Wikipedia We Have a Problem is a gonzo, factual based investigation into what are known as wiki wars on Wikipedia, and the type of harassment that can occur from participating in them. This is the first known fully documented first person narrative of what happens in a wiki war, breaking through the many layers of complexity that hides these problems on Wikipedia ‘out in the open’.
Wikipedia We Have a Problem originally was published in late December of 2013. Before gamergate, the SJW war with the alt right, /pol election shenanigans, fake news, pizzagate and all the shock and absurd spectacle of the 2016 election – this study began to pierce into how online misinformation campaigns initiate, ignite and spread and what sort of tactics are used.
Ironically, what motivated this study at first was just my own sense of self protection and reaction to what was happening to me on Wikipedia in what I assumed would just be a nerdy and wonky encounter. The experience was as if penned in Lord of the Flies. This vulnerability began online right after I experienced a surreal ride into Wikipedia’s arbitration enforcement process.
Within one week of formally and professionally requesting a ‘new consensus’ on a Wikipedia article, I was harassed, slandered, and blocked permanently from Wikipedia by admins and a core group of editors which feature extensively into this study.
Doubling the tension for me at the was a newly created article written about yours truly on Rational Wiki, which quickly rose up in Google search for returns on my name, hitting the number one spot.
This encounter was equally as intriguing as it was traumatic, and I’ve continued ever since.
This harassment and attacks on my personal reputation, all stemming and originating over disagreement about one singular word on a Wikipedia article, have provided me with a unique story and unique set of data. Extending into RationalWiki, Encyclopedia Dramatica,Wikia, Reddit, Kiwifarms, I’ve encountered truly some of the most clever, and disturbing psychologies out there who edit wikis and weaponize things like Google Search against their perceived opponents.
Read more: Dante’s Inferno and the coming wiki wars.
When I entered a ‘wiki war’ battleground on Wikipedia in September of 2013, I had no idea the minefield I was walking into. I’ve had an editing account on Wikipedia since 2006 but was a very inactive and inconsistent editor.
It was not until this time that I formally became intimately acquainted with Wikipedia and encountered for myself what David Gerard, Rational Wiki’s founder, calls ‘battles to the death for incredibly low stakes’.
Although new to Wikipedia’s process of consensus building – I did come to the table equipped with personal and professional experience in online consensus building.
What put this ‘wiki war’ on my radar was a personal email from Rupert Sheldrake, author of ‘Science Set Free‘ and biologist known for his alternative theoretical formulations about collective memory in nature.
In his email, Rupert informed me that ‘skeptic editors’, specifically linking a group known as Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia, claiming that they were harassing other editors away from his article on Wikipedia and controlling his biography. He had no idea how to solve the problem. He asked for my advice.
I went in to investigate to see for myself what he was talking about and was shocked about what I witnessed occurring on Wikipedia.
Biologist Rupert Sheldrake had a ‘bona fide’ wiki war occurring there before my arrival. This wiki war has captured the attention of the BBC, Forbes, The New Republic, The Huffington Post and a microsphere of bloggers, with mainstream skeptics like Jerry Coyne and Sheldrake supporters such as Deepak Chopra escalating the wiki war to the mainstream.
I found the manner in which this peculiar editing collective controlled editing permissions on Rupert’s article was a bit extreme and over the top.
If you think that Wikipedia must have clear policies and guidelines against this sort of thing – they do.
If you think admins on Wikipedia should guard and protect against this from happening – they didn’t.
That’s where I was naive. My situation actually got worse once the admins were involved. I never once suspected that this behavior would be allowed to occur on Wikipedia, to me it seemed to contradict a number of their own guidelines and founding principles.
I participated directly in building consensus as well as confronting these agenda based editors in two well known wiki wars on Wikipedia for this study on both Rupert Sheldrake and Deepak Chopra’s biographical articles.
My consensus building discussions on Wikipedia were only regarding biographical facts about these individuals. They were not theoretical, ideological, or even controversial discussions. Primarily these were edits over facts about their biographies, such as Rupert Sheldrake being a Cambridge biologist and Deepak Chopra being a licensed physician.
I originally assumed that these subjects would be harmless in terms of learning more about ‘Wiki Wars’ on Wikipedia. After all, ideas about memory in nature, ‘the extended mind’, meditation and Ayurveda seem small and harmless compared to large conflicts that could occur on Wikipedia over Israel/Palestine, Black Lives Matter or Global Warming.
Boy was I mistaken.
This is an evidenced based study. If I’ve made a claim somewhere that is not factual, big or small – either an assumption or statement of fact, please correct me and I will augment this study.
Read more: How I got involved
Read more: The Sheldrake Wiki War Begins
Read more: What is a Wiki War?
Activist editors game Wikipedia, a case study
My first two studies on platform abuse focused specifically on a group of Wikipedia editors who edit through the Fringe Noticeboards on Wikipedia. Many of them focus specifically on articles of a ‘skeptic’ interest and edit to the voice of the ‘skeptical points of view’. Many of them are self disclosed skeptics, but their behaviors and attitudes reminded more of ‘privileged white male anger’, with bullying, personal attacks on character, incredible circular logic, and mob type mindset.
Discovering that they govern a wide section of articles including integrative and alternative medicines informed me of the drastic impact that bias can hold sway on Wikipedia without much recourse.
This study is not meant to be an indictment on skepticism as an ideology or philosophy. This study is about the behaviors these editors made and their choices in a consensus building process. The content of these wiki wars (biographies of notable individuals who engage in mind/body subject matter) is irrelevant.
One of the frustrations of this project for me has been the failure of getting the message out about abuse on Wikipedia over the ideological issues occurring between Rupert Sheldrake, Deepak Chopra and numerous skeptic organizations. I’ve been caught in the cross hairs of a cultural war.
What happens here with these particular editor groups can happen anywhere on Wikipedia. This more than likely occurs to varying degree on any article that is potentially controversial, from small subjects no one has heard of such as the recent Gamergate controversy to articles about Israel/Palestine.
Read more: Skepticism as mentioned in this study
Other points of view on the issue
This happens more than you think, as this recent discussion on Reddit reveals. Its turning away countless new editors and is responsible for more leaving. Sophisticated studies are showing that Wikipedia is in decline. ‘Polluted’ editor culture is often mentioned.
In case you think I’m driven by my own bias in writing this, see how neutral editors, not involved with the Sheldrake article, with no opinions on the topic – note the same.
Read more: Liz – A neutral editor’s point of view
I was surprised to find detractors of a notable living person controlling his biography page on Wikipedia with no oversight.
I took this challenge of getting the page towards a more keen neutrality pretty seriously too, and played the role of gadfly, questioning the tactics, accusations, and editorial decisions made by this group and requested transparency for all conclusions made. I spent weeks doing research into Wikipedia guidelines and even hired an experienced Wikipedian as a consultant to make sure my participation was in tune with Wikipedia’s rules.
This is partially why this whole experience was so surreal to me. I made such an effort to operate with integrity to Wikipedia’s principles and did the best I could to keep it. I was shocked to see all of these guidelines and rules as I understood them ignored and editors like myself who diligently tried to stick to them harassed and banned.
Read more: How I got involved.
Overview: Harassed in first three days of participating on Sheldrake’s Wikipedia page, like many others
Within three days of my six week presence on Rupert Sheldrake’s ‘Talk’ page, I was outed and harassed by a Wikipedia editor called Manul (former editor name Vzaak) who immediately issued several warnings to me and then exposed personal information about me on the site. This is was only one of many forms of bullying, harassment, and personal attacks that I would encounter over the next six weeks.
Read full story: Enter Tumbleman
UPDATE: Editor Vzaak = Manul. Formerly named Vzaak, changed likely in related to the publication of this site and the attention Vzaak has received because of it.
Overview: Hunted and hounded
As evidence shows, Manul became the ring leader in a co-ordinated effort with other editors to harass and personally attack me further, continually spreading personal information about me and seeking to sanction me off of Wikipedia.
Read full story: A Request for a New Consensus
Overview: Highly questionable sanction
My banning was challenged by other editors quite powerfully, as found in this AE noticeboard here, other editor talk pages and admins pages involved. More recently, TheCapn instigated an Arbitration Request for a hearing on the issue. His requested was deflected to the lower appeal Arbitration Enforcement to handle the problem.
Read more: Aftermath
Overview: Tumbleman ban sets off ‘cultural’ war momentarily
After I was banned admins and editors jumped in and wrote on my talk page, calling me incompetent, autistic, a troll, an ego maniac, a conspiracy theorist, and a heap of other awkward and libelous associations. If the intention behind this ‘mob mind’ was not so abusive, the entire affair would be comical, as one editor commented it was like watching Monty Python’s ‘Blasphemy’ sketch.
Shortly thereafter a wiki war began to happen on my own talk page. Admins and activist editors began an argument with supportive editors, with the final attack being an article created about me on Rational Wiki, including a handful of spam blog sites called ‘Romeviharo is a moron.com‘.
Craig Weiler blogged about ‘The Trial of the Tumbleman’ and somehow I unwittingly became involved in a cultural war between skeptic activists and supporters of Rupert Sheldrake’s research.
The following year, Deepak Chopra contacted me, gave me a grant to continue research – and then hired me to act as his representative on his Wikipedia article as SAS81 which has then provided an additional case study into consensus building on Wikipedia encountering this same network of Wikipedia and Rational Wiki editors.
‘Read more: Latest email threatens further harassment.
Don’t take my word for it, please check the evidence
Although my story is going to be covered with my own point of view, what protects you from my unavoidable bias is that Wikipedia records everything.
Everything that happened is archived. I present evidence with each claim I make in each link provided. This article you’re reading now is the wireframe for everything. Each link provides and overview of the context of what happened to links on Wikipedia that support it in evidence and the chapter for context. I’ve done my best to be honest and factual.
I believe we need to shine some light in these dark little crevices. I believe we need to give this a proper review. This is a factual case study of how harassment and bullying is used to control an article on the worlds most popular site. This is what it looks like. This is how it happens. This is how it will continue to happen.
So hello world, come meet your guardians of knowledge.
Wikipedia, we have a problem.
Read next: The Battle Begins
dec 21, 2013
NOTICE: This is a work in progress. I am collecting similar stories for further study here and if you have a case or story please advise.
Tim Farley, it’s time to be honest about activism on Wikipedia
email: reportabuse AT wikipediawehaveaproblem DOT com