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.
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.
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.
What’s more, Tim Farley knows this about Dan Skeptic’s impersonation accounts and his obsessions with me since Tim himself called out these type of actions against me as impersonations previously, stating in 2017 directly on Wikipedia that “I suspect that this [editing account] is some other user just trying to stir up trouble – either for Mr.Viharo or on his behalf. ”
That was back in 2017.
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, where Farley claims to Oliver Smith in a chatroom that he has been “blogging about me” being “delusional” (although I’ve never found any of these blog posts where he makes that claim)
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” and without mentioning anything in this study directly, published an article designed to justify skeptic activity on Wikipedia and literally faked data sets to his audience of skeptics. Before that, Farley seeded my RationalWiki article on Facebook directly to Susan Gerbic of Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia, encouraging her not to link to “Wikipedia We Have a Problem” which details the case study Farley participated in, but references instead what is a clear attack article, discrediting me not just as a writer or blogger, but as a professional.
This goes back to 2013.
What Farley refers to as “Viharo trolling skeptics for years” back in 2018 is referencing nothing more than, once again, anonymous discussions I had in nerdy internet communities between 2006 and 2007. I was neither banned nor blocked, and my discussions were intentional, purposeful, and also widely popular, not to mention another lifetime ago in dog years. Farley, as a thought leader in the skeptic community, as well as these particular discussion forums, apparently holds a grudge and used Wikipedia and RationalWiki to express that grudge against me.
However, while this history that Farley is aware of goes back to 2006, back 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. 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.
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. The only difference is this community felt they had the right to discover my real life identity, and then abuse my privacy where I should expect it and post my real name as well as a very intentional attack article the same community then published on RationalWiki and Wikipedia back in 2013.
Tim Farley and other members of this community made a mistake, not just about who I am, but about the results of their own actions. They happened to target me on Wikipedia exactly when I was just beginning my own case study into consensus building on Wikipedia.
While I wasn’t expecting to get harassed and targeted when I began the study, I simply continued to document the activities of this community who initiated all of this back in 2013 against me.
Since then, the Oliver D Smith Atlantid Dan Skeptic “sock army” has continually and maliciously harassed and attacked me on the web in response, often with criminal levels of slander, all to discredit this website and study. RationalWiki has not just published an attack article on me, they have optimized that article within platform link backs which boosts that article to #1 for my name, beating out not just my own blog, but Facebook and Twitter.
What’s more, Farley literally has defended this notorious, troubled Wikipedia editor and stalker regarding his many “sock puppet” accounts on Wikipedia.
Again, from Oliver sharing his own conversation with Tim Farley on a chat room, with Farley telling him directly…
Keep in mind, I have no idea who Wikipedia admin Opabinia is, and Wikipedia’s own check user tool is what verifies this toxic skeptic sockpuppet farm, not any post by Wikipedia, We Have a Problem.
After defending this sock farm in the past, even stating the impersonations from this sock farm are not me, Farley now spins a tale on Wikipedia’s noticeboards, attempting to defame me and align me somehow with poor intentions, solely to cover his own involvement in Wikipedia harassment, using Wikipedia and MediaWiki software to do so.
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.
This is how “personal armies” are built on the internet. Anyone can do them. While this particular operation is more sober than say “QAnon” or “Pizzagate”, the digital tactics are the same. Simply planting seeds in social groups, and let human psychology take it from there.
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 the creation of a highly detailed and content heavy biographical article about Tim Farley himself on Wikipedia, 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.