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

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.

Please note that in both of these links, we once again have classic Dan Skeptic troll impersonation sock puppet army accounts, with perfect timing, showing up and doing what they always do, 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.

We also have Wikipedia skeptic editor Guy Macon then seeding  and link dropping RationalWiki’s willfully deceptive article on me in the same discussion, feeding and supporting this message directly to a community of skeptic editors on Wikipedia, which I take as again them still using Wikipedia as a platform to harass me, some four years after the original event. You’ll see a few other skeptic editors chiming in too – many of which have already been featured in this study, such as JPS, and Guy Chapman.

The recent event at the FTN shows that this group is not acting like a community of editors, and certainly not like skeptics, they are acting like a community of social or political media operatives (troll farm in modern parlance), using communication and persuasion strategies and playing out these strategies somewhat like a theater on Wikipedia.

The core message of their operation? Similar to a Roger Stone strategy, loaded with dirty tricks and over the top narratives. Discredit the messenger, ignore the message, paint “Rome Viharo” (again) as a fringe promoting woo woo troll stalking Wikipedia editors, the same message Dan Skeptic has spread around the web for years. And then have Dan Skeptic create a small storm of impersonation accounts to give some sort of demonstration of what Farley and Roxy the Dog are “concerned” with.

Note, this occurred on January 25th, 2018.

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 Tim Farley while breaking a number of Wikipedia editing policies.

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”).

And there is plenty of evidence, directly on Wikipedia, that Tim Farley is clearly aware of the infamous “atlantid” troll farm on Wikipedia and this is not the first time Farley has been caught collaborating (either intentionally or unintentionally) with this troll farm.

This is just what the data shows, and I am extending no further allowance of what any of this means other than influence campaigns operating a troll farm on Wikipedia and RationalWiki by a group of editors who self-identify as “skeptics” of the James Randi type.

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.