‘Skeptic activism’ on Wikipedia itself is a perfect microcosm for how Wikipedia is easily abused by people with all kinds of agendas. When any group of Wikipedia editors dominate Wikipedia’s culture, they can corrupt the voice of any article.
I originally assumed that this peculiar sub culture and the wiki wars they involve themselves in would be benign, I was wrong about that. I was not expecting to become a target myself of their online campaigns. That’s how I actually wound up meeting Deepak Chopra.
Enter Deepak Chopra
In late December of 2013, right after I published a blog post detailing my experiences with editing Rupert Sheldrake’s Wikipedia biography, an associate of Deepak Chopra contacted me via Twitter. Chopra became one of many people dealing with a Wikipedia problem who reached out to me for advice.
Before then I was never a Deepak Chopra fan. I had no strong interest in Ayurvedic medicine or TM-style meditation, and I knew little to nothing about them. Never having read any of Chopra’s writing, I was probably mildly suspicious of him. Like most people, I imagine, I categorized him as an Oprah-type celebrity.
When Chopra contacted me I was immediately interested in his Wikipedia problem. Having dealt with agenda-driven skeptics in Rupert Sheldrake’s Wikipedia biography wiki-war, I was personally acquainted with what Chopra was complaining about.
Wiki wars are a phenomenon keen to this study, they are a puzzling combination of arguing a legal case in court while trying to control the ‘conch’ in Lord of the Flies, a challenge I greeted immensely.
Whatever the problems in Sheldrake’s Wikipedia biography were, Chopra’s were nearly identical and far more severe. Chopra’s concerns about his biography were legitimate. The lead section of his Wikipedia biography framed him as a discredited crank, and Wikipedia editors had intentionally removed words that countered that narrative.
Besides blatantly violating Wikipedia’s own neutral point of view (NPOV) policy, his biography was also ‘crappy’ writing with awkward run-on sentences. This is typical of Wikipedia articles that have been heavily edited by skeptics pushing their point of view (POV). Wikipedia skeptics’ collective narrative voice just plain ‘sucks.’
Regardless of what anyone believes about Chopra—I’ve never known anyone so loved by so many and so hated by an equal number—his detractors’ domination of his Wikipedia biography, an encyclopedia entry, so grossly contravened Wikipedia’s biographies of living persons (BLP) policy that I had no qualms about defending him solely based on that. Even if Chopra is a crank, Wikipedia editors were using his biography abusively for shockingly irresponsible editorializing.
Why do they hate me on Wikipedia?
At that time Chopra was so concerned about his Wikipedia biography that he considered taking legal action against the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that runs Wikipedia. I helped diffuse that situation by encouraging him to embrace the possibilities of how a responsible version of Wikipedia could work.
I began my Wikipedia work with Chopra by encouraging him to directly confront clear abuses by Wikipedia skeptic activists at his biography. By that time Chopra was too afraid to try resolving his Wikipedia problem himself. He had already been embarrassed by previous attempts by others to help resolve issues with his Wikipedia biography. A number of his associates thought it was impossible to correct his Wikipedia biography because they feared Wikipedia skeptic activists would respond by trying to further embarrass him. Chopra genuinely felt harassed by Wikipedia editors.
In March/April of 2014 reporters were asking Chopra, “Why do they hate you on Wikipedia?” He told me he was embarrassed because he had no answer.
Wikipedia, Please Delete My Article.
Anyone with a libelous, misleading, or harassing Wikipedia biography can petition the Wikimedia Foundation to remove it.
Chopra began by asking me if I thought he could get his Wikipedia biography deleted—and if so, could I help?
He offered to pay any related costs and asked social media advice in case a public relations campaign became necessary to resolve his Wikipedia problem.
Despite Chopra’s desire to have his Wikipedia biography deleted was something I advised him against as a first step.
I suggested first having a representative propose corrections on his Wikipedia biography talk page, knowing full well that most of the Wikipedia editors there were skeptical detractors. If that didn’t work, then the second step would be to petition its deletion.
This step is consistent with Wikipedia’s procedure for requesting deletion of a biography. I reasoned that if this approach succeeded he wouldn’t need to request deletion. If the approach failed, there would be a stronger case to present to the Wikimedia Foundation, and it would enhance any social media pressure that might be needed.
Chopra agreed to my plan of proposing changes on his Wikipedia biography talk page, and I became his Wikipedia media rep. I was transparent about this on Wikipedia. The gig didn’t pay much. Chopra offered a small monthly grant, far below my normal fee, but I was intrigued with issues on Wikipedia and inspired by his particular problem.
Since my own case study dealt with Wikipedia harassment—and still does almost three years later—I was also itching to confront his Wikipedia problem for personal reasons.
Fascinated by the wiki-war problem, I previously decided to analyze one as a participant observer by editing in the Sheldrake biography wiki-war. I consciously steered clear of hotly contested topics, like Israel and Palestine, which are edited by fervent political operatives. My assumption that Wikipedia skeptic activists were harmless proved woefully wrong when they maneuvered to damage and defame me as expertly as any political activists could.
What’s it like to work with Deepak Chopra?
Working with Chopra was both interesting and fun. Chopra exposed me to a broader world of ideas, problems, and opportunities, and I met some very interesting people while working with him.
My first impression of Chopra was that he was very forthcoming and unusually responsive for such a huge celebrity who receives equal parts adoration and contempt. Regardless of what anyone thinks of Chopra’s intentions, motivations, ideas, or ethics, he is a fascinating and complex human being to interact with.
Chopra became more engaged with my brand of ‘wiki-enthusiasm’ and ‘wiki-idealism’ after I demonstrated that my core strategy worked on Wikipedia.
My work with Chopra also brought me unexpected rewards.
For his part Chopra was curious about my efforts on this blog, Wikipedia, We Have a Problem, and my online collaborative project aiki.wiki. He asked if I was looking for an aiki.wiki business partner.
Though I wasn’t, he generously offered me a small grant anyway to continue working on aiki.wiki and Wikipedia, which I gladly accepted. Chopra’s responsiveness and attention surprised me.
He was very easy to work with directly.
And when I asked him if he was sure he wanted to go down this path, he told me he was in 100%.
So we set out to resolve a wiki war.
Read more: How to catch a skeptic: Deepak Chopra’s wiki war part two.