeting. It is an experiment. You don’t have to worry that this is a sneaky edit either, there are numerous primary, secondary, and tertiary sources that show Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist, including Cambridge University.

Chances are, “roxythedog” or another Wikipedia skeptic “troll” will come along to bait you and tell you that the page already has a consensus if you just go check the archives (all 22 pages of them even, going back years – which would take someone days to read). If they try and label you a “woo promoter” for simply suggesting a non-controversial biographical fact to be inserted in the article, tell him you checked the archives, and it looks like far more editors support a more balanced lead than the article currently reflects.

Tell him that additionally, there was a consensus on Rupert Sheldrake’s BLP as a biologist for over seven years. Then inform them that it was removed from Sheldrake’s article without a consensus, with a freshly minted Wikipedia editing account making that their first edit on Wikipedia.

And lastly, try to have a reasonable discussion with them, getting them to explain their reasoning. Watch the contradictions fly around which Wikipedia policies they use to justify it.

Go to Deepak Chopra’s Wikipedia article.

Question why he isn’t listed as a MD, despite being a recognized endocrinologist as well as managing a medical staff at his center. Ask them why were the edits made by SlimVirgin, an experienced senior Wikipedia editor, were reverted, as she corrected the article to meet Wikipedia’s policy at face value.

Greet Roxythedog, who also will show up there to greet you too. He won’t contribute anything of value to the conversation other than quick short rubs, such as “what that other editor told you”. He is probably trying to rile you up. Just continue to question and work collaboratively with them.

Repeat.

Did the article change to reflect reality despite all of your reasoned attempts and interpretations of Wikipedia policy?

If similar events don’t happen to you that happened to me, I’ll halt publishing Wikipedia, We Have a Problem.

The problem with this is twofold.

It’s not just that one voice dominates an article and one voice gets suppressed, it is that this sort of thing is allowed and supported within Wikipedia’s community.

If it can happen within this small set of articles and editors, it shows this can happen anywhere on Wikipedia. Left unchecked (which it is) it means this sort of toxic culture becomes continually enabled to continue it.

Conclusion: DIY

I’m not trying to live up to my reputation amongst skeptics as a “notorious troll trying to disrupt Wikipedia” with my suggestion. I’m suggesting that to any organization out there that are building tools for this type of harassment and abuse on Wikipedia to use these two articles as case studies of how the abuse plays out on Wikipedia by trying it yourself.

The online skeptic community on Wikipedia is a combination of toxic and savvy, and the methods and strategies they use to target and abuse information online can help us develop more efficient tools to make the web more trusted, collaborative, and honest.

 

By Rome Viharo

Wikipedia, We Have a Problem

 


 

 

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