Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Is Wikipedia Corrupt?


Responses to my previous posting called “How to Ethically Update Wikipedia” have been incredibly polarized and I felt it was important I provide some visibility to the ethical issues and ramifications faced by an immensely influential volunteer-run organization like Wikipedia.

First a Little Background
My July 17th posting was based on an excellent article published at Search Engine Land called “SEO Tips & Tactics from a Wikipedia Insider” written by a Wikipedia Administrator with the pseudonym Durova. My post summarized a few of the unethical Wikipedia listings that Durova had noticed throughout her time at Wikipedia and how Wikipedia responded to each situation. I was very impressed by Durova’s article and how transparent the process appeared to be.

The Ramifications
Since my posting I received a few comments on the posting that were obviously from people who felt very strongly that Wikipedia, and in particular Durova, had serious issues with ethics. In that regard I have little doubt that these people had previously poor experiences with Wikipedia/Durova and have an axe to grind; the anger was palpable. One of the comments even revealed Durova’s real name (which I chose not to allow) and linked to a page where unkindly and distasteful words are shared about Wikipedia and Durova.

The complainants’ comments on StepForth’s site and Search Engine Land’s insinuate Wikipedia is run in a mafia-like manner where those who administrate the encyclopedia can be malicious when angered and may act without repercussions. Here are some quotes:

  1. One commenter by the name of Gregory Kohs defined Wikipedia:
    Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia. It is a blog disguised as an encyclopedia, controlled by a limited number of people with admin tools who have particular axes to grind about living people with real names, all while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity.
    Source, StepForth SEO blog post.
  2. A commenter followed up Gregory’s comment with a long reply that included this:
    Durova’s advice to openly declare your intentions as COI (conflict of interest) in her article sound good – but like much of Wikipedia, the intentions are good in the script of the rules, but the proof of the “pudding” in implementation often winds up “on the faces” of the business people who naively trusted Wikipedia to be a professional and business-friendly place. It isn’t that.
    Source, StepForth SEO blog post.

  3. A Search Engine Land comment caught my eye:
    Are we now to the point in our Web 2.0 society where anonymous persons holding authority positions within Top 10 website communities can say defamatory things (that I lie to journalists), and the end result of my politely personal complaint is to have my “professional reputation” further questioned by the anonymous administrator?

    That’s just lovely.

    Thank God I love my wife, daughter, family, and many friends — who all love me dearly and don’t give two whits about Wikipedia. I really can’t imagine that if any major donor to the Wikimedia Foundation knew THIS is the type of culture that is fostered there, HOW they would possibly sign that check over to Jimbo and his admins-gone-wild.
    Source, Search Engine Land article.

At the StepForth SEO Blog Durova posted the following response to some of the comments:
“I am a voluntary participant in a program called ‘administrators open to recall.’ That means I’ll stand for reconfirmation of sysop status if half a dozen Wikipedians in good standing request it. Nobody’s ever initiated such a request. My candidacy for administratorship passed on an 81-0-1 vote (one neutral short of unanimous). So the community has expressed its confidence. I do, however, specialize in investigations and dispute resolution. So some sitebanned individuals sometimes turn up elsewhere on the Web with complaints.”

Comment note: many more inflammatory and defensive comments can be found in a less censored format within this Search Engine Land article.

My Position

I cannot attest to the accuracy of the lengthy complaints against Durova and Wikipedia and I don’t have the time or interest to thoroughly research the past (there appears to be a LOT to review). That said, if any of the complaints have an ounce of truth then Wikipedia has to be more cautious about the stance they take on content that may irreparably harm others or face a dmoz-like fate. On the flipside, those who post content on Wikipedia had better realize that whatever they post has ramifications on their own reputations so they had better be 100% certain of their sources and intentions.

Also I commend Durova for replying to the comments by noting that her current role as administrator can be circumvented by a vote by members in good standing. That said, I do wonder whether members in good standing would have any reason to oust a fellow member that may be of like mind. (i.e. who guards the guardians?)

In Closing
I have to admit that a volunteer-operated site that has the ability to seriously harm a business’s or a person’s good reputation gives me the creeps. This is especially true for online encyclopedias like Wikipedia where content, by its social nature, tends to stray into gossip territory. I realize that this applies to many social media websites but very few have the massive power to affect opinion that Wikipedia currently has. If there is one thing that this whole scenario illustrates it is that Wikipedia’s content, no matter who administrates it, should be heavily seasoned with salt. The same goes for any socially driven content online.

If you are in dire need of reputation management on your Wikipedia listing then read the well-written Search Engine Land article by Jessica Bowman where she explores the various ethical techniques of battling bad press on a Wikipedia page.: What To Do When Your Wikipedia Page Goes Bad.

PS) Google Needs More Diversity!
Google desperately needs to level the field a bit and offer up content from online encyclopedias other than Wikipedia (who regularly sits at #1 for most searches) to reveal some differing perspectives and soften Wikipedia’s influence. After all, there are bound to be other online encyclopedias that deserve a shot at the limelight as well.

If you represent an alternative online encyclopedia please email me, I would love it if you would submit a couple-paragraph introduction of your site and the reason why your content is just as or more deserving than Wikipedia. When I receive your introductions I will blog them promptly. Thanks!

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Web Marketing Inc.
Celebrating 10 Years of Web Marketing Excellence

14 Responses to “Is Wikipedia Corrupt?”

  1. Anonymous

    Yes Virginia, Wikipedia is Corrupt – EXCELLENT ARTICLE.

    Your response article was balanced and spot on. Who watches the watchers? (worse watchers?)

    Durova writes some nice articles, but she’s becoming notorious for making things up to “catch” people in whatever is the crime du jour. She calls this “wikisleuthing”.

    Her latest jewel is an article that came out today , explaining that if someone writes something untrue about you, you should …….. JOIN WIKIPEDIA!!! And work for free, learn their rules, kowtow to 15 year olds, and watchlist the pages that could serve to libel you.

    Yes, Virginia, this is silly.

    She ends the article, making note about how when a newspaper quoted a libelous statement about a Congresswoman (sourced from Wikipedia) they apologized.

    Two ironies here: Wikipedia never apologizes (not even to Seigenthaler). They’ll remove the lies, but they don’t apologize.
    Second irony? That the story came from Durova, one of Wikipedia’s greatest propagators of malicious intentional libel.

  2. Anonymous

    It is against Wikipedia’s financial and legal interests to EVER apologize for anything.

    It would potentially open the door to their at best tenuous and probably invalid protection under US Section 230 immunity.

    It is only a matter of time until someone successfully challenges a Wiki-website on Section 230 immunity and wins; when that happens, expect EVERYTHING on Wikipedia & Wikia to either fold due to full legal liability not being palatable, or for the Boards of each corporation to immediately tighten the screws, and the end of anonymous posting. Either way, the petty reigns of “tyranny” from trolls such as Durova will be over soon.

  3. Anonymous

    NONSENSE. Legal fear has nothing to do with the no-apologies behavior. It is an outgrowth of the personal arrogance of Jimbo Wales, which has bled into policy and practices of Wikipedia, leading Wikipedia administrators (and some editors) to behave like tin gods, immune to any moral or legal reproach.

    Jimbo doesn’t like to apologize. He thinks it is a sign of weakness. It has nothing to do with fear of the law. (And has anyone ever been sued for apologizing?)

    If he was afraid of being responsible for content, he wouldn’t brag all over the internet that he has the final last word over what comes and goes on the encyclopedia. The Foundation can also exert control. That’s written policy, and is more dangerous to holding Wikipedia legally liable than any apology.

  4. Ross Dunn

    Ross Dunn: my apologies, somehow I deleted this post from Gregory Kohs. Here it is:

    “If you and other cabal-like administrators keep banning your opponents, one by one, from the community, it is no wonder that these lopsided “votes” appear to show consensus support.”

  5. Anonymous

    Durdova, Muchness, Cailil an da bunch of others will delete anything that goes against theri own personal interests. They and their minions have been accused of bias, and in conflict of interest. their rules do not apply accross the wiki-board.

  6. Ross Dunn

    Editor Addition: Early on a person by the name of Blissyu2 left a message on behalf of the Wikipedia Review. Unfortunately this included a URL that caused design issues with our website. I had to remove the original to make an edit. See the barely altered version below: only thing missing is a URL. Sorry!

    Thanks for the post. We at Wikipedia Review ( work hard to try to expose the corruption of Wikipedia. You should also look at Wikitruth ( as another prominent site (with slightly different aims) that is trying to demonstrate the truth of Wikipedia. If you studied further, you would see much more evidence of much more serious issues. We haven’t really discussed Durova much as yet, but your article may lead to more discussion. We have, however, discussed SlimVirgin to a considerable degree. It really is an eye-opener once you realise that Wikipedia is less than perfect.

    By Blissyu2, at 12:22 PM

  7. Dan

    There’s a powerful clique on Wikipedia that likes to suppress criticism… a blatant example is their idiotic ban on linking to so-called “attack sites”, a policy that never got anything approaching consensus, but various admins insist on enforcing anyway. I wrote an essay on the subject.

  8. Moulton

    The problem with Wikipedia isn’t that it’s inherently corrupt, but that it lacks functional remedies for righting itself after some episode of irregularity.

    Conflicts are inevitable in any enterprise with as many participants (and as much public visibility) as Wikipedia. How a system handles conflicts determines its long-term social health.

    There have been a number of well-publicized misadventures on Wikipedia, the outcome of which has left Wikipedia with a tarnished reputation for neutrality, integrity, reliability, and dignity.

    The evolving policies and practices, while well-intentioned, have left Wikipedia much too vulnerable to gaming the system. As a result, participation in Wikipedia often feels less like a scholarly enterprise in crafting an encyclopedia, and more like a cross between a chess game and a multi-player online role-playing game.

  9. Anonymous

    After a wiki editor, close to the admins, and who appears to spend 18 hours a day on the site, got nasty and particularly officious with me because I refused to kowtow and edit inline with the “guidelines” (not that the article was inflammatory, libellous or even badly spelt; they just insisted that place of birth was in the wrong place, and the subject MUST be referred to by surname only! – They tell you the guidelines are not compulsory, just recommendations, that need not be adhered to – implying that you actually have a choice. Don’t even dream it, the only choice you have is to do it EXACTLY as the allegedly optional manual of style tells you, or they come down on you like a ton of bricks!

    As he was becoming increasingly vociferous and officious, I told him if he crossed the line and actually libelled me I would not hesitate to sue.

    He removed the friendly warning I posted, and referred to it as “boring”.
    I was warned not to make threats of legal action as it “was against the rules” – so it’s okay for the ruling clique to insult and annoy you, but warn them not to do it, and you are in the smelly stuff!

    After this he contacted the admins who descended upon me like a pack of ravenous wolves.

    I suggested they did not persist with this behaviour, or that I would contact the lawyers and have them start proceedings against wikipedia to remove the main page I edited. At this they banned me (indefinitely) in seconds, and proeceeded to decimate the article in question.

    Nice, huh?!

    Interestingly, if you can find it, there is discussion for admins, where you can find ordinary users complaining about admins from time to time, giving clear indication, proof, if you will, that admins are “sockpuppeting”, “meat puppeting” (their risible phrases), spamming, and writing articles for companies for commercial gain – wholly illegal as they are supposed to be of charitable status! Yet no action is ever taken against the admins.

    I have personally witnessed admins editing out links to existing pages, links to legitimate fan sites for actors, etc, and generally editing out anything they don’t like personally, and adding content that is unverifed as though it were gospel! This is rife throughout the whole site.

    The orgaization in general, and the admins in particular are corrupt through and through.

    If anyone ever gets the notion to edit a page or pages at wiki expect your stay to be short lived and full of setbacks and misery, not just from the admins and over-zealous fifteen year-old editors, but the malicious vandals as well; that is unless you are quiet and obedient, and can stand to see the work you lavish hours in creating decimated because you put the words in the wrong order, or a title is too small, large, et al. Or you constantly have to revert due to vandalism, but don’t dare to actually call most of it vandalism – because they insist you should “assume good faith” – not that the admins ever assume good faith when they get their knives into you!

    These people make the Nazi party look like a mischievous boy scout troop, or Bin Laden like Santa!

    My advice is to stay well away, and wipe wikipedia from you memory. Pretty soon the real authorities will catch up with them and they will be history.

  10. Anonymous

    From the SF Weekly site:

    I edited this story [Wikipedia Idiots] and I can assure you that Mary did not get fired for this story or any other. Mary decided to leave the paper to take a job with a local documentary filmmaker. She gave her notice before the Wikipedia story was published. She disclosed to me early in the reporting process her sister’s fights with Griot and her sister’s role is mentioned high up in our story. Bottom line: We stand by the story.
    Comment by Will Harper, Managing Editor, SF Weekly

  11. From the Wikipedia web site

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    This user has been blocked indefinitely because CheckUser confirms that this user has used one or more accounts abusively.
    The abuse of multiple accounts is prohibited; using new accounts to evade blocks or bans results in the block or ban being extended.
    See block log • confirmed accounts • suspected socks • Checkuser request

    Categories: Wikipedia sockpuppeteers

  12. Anonymous

    Wikepedia is run by editors and administrators who use double standards, their own bias and their own personal agendas. They will ban IP addresses and claim you are a vandal, harassing, attacking and such if you dare to challenge their reckless control. Wikipedia deliberately spams google for control and has also started it’s own search engine.

  13. Mutsumi623

    Wikipedia has been out of control for quite some time. There are at least two users who have gotten a bunch of innocent users blocked for fixing a bunch of articles they messed up, for games they admittedly don’t even play!

  14. Vera

    I think if we start a campaign, to discourage people to edit/write articles in Wikipedia, to leave all the work on the admin’s shoulders, maybe they will have less time harassing or blocking regular users.

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