14th March 2007
Abusive Wikipedia Biographical Editorial Process
a case study in problematic alternative forms of governance?
- / -
Various amendments to this text have been made as inserts
on 5 June 2009, in the light of information available
The 1300 articles on this personal website have
been developed over the years with considerable assistance from Wikipedia.
Appropriate links have been supplied to Wikipedia entries wherever
possible in order to support the process. Very little material has been copied
from Wikipedia during
that process. This is an indication of appreciation of the service.
Professionally my work has involved responsibility for editorial and computer
systems development, within an international nonprofit information
clearinghouse, for a set of databases -- many of whose entries could have been
adapted for inclusion in Wikipedia. This option has been discussed.
Several of the databases are in fact biographical. I have been responsible
for their design and use.
the Wikipedia facility, I have not sought to develop an entry either
on the above services or on myself. The former was done by others
for a number of entries, including that on the century-old organization (Union
of International Associations), its founder Paul
Otlet, and some of its
key services (Yearbook
of International Organizations, Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential) for which I had been responsible.
With respect to myself, although already cited by others in other entries in Wikipedia (Unified
I have not attempted to create a biographical entry -- being satisfied with
my own website and its coverage
by search engines. Nor have I attempted to acquire any skills in editing Wikipedia entries
-- or acquiring an account.
Versions of my biography have
been presented on various websites, without necessarily informing me before
the fact. At the time of writing, my current bio on this site is dated 2002
-- an indication of my interest in the matter.
Without being requested to do so, on 8-9 March 2007, a friend inserted into
Wikipedia several biographical entries (including one on myself) on
individuals with an historical involvement in the international futures movement.
Those so documented were informed by my friend by e-mail.
On examining the entry, there were a variety of things that were unacceptable,
inaccurate or incomplete -- for an encyclopedia. I was faced with the challenge
of what to do about the matter.
Another friend, with considerable Wikipedia expertise, pointed out
that the entry was, for a start, unhelpfully named as "Anthony J.N. Judge" --
no spaces between initials. He appropriately repositioned it to "Anthony
redirects were inserted from the incorrect variant and from "Tony Judge".
He activated the links to other entries in Wikipedia for the organization
and services named above -- which I had for many years been responsible, if
I had not initiated them. My friend warned me that in its current state it
ran the risk of being scheduled for early deletion.
The challenge was then -- speedily (and with no consideration of other commitments
I might have) -- to edit the text to correct content errors, add appropriate
material and adapt the style to a more acceptable Wikipedia entry
style (whatever that was) -- since it had mainly been pasted in from another
variant on another site.
This meant opening an account in Wikipedia, which I did without any
trouble. I proceeded to edit the text into a more satisfactory condition --
my first technical and stylistic experience at having to edit such an entry.
However I have a lot of experience with HTML, so this was not a problem --
and the preview facility worked well. How would others have fared if required
to work in haste and without experience -- especially if they felt strongly
about being misrepresented?
When I had finished I attempted to save the entry. I was confronted with an
"Edit Conflict" message indicating that someone else ("an administrator"?)
had been able to ignore the fact that I was working on the entry and had asserted
priority rights to mark up the initial version of the entry. Surely an elementary
software deficiency? I have personally programmed software to avoid such conflicts.
The entry had been so marked
"blatant advertising" and scheduled for "speedy deletion" --
when I understood what was going on.
A facility was however offered for me to contest such speedy deletion, provided
I marked up the text with a "hang on" message. This I finally discovered
how to do correctly -- however in the process I lost all the modifications
on which I had spent a significant amount of time. Was that the intention?
The entry then stood in its unmodified form -- as it had been before my personal
involvement and the time wasted in the process.
The "speedy deletion" message encouraged me to justify my request
to "hang on" by
use of the talk/discussion facility -- indicating that this would not necessarily
preclude its deletion. This I did -- without knowing what constituted a legitimate
justification. However I was faced with the fact that I could not (or did not
know how to) insert revisions -- especially since my first set seemed not to
have been retained by the system due to the intervention of the "administrator".
No feedback was offered in the "discussion" facility.
I then found, after revising my very mild explanatory comments on
the relevant talk page, that (as per advice to those vetting such pages) my
name had now been associated with a "spam warning" -- whatever that
was supposed to signify and to whom.
I have since been informed that the page was deleted -- but have made no further
attempt to engage in the process. [Subsequently I have
noted that a version of the page
has been reinstated (Anthony
Judge), seemingly with the fruitful intervention of another colleague
engaged in the Wikipedia process and sympathetic to my initiatives.
But clearly it serves no purpose for me to read the text since I am not free
to correct it, merely to lobby others to correct it or to respond to their
invitation to indicate what it might be appropriate to amend.]
The interesting features of this process were:
- Finding myself obliged to respond to erroneous information inserted into
Wikipedia (fortunately having been warned that information had been
inserted about me). How might others fare -- especially if not so informed?
- Having rapidly to acquire skills to make amendments (irrespective of other
commitments), even though I have more experience than many in the technicalities
of HTML-style editing. I pity those without those skills faced with totally
- Having to work rapidly with the implied threat of "speedy deletion" --
otherwise termed being "under the gun"
- Being faced with a generic message warning of imminent "speedy deletion"
-- but without offering the slightest explanation on the specific items that
were unsatisfactory according to Wikipedia style, or indication
of appropriate guidelines
- Being apparently confronted with inability to save revisions due to imposition
of a blocking message
- Being required to justify myself in the face of an unsubstantiated generic
accusation -- a situation more generally contested as an abuse of human
- Without receiving any feedback on the adequacy of my justification --
as is typical of what kind of legal system?
- Being faced with an environment in which there was every probability that,
no matter what I did, the modifications would be rejected and the entry deleted
-- after I had wasted time in the attempt
- Discovering that there was no obvious complaints procedure -- no ombudsman-type
service, no help service -- especially under time pressure. Ironically searching
for "wikipedia complaint" points to an entry in Wikipedia on
the nature of "complaint" -- not about the editorial challenges of using Wikipedia.
|Revision of June 2009
|I had been informed some months ago that an entry had
been reinstated, following a process of which I am not aware. I have avoided
visiting the page. What should (or could) I do about correcting or enhancing
it under the circumstances? More generally, what can anyone do in defending
the manner in which they are portrayed -- other than by engaging in the
development of alliances with those who have some interest in making such
amendments. To what extent does the subject of a biographical entry have
to commit to a protective engagement with the Wikipedia process
-- even an agresssively protective one? What of those without such inclinations?
Some responses to the above experience:
- Finding myself, within a few hours, totally alienated from a service which
(as a researcher) I have probably been using 30-50 times a day for a number
- Concluding that, as had been my previous position, I had absolutely no
interest in the process of providing a biographical entry to Wikipedia or
ensuring that it was correct.
- Assuming that many others faced with this situation must recognize that Wikipedia is
building up a reservoir of incorrect articles -- especially where, as in
the case of biographical entries, it is the person described who is typically
best equipped to validate the content, but who may be faced with unfriendly
obstacles to any content improvement (irrespective of whether they have the
skills to do so)
- Recognizing that my preference, and my recommendation to others, faced
with pressure from colleagues to include such an entry, is to minimize its
length and simply point to one's own website:
- where appropriate links can be provided
one can work on its improvement at one's own pace according to one's
- without being subject to "speedy
deletion" for failure to meet unspecified biographical criteria
- without being obliged to check periodically (daily?) -- for the remainder
of one's natural life -- whether one's biographical entry in Wikipedia had
been inappropriately modified by the misinformed
- Accepting that, whilst Wikipedia indeed needs to guard against
abuse, it needs to give attention to the abusive use of its policing facilities
and the software support provided for that process -- or be faced with accusations
that it might prefer to avoid
- Specifically, if Wikipedia has any interest in doing so, it should
offer immediate and obvious access to a "helping hand" (to those
faced with the above situation) --
as has been characteristic of many internet services (from the time of the
NSF/EIES facility in the 1970s, from which I benefitted).
- Having admired (and repeatedly extolled to others) the "magic" of
the Wikipedia process over
the years as being an "inexplicable" feature of emergent organization,
the above experience has raised the nasty suspicion that rather than being
dependent on the emergent values of an
"open society" model (as frequently claimed), its success may well
depend on other processes more closely associated with the vigilante
dynamics characteristic of far more dubious political systems. No one ever
denied that such systems could be highly efficient -- and many of course
benefit appreciatively and unquestioningly from the exercise of such "vigilance", irrespective
of the hidden collateral damage.
A pity -- but how is
Wikipedia to prove otherwise?
Afterthoughts on democratic governance and transparency
It is entirely probable that:
- biographical guidelines are available for Wikipedia,
the issue is rapid access to them under the circumstances described
- help facilities are indeed available, but under unspecified circumstances
given the time constraints -- especially given time zone issues
- complaints procedures are available, notably through some appropriate
again without obvious pointers being immediately offered to such a process
It is appropriate to reflect on the above Wikipedia process as a
metaphor of some aspirations to alternative styles of governance in wider society
-- and the manner in which they are undermined in practice, despite goodwill
on the part of many:
- on investigation it is possible that the above incident would be framed
as a "misunderstanding", perhaps a regrettable consequence of "over-zealousness"
on someone's part -- familiar echoes of exceptionalism and special pleading
in other contexts
- facilities and guidance may indeed have been available -- ignorance of
the "small print" is never a valid plea before the law, whatever
the time pressure
- environments may well exist for appropriate arbitration, but in the Wikipedia case,
"courts of appeal" may for the plaintiff bear a strong resemblance
to military tribunals in which the possibility of being appropriately defended
in a timely manner is totally illusory, despite claims to the contrary (one
strong reason for not attempting to register the above issue within the Wikipedia environment)
- the above process is reminiscent of the challenges faced by those arrested "on suspicion" and pressured
by security forces to formulate a statement in defence of their activities
-- in some cases literally "under the gun"
- as a supposedly truly democratic process, the flaw in such a claim is that
if one does not want to have a biographical entry in Wikipedia and
does not want to defend one's interests within Wikipedia processes
(in which one has to develop skills one may not wish to acquire), then one
is effectively disenfranchised and marginalized -- even if an entry is nevertheless
created by some other person(s)
- "speedy deletion" of a biographical entry is an interesting metaphor
for which some experience the physical reality within processes that are
remarkable analogous to those described -- an unfortunate use of a metaphor
employed by many security services (described elsewhere by Michel Bauwens
this aspect of the Wikipedia process bears an interesting relationship
to that of "targetted assassination" as promoted by some democracies)
- being labelled with
a "spam warning", as a consequence of such a process, is clearly
analogous to acquiring a criminal record within Wikipedia -- and
being unable to inspect it, appeal it, or have it cleared, or have any guarantee
that this has been done (rather than being secretly maintained)
It would seem that there are indeed issues that Wikipedia could fruitfully
address. One option is of course to block any access by someone such as myself
-- without making clear that that is a typical response to criticism even in
its mildest form. Again echoes of recent new government legislation in response
to dissidence and protest?
As one of the few viable and successful models of an alternative form
of governance, there is a strong case for analyzing the governance and security
processes of Wikipedia in the light of structures and processes explored
(and criticized) in modern government. It would seem that there are a number
of features that are potentially questionable or call for greater transparency.
Or is Wikipedia simply replicating some of the problematic processes of democratic
governance in order to ensure its viability?
Potentially even more interesting in such an analysis is any comparison that
might be made between the Wikipedia community and an extended religious
community such as the Islamic Ummah --
or perhaps its Catholic or early Protestant equivalents. As with Wikipedia,
discipline within such communities is maintained by a set of edicts -- the Sharia in
the case of Islam. Conformity is ensured by some form of religious security
apparatus -- the religious police of some Islamic countries. Note in paticular
the status of mullahs and the nature of their accountability. Analogous ideological
security forces were a characteristic of some political regimes in the 20th
century -- even at the neighbourhood level. The "magic" of the editorial
process of Wikipedia with its thousands of "volunteers" needs to
be reviewed in this light -- who exactly is a "volunteer" and what
is their motivation in such a system of governance? How would such a system
of governance work in the case of alternative forms of environmental security
-- environmental vigilantes? Is the dynamic of "speedy deletion" to be fruitfully
compared with that associated with a "lynch mob"?
The operation in the USA of the House
Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC or HCUA) (1938-1975) offers
another possibility of comparison -- especially now that the US religious right
is launching the Conservapedia as
a "rival to 'un-American' Wikipedia" [more]. The contrasting policies of Scholarpedia.org and Citizendium.org merit examination.
The irony is that instead of wasting time on production of this case study,
I could have devoted more time to attempting to meet the biographical criteria
of Wikipedia -- whatever the probability of the entry being spiked
yet again. A mug's game.
|Revision of June 2009: Implications for a future Wikistrategies or Wikisolutions
With respect to the forthcoming State
of the World Forum (November 200),
proposals have been made by that group for the development of some form
of Wiki for solutions to the world's problems (see Global
Solutions Wiki). Historically
this follows from the development in the 1990s of the Global
Strategies Project (for which I was responsible) -- a database of online profiles
of 32,547 strategies and solutions (with 284,382 links) advocated by international
constituencies (singly or in collaboration) and linked to similarly profiled
The relevance of mentioning this newly proposed initiative, in the light
of the dynamics of Wikipedia, is to raise the question of how
"solutions" or "strategies" -- many necessarily controversial
-- are to be processed within such a context. Are "solutions" to
be subject to the same problematic editing processes (already evident
in controversial problems in Wikipedia) as is clearly the case
with biographical entries? How is it to be determined whether the profile
of a proposed strategy is primarily hopeful promotion by its advocates?
Or, if so, what "counterclaims "
are to be presented as in the profiles in the Global
Some of these issues are discussed separately as part of a commentary
on the State of the World Forum event (see Global
At the time of writing (March 2007), "scandals" relating to the Wikipedia editorial
and arbitration process -- notably with respect to biographical entries --
were being widely reported in the media (and accessible via search engines).
For example: Alex Beam (Meanwhile:
My sticky Wiki, The
Boston Globe, 13 March 2007) who was only able to get a correction made
to his erroneous bio entry through a personal connection to the founder of Wikipedia.
Subsequently, Michel Bauwens reviewed a range of related issues
and sites preoccupied by them (Is
Something Fundamentally Wrong with Wikipedia Governance Processes,
7 January 2008).
Subsequent to the above comments, it is appropriate to note:
- the challenges arising from struggles for control of editorial content
of Wikipedia between 'inclusionists' and 'deletionists' have been highlighted
by Bobbie Johnson (Wikipedia
approaches its limits, The Guardian, 12 August 2009)
- according to Bobbie Johnson, after a lot of behind-the-scenes arguments,
Wikipedia seems set to adopt changes that will make it much harder
for contributors to edit the site (Wikipedia
brings restrictions into force, The
Guardian, 25 August 2009, with some 300 comments).
So-called "flagged revisions" will mean that any change to an article
about a living person will need to be approved by an editor. Other procedural
changes have been proposed (Wikipedia
editors may approve all changes, The
Guardian, 27 January 2009) notably following such concerns regarding
the accuracy of articles referring to living people.
the occasion of the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference
in Copenhagen (December 2009), given notable focus by the "climategate" e-mail
hacking crisis, it emerged that a senior Wikipedia editor had been
manipulating the content of 5,428 climate articles such as to undermine the
objectivity of entries on anthropogenic global warming and on the Climategate incident
itself (Lawrence Solomon, Wikipedia's
climate doctor, Financial
19 December 2009; James Delingpole. Climategate:
the corruption of Wikipedia. The Telegraph, 22 December
2009). The entry on Lawrence
Solomon in Wikipedia refers to his criticism
Subsequent reflection following the "deletion"
of Ralph Siu (January 2008)
(reproduced in a P2P Foundation Wiki entry by Michel Bauwens:
the deletion of scholar Ralph Siu by the Wikipedia lynch mobs)
The entry on R G H Siu has just been deleted from Wikipedia,
despite references to his name in connection with panetics (the
study of suffering) which was the preoccupation of a research program
and organization that he instigated (the International
Society for Panetics).
The entry on panetics is
also marked as being considered for deletion. Siu continues (for the
moment) to be mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on suffering.
Siu was an early pioneer in creating a bridge between Eastern
and Western cultures, notably in his work on
taoism and science (published by MIT Press). These,with other publications
on taoism and management (published by Wiley), he subsequently framed
as a 12-volume collection (The Quantum and the Tao:
an unified East-West psychophilosophical synthesis toward harmonious
living). The volumes, with an indication of their contents are listed by
a project of the Special Integration Group (SIG) -- of the International
Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) originally Society for
General Systems Research (SGSR) and the International Institute for
Systemic Inquiry and Integration.
Siu is an exemplar of lifelong dedication to complex issues
having fundamental humanitarian implications. The unseemly haste with
which an honourable scholar has been "deleted", by what amounts
to a rabid editorial lynch mob, is a sad commentary on the democratic
dynamics which many had so hopefully associated with Wikipedia as
an alternative model. The intellectual quality of the dialogue relating
to the proposed deletion of panetics is
also a sad commentary on collective ignorance and the "unwisdom
at a time when suffering is simultaneously a preoccupation for
many that experience it and of relatively little interest to the research
The removal of Siu focuses attention on historical revisionism
and censorship as it effectively results from criteria of editorial quality
and haste. Clearly, the bias favours the crowd and that which is known
to the crowd; hence the extent to which currently favoured bands and groups,
using the names of fundamental human values, displace those values in any
web search facility. Wikipedia and Google (or
their future competitors) could therefore usefully consider a longer time
span in weighting relevance of web content presented through their services
-- or find that they serve increasingly to obscure larger contexts in favour
of the fashionable present even when it is later only of historical significance
(if any). For how many decades, for example will the Wikipedia entry
on the NY band Mindless
Self Indulgence continue to be retained as an authoritative indication
of modern global preoccupations -- obscuring the absence of any entry on self
indulgence that is the cause of so much suffering (as studied by Siu)?
like the founder of international peace research, I am indeed
one of the people who has specifically written on R G H Siu,
most recently in a lengthy review, with numerous references to panetics
of Terrorism: extended to the experience of the terrorized, 2004
and prior to that in the enrichment of the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential for which I was responsible.
Of relevance in that respect are the criteria, and dilemmas, for inclusion and exclusion of
"world problems" (notably in terms of their subjective importance to
those constituencies identifying with them, and motivated to action by them).
The challenge was to enable a
framework for interrelating incompatible perspectives.
Curiously one of the assertions of the Wikipedia editors
advocating "deletion" was that the contents of the entry text on Siu
were "nonsense". Unfortunately in a complex world, the perspectives of
most with whom we disagree are necessarily (if not by definition) "nonsense" --
whether politically, theologically, from another disciplinary framework,
or in terms of level of expertise.
And no...engaging with the democratic dynamics
of a lynch mob editorial process is something I did not seek to
do -- for the reasons indicated above.
[Note in June 2009: The entry in question had
been rapidly reinstated
following some rapid and intense lobbying,
but this may be the exception rather than the rule for such circumstances]
Learning from the Psychosocial Significance
of "Masked Judges"
In seeking to clarify the parallels between
Wikipedia editorial judgements (together with other situations
where anonymity is advocated, peer review, etc) and the phenomenon
judges", a preliminary web search indicates materials such as:
- Masked judges run the judicial system -- a routine feature in Peruvian
- Human-rights groups estimate that as many as 1,000 Peruvians are
languishing in jail after being wrongly accused of involvement with
guerrillas -- and convicted by masked judges sitting on anonymous
- Masked judges and masked executioners, with unlimited power, and
appeal from their judgements, in that hard, cruel age, were not likely
to be lenient with men they suspected yet could not convict. (Mark Twain, The
- Figuratively masked judges of figure skating
- In some cultures, masked members of secret societies (such as the
duk-duk of New Guinea) terrorize wrongdoers and thus enforce social
- In parts of Africa, legal judgments are pronounced by masked judges
- A historical European analogue is the masked executioner. (https://www.history.com/encyclopedia.do?vendorId=FWNE.fw..ma059600.a#FWNE.fw..ma059600.a)
- Labor Immigrant Organizing Network (LION).... Our stories of
immigration begin with a profound hunger for democracy, freedom and
civil rights. A hunger driven by our experiences with military
dictatorships and political repression, detentions and arbitrary
arrests, imprisonment without charges, masked judges and faceless
- Fereydoun Hoveyda; Iranian Delegate to United Nations During Shah's
he called his brother's execution murder "simply because no other word
can be used for the kind of mock justice he was subjected to in the
dead of night in front of masked judges."
- The principal methods employed in Ghana over the last two decades
to deal with corruption, ostensibly revolutionary in origin, including
in some instances the summary executions of national leaders decreed
by so-called People's Courts, with masked "judges" sitting in
secret... reflected little credit on Ghanaian justice, have ended in
conspicuous, glaring failure, amid strident accusations of hypocrisy
and double-standards levelled against their authors. (https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/artikel.php?ID=85106)
is anonymity appropriate? What are the legitimate concerns regarding "faceless"
bureaucrats? What is now perceived to be so intentionally sinister about
the lynch mob activity of masked members of the Ku Klux Klan and their
sense of their own legitimacy? How is any abuse by "masked judges" or
"faceless bureaucrats" to be remedied?
It would seem that
the comparison with Wikipedia editorial processes merits some
reflection -- if only very briefly to avoid exaggeration and inappropriate
acusations. Those involved on the Wikipedia side could be fruitfully
part of such a process.
Curiously, in a world focused on issues of security, even
leading democracies increasingly require by law that people in public places
should have their faces unconvered -- for security cameras. It is therefore
somewhat ironic that, as a purportedly open democratic process, Wikipedia editors
should be "electronically masked".
It is curious therefore that in Jimmy
Wales own biographical entry in
Wikipedia he should be quoted as saying: "This is fundamental,
basic information about the world. It needs to be neutral, and there needs
to be an accountable, transparent, public dialogue about how it's created." He
further stated, "I trust Google reasonably well, but that's like saying
you have a favorite politician. I trust this politician, but I still want
the city council to meet publicly. I still want a certain transparency
in how government is run, even if you trust the person who's in charge
Should the "city council" be "masked"?
|An emergent symbolism: Wikipedia and The
-- mythological models of Wikipedia editorial
|In Greek mythology, the white-robed Moirae (in
Greek the "apportioners",
often called the The Fates) were the personifications of destiny (Roman
euphemistically the "sparing ones", or Fata;
also equivalent to the Germanic Norns).
They controlled the metaphorical thread of life of every mortal and immortal
from birth to death (and beyond). Even the gods feared the Moirae. Zeus
(Jimmy Wales?) also
was subject to their power, as the Pythian priestess at Delphi once admitted.
The Greek word moira literally means
a part or portion, and by extension one's portion in life or destiny.
|From Wikipedia entry Moirae
/ The Fates by John Strudwick, A Golden Thread, 1885 (although
ironically the scissors/shears carried in the hand of the figure in the
middle are not clearly evident)