In the media
Hoaxes draw media attention; Sue Gardner's op-ed; Women of Wikipedia
Wikipedia hoaxes draw media attention: Bicholim conflict, Legolas2186
||Up until a week ago, here is something you could have learned from Wikipedia:
From 1640 to 1641 the might of colonial Portugal clashed with India's massive Maratha Empire in an undeclared war that would later be known as the Bicholim Conflict. Named after the northern Indian region where most of the fighting took place, the conflict ended with a peace treaty that would later help cement Goa as an independent Indian state.
Except none of this ever actually happened. The Bicholim Conflict is a figment of a creative Wikipedian's imagination. It's a huge, laborious, 4,500 word hoax. And it fooled Wikipedia editors for more than 5 years.
This is how, on New Year's Day, the Daily Dot reported that a "massive Wikipedia hoax" had been exposed after more than five years. The article on the Bicholim conflict had been listed as a "Good Article" for the past half-decade, yet turned out to be an ingenious hoax.
Many press articles on the Bicholim conflict hoax, including the original report in The Daily Dot
, used this Commons image as an illustration.
Created in July 2007 by User:A-b-a-a-a-a-a-a-b-a, the meticulously detailed piece was approved as a GA in October 2007. A subsequent submission for FA was unsuccessful, but failed to discover that the article's key sources were made up. While the User:A-b-a-a-a-a-a-a-b-a account then stopped editing, the hoax remained listed as a Good Article for five years, receiving in the region of 150 to 250 page views a month in 2012. It was finally nominated for deletion on 29 December 2012 by User:ShelfSkewed—who had discovered the hoax while doing work on Category:Articles with invalid ISBNs—and deleted the same day. Of course, the Internet and Wikipedia being what they are, the article is still present on dozens of websites that had copied it from Wikipedia. It also remains included in a number of Wikipedia-based books available from Barnes & Noble.
The Daily Dot 's report was quickly picked up by other publications: PC World, Yahoo News, then The Daily Mail, UPI and TechCrunch. Over the first two weeks of 2013, the story spread from publication to publication, from country to country, reaching all the way back to South Asia, where it was reported by the Times of India and the Indian Express, as well as Republika in Indonesia. Last of all, it arrived in Japan, with the Japanese TechCrunch site carrying a translation of the story.
The original article in the Daily Dot, written by chief reporter Kevin Morris, has to date received close to 1,000 tweets. On 18 January 2013, Morris followed up with another, far longer piece; titled "How vandals are destroying Wikipedia from the inside", it began with a review of the recent indefinite block of User:Legolas2186.
Legolas2186 was indefinitely blocked by administrator Georgewilliamherbert in the wake of the Bicholim conflict story, following a discussion at AN/I. Inactive since February 2012, he had in previous years written close to 100 GAs along with several FAs, including the Featured Article on Madonna. Subsequent sourcing investigations initiated by User:Binksternet however showed that Legolas2186 had an alarming tendency to falsify or invent quotes and sources, and the Madonna FA (promoted in 2010) was demoted as a result in 2012. It may be significant that Legolas2186 had received multiple warnings about adding unsourced information in 2009. As Morris said in the Daily Dot,
||... like his parallels in news media, Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass, Legolas was weaving together a portfolio of success with a web of cleverly constructed lies, false sources, and invented quotes. An investigation led by an enterprising team of Wikipedia editors dug up dozens of fabrications perpetrated by Legolas, who was later banished from the site.
Legolas2186 is hardly the first hoaxster to fool Wikipedia. But his case shows the urgency with which the encyclopedia needs to modernize and adapt, as the editorial core it relies upon to fend off the Internet's unrelenting wave of trolls and liars grows ever smaller.
Morris consulted Doctor Charles Ford, a professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, to find out what might motivate a person to lie repeatedly. Emphasising that he was speaking generally, rather than about this specific editor, whom he did not know, Ford stated that compulsive lying is usually due to a learning disability, or narcissism. The ability to fool people might give a person an enhanced sense of power. Others, Ford said, genuinely feel that they are at the centre of the universe: "They then define what is real and not real."
Morris argues that Wikipedia's internal structure and communications tools are too decentralised and outdated, and that this "doesn't just slow down the discovery of hoaxes, it scares people away. And meanwhile, pranksters like Legolas strain the time the site's editors do have—all of which only exacerbates Wikipedia's unprecedented editorial crisis." While the number of articles has risen, the number of editors has dropped.
William Henderson on the Telegraph website chimed in on 23 January, explaining "Why we're about to discover more Wikipedia hoaxes". Henderson drew particular attention to the "tens or even hundreds of thousands of articles that no one is keeping an eye on".
On 25 January, even the Sun, a British tabloid, covered the topic with "Trickipedia", featuring its own run-down of Wikipedia hoaxes based on Wikipedia:List of hoaxes on Wikipedia.
Wikipedia, the people's encyclopedia, by Sue Gardner
The Los Angeles Times published an upbeat op-ed by Sue Gardner on 13 January 2013. Titled "Wikipedia, the people's encyclopedia", the piece celebrated the first 12 years of Wikipedia's existence, and the diversity of the more than 1.5 million people who have contributed to the Wikipedia project:
||... An encyclopedia is one of humankind's grandest displays of collaborative effort, and Wikipedia takes that collaboration to new levels, with contributors from pretty much every ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic background, political ideology, religion, sexual orientation and gender. The youngest Wikipedian I've met was 7, a boy in Tel Aviv who makes small edits to articles about animals and children's books. The oldest I've met was 73, a retired engineer who writes about the history of Philadelphia, where he's lived for half a century.
Gardner characterised Wikipedians as, "almost without exception, ... ridiculously smart, as you might expect of people who, for fun, write an encyclopedia in their spare time." Many of them are very young: "There's a recurring motif inside Wikipedia of preteen editors who've spent their lives so far having their opinions and ideas discounted because of their age, but who have nonetheless worked their way into positions of real authority on Wikipedia. They love Wikipedia fiercely because it's a meritocracy: the only place in their lives where their age doesn't matter."
Wikipedians are geeky, she said, and nine out of ten of them are male—Gardner's theory is it's because "some of the constellation of characteristics that combine to create a Wikipedian—geeky, tech-centric, intellectually confident, thick-skinned and argumentative, with the willingness and ability to indulge in a solitary hobby—tend to skew male." They also tend to live in affluent parts of the world.
Reviewing Wikipedia's strengths and weaknesses, Gardner stated that Wikipedia's fundamental ideals—neutrality, lack of judgment, verifiability—and many attentive eyes had made well-visited articles like the one on Obama neutral and accurate, while Wikipedia's articles on obscure topics were weakest—places "where subtle bias and small mistakes can sometimes persist for months or even years."
||Since it was founded 12 years ago this week, Wikipedia has become an indispensable part of the world's information infrastructure. It's a kind of public utility: You turn on the faucet and water comes out; you do an Internet search and Wikipedia answers your question. People don't think much about who creates it, but you should. We do it for you, with love.
Women of Wikipedia
On 24 January 2013, the Daily Dot published an article on "The women of Wikipedia: Closing the site's giant gender gap", featuring interviews with Sarah Stierch and Joseph Reagle. The story was picked up the next day by feminist blog Jezebel, under the title "Wikipedia's editors are 91 percent male because citations are stored in the ball sack" (with illustration):
||Wikipedia, the collaborative encyclopedia that's edited by you (if you're a dude), me (if I were a dude), and all the dudes you know, launched in 2001 and quickly became the place to find quick info on pretty much any topic under the sun. Remember writing research papers before Wikipedia? Man, we were all such chumps with our "books."
Despite being one of the most heavily visited sites on the web, women comprise just 9 percent of all Wikipedia editors.
The Daily Dot commented that according to researchers, Wikipedia's well-known gender gap is a "byproduct of established gender biases in society, the male-oriented aesthetics of technology, and Wikipedia's sometimes-abrasive culture. These factors have all coalesced to reinstitute a familiar pattern." This is all the more remarkable as there are many social media where women are actually in the majority.
Sarah Stierch said it's partly due to Wikipedia's software design, and its "cold, technical and argumentative" atmosphere: "It's aesthetically very masculine in its design. Its community, like so much of the early Internet, has been male dominated, and I think when a lot of people—men or women—look at Wikipedia these days, they see it as a source for information but have little interest or excitement in contributing to it." The traditional gender gap in higher education might also play a role, she added. "The average Wikipedia editor is a well-educated white male. Well-educated white males have been writing history and the story of the world since ancient times." Efforts to create a more inclusive community in Wikipedia would be helped if more women "came out" as women on the site, rather than staying gender-anomymous.
Joseph Reagle, whose study "'Free as in sexist?' Free culture and the gender gap" appeared recently in First Monday, warned, "The ideas of freedom and openness can be used to dismiss concerns and rationalize the gender gap as a matter of preference and choice. That is, 'if there are no women in our project, it must simply be their choice.' Women may have made a choice, but it was not based on whether they find the project interesting or have a contribution to make, but by the 'brogrammer' locker-room type of environment." According to Reagle, reducing the gap is important for Wikipedia as a whole: a male-dominated culture leads to more biased articles, and research has shown that the "collective intelligence of a group goes up with increased social sensitivity, conversational turn-taking, and female participation."
- Presidential library gets Wikipedian in Residence: On 17 January 2013, the Chronicle of Higher Education announced the appointment of a University of Michigan student as the Wikipedian in Residence at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library: "Michael Barera, a master's student in Michigan's School of Information, has been selected for the new internship position and charged with increasing and enhancing the library's presence on Wikipedia." Michigan website AnnArbor.com initially stated that the position was paid, but later corrected its entry to state that "Barera is not being compensated for his work." The university's news service published its own announcement of the collaboration on 17 January, pointing to the WikiProject's page on Wikipedia, Wikipedia:WikiProject Gerald Ford.
- Looking back at the SOPA blackout: The Boston Review published a retrospective on the 2012 SOPA blackout on 18 January 2013, "The Day Wikipedia Went Dark—Did It Save Internet Freedom?", arguing that "What the Wikipedia blackout teaches is that the preservation of the free Internet will rise or fall on the involvement and ingenuity of the people, not on courts or lawmakers. Wikipedia is a Web site, but it is also a community of thousands of volunteer writers around the world—so-called Wikipedians—who decided a year ago today to take a political stand for the first time in its existence. The decision ran counter to the site's apolitical stance and was in considerable tension with its overriding mission to spread free knowledge to the world. Nevertheless, they risked Wikipedia's position of neutrality, not to mention its reputation, to fight for the freedoms on the Internet they hold dear." The article concluded, "Even if the Internet blackout of 2012 is never repeated, it stands as an important lesson for generations to come: the Internet can't stop the next SOPA, but people can."
- Mormonism Wikipedia articles: The Latter-Day Saints website Meridian Magazine—sporting a yellow fundraising banner remarkably similar to Wikipedia's own—published a set of two articles critiquing Wikipedia's biography of Mormon figure Martin Harris on 22 and 23 January 2013, titled "Wikipedia's Deconstruction of Martin Harris" and "Wikipedia Attacks Martin Harris' Faith". The author, Roger Nicholson, stated, "In an attempt to abide by the Wikipedia guidelines to be unbiased and represent all sides of a story, the representation of Martin Harris has gone awry. An unbalanced mixture of facts and details taken out of context, have painted a picture of a man almost unrecognizable to Mormons. A better understanding of the misused quotes and the history of the region, as well as a desire to see the bigger picture, brings Martin Harris back into focus." The articles followed up on an earlier piece by Nicholson, "The Gospel Online: Who Should Define Mormonism on Wikipedia?", published last month.
- Lance Armstrong: On 24 January 2013, the Huffington Post published an article about the editing of the Lance Armstrong biography in the wake of the disgraced cyclist's interview with Oprah Winfrey, discussing his use of performance-enhancing drugs. Reviewing the to and fro the article had undergone since the doping scandal first hit the press, Huffington Post writer Sam Oakley concluded, "I find it quite comforting that this is the new way that history is being written. The number of edits to Armstrong's entry is slowing down and it seems that the apologists and the hardliners are reaching some sort of uneasy consensus that chronicles both his rise to, and fall from grace. In the place of a model where one or two historians decide how Armstrong is remembered we have what looks to have been a pretty well informed debate resulting in what looks to have been a pretty equitable solution."
- Deletion nomination receives attention: The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age were among Australian newspapers reporting on 27 January 2013 that the article Death of Jill Meagher was at risk of deletion, noting that "Ms Meagher's death created global headlines and resulted in two peaceful protests in Brunswick that attracted more than 30,000 people." (The AfD has since been closed as keep.)