Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2008-08-09/Ivins' edits

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Anthrax suspect reportedly edit-warred on Wikipedia

By Ral315, August 9, 2008

In recently unsealed affidavits, the United States Federal Government claimed, among other things, that Bruce Edwards Ivins, a suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks who apparently committed suicide in July 2008, had edit-warred on Wikipedia under the username Jimmyflathead. The site of the edit-warring was Kappa Kappa Gamma, a women's fraternity that investigators claim Ivins had an obsession with.

The first affidavit page dealing with Wikipedia.
The second affidavit page dealing with Wikipedia.

The text of the affidavit refers to Ivins' apparent usage of Wikipedia, and his edit-warring on Kappa Kappa Gamma pages: (NB: Where applicable, redacted text is marked "[REDACTED]", and errors have not been corrected.)

Investigations have revealed instances when [an e-mail account reportedly belonging to Ivins] was used in association with Wikipedia to further his obsession with KKG. Wikipedia is an on-line collection of information created by the contributions of Wikipedia users. Anyone may contribute to an entry, or article, once they set up a Wikipedia account and user name. The articles on Wikipedia are similar to an encyclopedia entry, however, the information contributed is not verified and may not be factual. Each Wikipedia article has a discussion page for contributors to post comments or questions about the contents of the article. Wikipedia users may also communicate directly with each other through Wikipedia using their Wikipedia user name. Wikipedia contains articles on the different national fraternities and sororities, including an article on KKG.

One frequent contributor to the KKG entry is identified by the username "jimmyflathead", believed by investigators to be Dr. Ivins. In e-mails to [REDACTED] Dr. Ivins, using his true name and the e-mail address jimmyflathead@yahoo.com, referenced information in the KKG article posted by "jimmyflathead" as his contributions. ...

As cataloged in the history pages of the KKG entry, Dr. Ivins has attempted to post derogatory information about the organization and its members as well as confidential information known only to KKG's members. Dr. Ivins, as jimmyflathead, frequently "signed" his postings on the discussion page as "jf". Dr. Ivins and other users have previously engaged in an "edit war" on the KKG article. An edit war is where a Wikipedia contributor posts information that is later changed or deleted by another contributor, and the contributors go back and forth deleting or changing each others contributions. [REDACTED] observed Dr. Ivins's postings and discussions with other users through the Wikipedia discussion forum in the KKG article and described his actions as follows:

Every time someone removed information, he added it back, and added more negative information along with it. That was his usual threat - delete this again and I will add more negative information to this site or reveal more secrets. The sheer volume of information is that [jimmyflathead] has is more than most members remember.

Over the course of the edit war, Dr. Ivins provided his personal e-mail address to other contributors to e-mail him directly before they removed his contributions from the site. According to [REDACTED] Dr. Ivins "seemed to encourage people to e-mail him directly" and described such action as counter to the "culture" of Wikipedia, where contributors usually communicate with each other through the individual article talk pages or e-mail using their Wikipedia user name. By so doing, Dr. Ivins was also keeping other contributors out of the discussions about the KKG article."

Wikimedia Foundation General Counsel Mike Godwin confirmed to the Signpost that the Foundation had been subject to a subpoena regarding the case last year: "[W]e complied with a subpoena regarding Jimmyflathead back in September of last year. We did not, as I recall, have an e-mail address or any other way to notify Jimmyflathead about the subpoena." Jimmyflathead's e-mail address is currently enabled, though it's not clear whether that was the case at the time of the subpoena.

Jimmyflathead edited sporadically from December 2005 through September 2007, making just over 100 edits, nearly all of which involved Kappa Kappa Gamma. Among those edits, Jimmyflathead mentions the names of Dr. Nancy Haigwood and Dr. Gail Wertz more than once, claiming that the two were members of KKG, and describing them as "alumae who have distinguished themselves". Haigwood taught pathobiology at the University of Washington, and is currently the director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center. She was also the target of Ivins' apparent obsession, stemming from his post-doctoral work at the University of North Carolina while Haigwood was studying microbiology there.[1]

She reported a suspicion that Ivins may have been involved to the FBI in 2002.[2] Haigwood remained in contact with Ivins over the next few years in order to help investigators. Wertz, meanwhile, teaches microbiology at the University of Virginia, but no link has been established publicly between Ivins and Wertz.

In response to the release of these documents, Jimbo Wales performed a checkuser on the Jimmyflathead account. When asked about the action, Wales said,

"In this case, this was about a potential press situation where I might find my phone ringing off the hook with journalists asking for information, and I felt a need to be prepared. As it turns out, his Wikipedia edits aren't that interesting, I didn't find any socks. I just thought, hmm, what if a checkuser showed that this guy was editing articles about Anthrax or whatever... no way do we need the disruption of claims like that surfacing without me being prepared. Fortunately, I found nothing." [3]

Evidence of any possible sockpuppet accounts would, of course, be unlikely to surface due to the long period of time since Jimmyflathead's last edit, a fact that Wales also noted.

References

  1. ^ Kravitz, Derek. Anthrax Evidence Getting Mixed Reaction, Washington Post, August 7, 2008.
  2. ^ Nuckols, Ben. Microbiologist says she was stalked by Ivins, Associated Press, August 8, 2008.
  3. ^ Wales, Jimbo. User talk:Jimbo Wales, August 7, 2008.




Also this week:

Ivins' edits — WikiWorld — Dispatches — WikiProject report — Features and admins — Technology report — Arbitration report


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