“Wikipedia is an interesting long-term study in editing by psychopaths”

April 22, 2008

I’m getting worried about some aspects of the `Wikipedia. The problems I reported earlier have continued with more encounters with Wiki-facists. As a part of that battle I have now heard stories of Wiki-stalking and see evidence for myself of pervert structures being built up. No ecology can survive unrestricted predation without damage, and possibly fatal damage. So, in this post I start with my story, move to contributions from an anonymous third party and then open up some questions for future discussion.

It’s been a frustrating time to say the least with the Wiki-style-facists. One of the editors on the Wales article came up with the idea of making it a bit more interesting by changing the colour of the index box frame to red (Welsh National Colours). There was some discussion and agreement. Overall this was a minor part of a series of changes designed to make the page more attractive and more readable. I don’t think any of us had any idea what was going to happen next. It turned out that there are a whole group of people whose sole mission in life is to enforce uniform approaches. They jumped into the site with reversals and some pretty over the top remarks: net effect to drive out one editor who had put a lot of work into the page. The only thing they were concerned about was the information box, not the content. Attempts to suggest some diversity was in keeping with evolutionary processes and the overall spirit of the wikipedia had little impact. We all agreed some common structure was a good idea but with some variations allowed. We did what you are meant to do, hold off on reversals and have a discussion, but it was not to be. As the conversation built, the thought police appeared to be in a loosing minority; they then used personal contacts with an administrator to force a speedily delete of the new template in less than 12 hours after the discussion had started.

It was a deeply cynical, political move to dominate what should be an open space. An alpha male dominance game using privileged access to authority and technical understanding of rules to impose a position without consultation. The way in which these guys knew they were right and the rest of us (the active editors of the content) were wrong was scary, and the dismissive language an insult. It all got to hard, so in the time honored manner of the Welsh we have retreated to our hills and forests and will return to fight the fight again now we understand the rules a bit better. In any event, as part of the back chat I was told a story about the way the Wikipedia can be perverted. The teller agreed to let me publish it as an anonymous contribution. I do so below and in full (bar the deletion of one sentence at the authors request). S/he starts with a good analysis of some of the emerging problems of the wiki eco-system with some proposals for regulation (I will make some comments on this at the end) and proceeds to a really scary story of being wiki-stalked.

I read more of the debate about coloured-infoboxes, and I didn’t mean to abandon the effort, but those guys have endless hours to squabble. As I suspected, the geography guys went ape about the use of color. The geo-guys seem to be the most narrow-minded group: people who work on hundreds of geography-oriented articles tend to reject any type of expansion or new viewpoints. I’ve had them refuse to use maps with labels of towns, because they claimed that roadmaps were “too cluttered” for anyone to understand. This whole incident shows why Wikipedia had benefitted from the old-style unrestricted updates to the vast majority of articles: when all articles were open territory, it was difficult for bullies to stake out a controlled territory.

I’ve been reading many of the talk pages behind Wikipedia policies, and I clearly see that the original “Golden Age of Wikipedia” died out in 2005, when many people still discussed the merits of good ideas and helpful policies. I suspect that the bullies continued to gain power: groups of people that have no outside life, but think warping Wikipedia is a major accomplishment, so they have spent numerous hours every day fighting to repel others from the website.

Any large society needs locks and prisons to guard against psychopaths & con-artists: instead Wikipedia is the perfect place for a psycho, with no outside life, or a paid “spin-doctor” to push propaganda; some people average about 2000 edits per month, spinning and warping a zillion articles.

In controlled public forums, access is limited, because any biased or warped people can be detected and banned, not allowed to post 2,000 slanted remarks per month or spend hours hounding talented people with reckless allegations of “canvassing” or other derogatory remarks. Instead, Wikipedia has fostered sub-groups of policy NAZIs who name-drop a series of policy codes (“WP:MOSFLAG” or “WP:COPYVIO”) as though the more codes they cite, the worse the behavior of the person they attack: the overall affect, as those people have learned, is that citing policy codes acts like a disguised form of name-calling; the implied character assassination is as though they accused their opponents of WP:RACIST, WP:CONMAN, WP:BIGOT, WP:SCOUNDREL, and WP:INFERIORGUY. The psycho groups are aided by Wikipedia’s total freedom for people who have endless hours to hound and insult numerous other people.

A large society needs some forms of personal protection: some rights to private mail (not just public user_talk), and some limits to power and speed-limits (not 2,000 revisions every month and not automated bots that change/slant 500 articles per hour). Accused people must be judged by qualified, registered justices, and not vilified in talk-pages with veiled, semi-hidden libelous remarks. The unlimited access to posting on talk-pages is like putting anyone on a public radio station to start accusing other people.

Among the most bizarre results from Wikipedia’s policy of unlimited open access are the following incidents:

  • catching Microsoft corporation for paying people to slant wiki articles to their favor;
  • rewriting articles on Wikipedia so they can be copied to other websites, such as Veropedia. (I think article “Taj Mahal” was completely rewritten so that the author could claim it was original writing without crediting prior Wikipedia editors, but use Wikipedia to format/test the wikilinks and images before copying to an outside website).

I’ve been hounded several times by wiki-stalking: people who analyze your user_talk & articles you’ve edited to track your every move. One guy totally analyzed my comments, stalking me to other user_talk pages, and even posted what he predicted I would reply: no need for my existence at all; he debated both sides of the issues and rejected my would-be conclusions, in advance of me posting anything. I’ve never had the level of “canvas” stalking that I saw tracking your every move, but I think that is part of the psycho-attack: those people must have learned that opponents are unnerved by the snooping and stalking. While you’re living real life, they are spending hours, unseen, stalking and studying your behavior like hunting an animal as prey. They are not really interested in the topic, they’re more focused on “making the kill” at the end of the chase. Those kind of psychos are extremely dangerous if they find where you live, or if they can “poison” friends and co-workers against you. It’s no fun when you’re the target, but otherwise Wikipedia is an interesting long-term study in editing by psychopaths.

Now I have every reason to give the above comments credibility and I think they raise some serious issues. One of the main ones (on which you can expect several blogs in the next few weeks) is the nature and necessity of constraints if we are to have any beneficial evolution. I think we can see the wikipedia as a system which has grown and developed beyond expectations. However that very growth and the importance of the material now needs some type of constraint, but one consistent with the original principles. It is surely wrong to privilege the technically competent over the content specialist; the level of vandalism and the difficulty of dealing with persistent offenders puts a lot of good editors off. I’ve been an active editor for two years now across an increasing range of articles. Without that experience I don’t think I would have understood it, and I don’t rate the comments of people who have not engaged with the process. So please don’t take this as an attack on the Wikipedia, it is more a plea for its survival.

At its best it is a powerful engine of knowledge, at its worst; well it hasn’t got there yet, but it could become a playpen for perverted stalking fascists and that would be a loss. I’m going to think about this off and on and will post again.

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