True Tales from Weird Wikipedia: Incident at the Fringe Theory Noticeboard

Roger Stone, the infamous far-right political trickster strategist for Nixon and Trump, quipped in the brilliant Netflix documentary Get Me Roger Stone that “Politics isn’t theater. It’s performance art. Sometimes, for its own sake.”

Roger Stone would likely appreciate many of the “skeptic activist” Wikipedia communities’ social harassment and targeting campaigns, they share a remarkable signature in common, dirty trick influence media operations.

I’m not even trying to be hyperbolic when I make this comparison, and this certainly is not a “conspiracy theory” but in many ways remarkable internet theater and a microcosm of a much larger global problem.

Harassment and misinformation stemming from troll farms on wikis, specifically MediaWikis (Wikipedia and RationalWiki in this study) is quite different than harassment on other platforms like Facebook or Twitter.

For one, a MediaWiki offers contextual completeness, even authority – much more than just a tweet or FB post. And since it is a wiki, it is actually designed for groups to create together. Teams. If an influence media team exists (virtually of any type or in any vertical) MediaWiki’s are actually ideal for influence campaigns, and the participants tend to be more sophisticated in niche areas than the average internet user – they are editors and writers primarily, so therefore, when targeting happens it tends to be sophisticated, and even creative.

Definitely theatrical. Absolutely dirty.

Wikipedia Skeptic Theater 3000

“Skeptic activism” is probably best represented by the James Randi Educational Foundation, the famous magician who became a leading voice exposing frauds and tricksters. They’re an ideological group, with funding – and JREF was promoting Wikipedia as a place to “correct the record” and antagonistically edit biographies of those they target and proactively edit articles relevant to their own group of activists. JREF have created workshops that trained skeptics to edit Wikipedia, at least as early as 2013.

I’ve focused on this particular group in this study more by chance than anything else, and was surprised, shocked, and traumatized to discover they can be just as vitriolic and vindictive as any other group that uses media operators and teams in their online “information wars”.

Recently, thought leader of skeptic activist editing on Wikipedia Tim Farley and Wikipedia skeptic editor Roxy the Dog collaborated with Wikipedia editor and sock puppet farm operator Dan Skeptic in two influence operations to discredit Wikipedia We Have a Problem and me on Wikipedia on the “Fringe Theory Noticeboard”, a forum on Wikipedia where skeptics meet and discuss changes to articles or get help from other skeptics.

One influence operation was started by Tim Farley, and the second influence operation was razzled up by Roxy the Dog.

In the first thread started by Farley (Krelnik), he references a number of quickly created Wikipedia accounts that he said were trying to “squash” their conversation.

(I see some sockpuppet accounts appeared overnight and attempted to squelch this discussion, thanks to those who dealt with that mess). –Krelnik (talk) 14:32, 26 January 2018 (UTC)

Looking at the edit history of these “accounts” Farley claims were disruptive we see nothing more than classic Dan Skeptic/Atlantid troll impersonation sock puppet army accounts, i.e. the skeptic troll farm (see Oliver D. Smith, MediaWiki poster boy).

With perfect timing, once again, these accounts show up and do what Smith/Atlantid always does, claiming to be me or supporters of me – or some other “woo supporter” with strange over the top “fringy” sounding names, (classic Smith troll operation detailed extensively on this site) influencing the discussions on this small sub-niche community, staging a show that appears to match the tone Farley and Roxy the Dog amplify socially on the board.

If you want to check out how massive the Atlantid sock farm is on Wikipedia, see here as gathered directly by Wikipedia. Note a few of those accounts contain my name, or another one of Smith’s “targets”, all linked to one singular IP in the UK.

Atlantid, aka known around the web as “Oliver Smith“, has been defending Tim Farley from criticisms of his behaviours reported on Wikipedia We Have a Problem and has even posted his “chats” with Farley on the web, this conversation goes back to 2016.

While I don’t know if Farley has ever “blogged about me being delusional”, I do know that Farley has dismissed Wikipedia We Have a Problem’s reporting on this skeptic troll farm as “over 35,000 words of bullshit” while actually seeding RationalWiki’s attack article on me directly to Susan Gerbic of Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia, encouraging her not to link to Wikipedia We Have a Problem, again with this claim that I am just a “troll out for attention”.

This goes back to 2013.

On the Wikipedia Fringe Theory Noticeboard in 2018, Farley pretends he doesn’t know me and then kicks it over to Roxy, requesting him to explain to the community who I “really” am since Roxy knows me personally.

(I see some sockpuppet accounts appeared overnight and attempted to squelch this discussion, thanks to those who dealt with that mess). That’s interesting Roxy – do you have a perception of what percentage of what this person does is pure “for the lulz” trolling and what percentage they really care about? That’s nearly impossible to judge over the net but since you know him personally I thought I’d ask… —Krelnik (talk) 14:32, 26 January 2018 (UTC)

Roxy the dog, Wikipedia editor, does not know me “personally” at all. It is almost as if Farley wanted to protect himself from any liability of what he says about me in a public space, putting the responsibility on Roxy to take that risk.

Roxy himself clears that up in response to Tim.

Couple of points. I don’t know him personally, but have dealt with him before. He has been trolling the world like this for a long time, and will obviously continue. I don’t think he’s a sociopath like David Mabus, but I always envisioned him sitting in a little dark circle of silence in a loud busy pub, month after month. Trolling is to get attention. –Roxy, Zalophus californianus. barcus 16:58, 26 January 2018 (UTC)

Both Roxy and Farley have both dealt with me before. They both know me in the very same identical way anyone knows anyone else they meet anonymously on the internet more than ten years ago, very little.

Roxy, just like Tim Farley, is a member of a very active internet subculture known as “skeptic activism”, and were both community members on the JREF and BadScience Forum back in 2006 and 2007, where I participated as a member.

Referring to me as a “troll” is consistent with how dismissive this community is, any critical questioning or consensus building must be trolling, and oddly how they apparently project their own actions on to those they target. Farley and Roxy are literally collaborating with an infamous “sock puppet” troll farm on this operation, apparently missing the irony of their claims about me.

Note, this occurred on January 25th, 2018. It was not random that this “scene” that happened to feature yours truly. It was a response.

The day before, January 24th, I published “Come Play the Wikipedia BLP Palooza” which detailed how Tim Farley and Roxy the Dog were abusing Wikipedia’s BLP policy to not just suppress subjects, but also inflate biographies of skeptics themselves, including the creation of a highly detailed biographical article about Tim Farley himself on Wikipedia, while breaking a number of Wikipedia editing policies in doing so.

If that doesn’t suggest they are all collaborating, I don’t know what else does. They clearly are all on the same page, literally.

Using a troll farm to discredit evidence of a troll farm is always a losing strategy.

This is recorded on Wikipedia, and Wikipedia’s own check user tool can verify this too.

This is nothing more than pre-meditated influence campaign activity that shows a continual four-year pattern of targeting by this small, and very toxic, internet subculture (as well as the total frustration of having no recourse to do anything about it by the WikiMedia Foundation or in WikiMedia software platform of “Media Wikis”).

The MediaWiki conundrum

One of the ways MediaWikis, such as Wikipedia and RationalWiki, are different in the ways that misinformation and harassment is expressed is that on Facebook or Twitter – at least there is a solution that is technically possible, and they also have the resources to develop or implement solutions as well. While the problems certainly are more pervasive in terms of volume on FB or Twitter, when these events occur on a MediaWiki, they might be impossible to correct.

WikiMedia puts all responsibility for content, architecture, and community in the hands of the Wikipedia community and are legally bound to that agreement. The entire Wikipedia community is anonymous, and cannot come to a consensus on major issues. There are no tools to build consensus, there are no tools to prevent influence campaigns of any type – there is only a competitive psychological environment and the tools to empower it.

 

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