The Wikipedia Thought Police

By Mark O’Neill

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

I have a love-hate relationship with Wikipedia. Over the years, I have quoted from it relentlessly in my articles and I have used it for research and reference purposes. I have even opened several user accounts and attempted to correct factual errors wherever I have found them (provided I have the correct knowledge to hand – nothing is worse than someone who changes a wrong fact with another wrong fact).

But something is fundamentally and fatally flawed with Wikipedia and it is something which has finally made me give up trying to edit Wikipedia articles. It is something which is making George Orwell’s 1984 predictions all come true. It is something that in true Orwellian style, the National Post calls the “Thought Police”.

In other words, Wikipedia has no supervisory independent impartial oversight and zealots are going wild with their one-sided view on subjects. They’re drunk with the “editorial power” with which they have been bestowed, they crush all dissent and there’s no-one to stop them.   The zealots are attempting to influence people with their one-sided view of subjects and if anyone attempts to correct them…well, they’re the editors!    They’re the Thought Police!  They’ll just change it back again!

As the National Post article points out, take a subject such as climate change. Highly controversial with supporters and detractors. Now what if a Wikipedia editor (such as the one in the article) decides on one particular viewpoint? How is anyone with an opposing viewpoint ever going to get a chance to get that opinion into Wikipedia?

Or to take a personal experience. Last year, I was approached by a business client who was trying to get a Wikipedia page set up about their new tech product. But every time they wrote the page, it was deleted – without explanation. They tried to get a Wikipedia editor to explain why the page was deleted so they could modify their strategy but was unsuccessful. So they turned to me and asked for help.

When I finally found a contact email address for Wikipedia, I politely asked for a reason why the page was deleted and after ignoring me for several days, an editor finally emailed me back and said :

“We don’t have to explain our editorial decisions to you. If we decide the page goes then it goes. Get over it. Don’t email us again about this matter. You might also want to tell your client that his product sucks.”

First of all, where does he get off talking to me like that? I made a professional query on behalf of a client and all I get back is an abusive and immature message! Right away, my client’s opinion of Wikipedia went from “excellent” to “terrible” in the space of 2 seconds flat.

Wikipedia is a very noble project – to collect all the world’s information and educate people – with the help of as many online users as possible. But as with all mass collaboration projects, an elitism has grown behind the scenes. I don’t understand why there is no complaints procedure in place for people who have a grievance with Wikipedia. If someone feels slighted in any way by a contributor or an editor then they should be able to email a complaints department and they should be able to file a complaint. That complaint should then be taken extremely seriously.

But no. The rule seems to be “hands off” at the Wikipedia empire (unless it’s Jimbo Wales and his online girlfriend, Rachel Marsden, in which case it’s fully hands ON). This means that people are being influenced by knowledge that the Wikipedia “editors” only want them to see and nothing else.

Mr Wales needs to get his eye back on the ball and get his pet project back on track. He needs to start a thorough house-cleaning. He needs to restore credibility in the Wikipedia brand because he doesn’t seem to realise that the nutcases have left the hospital and are taking over the Wikipedia Empire.

Watch out Jimbo, they’re in your office!

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45 Responses to The Wikipedia Thought Police

      • If your client was trying to post their product on wikipedia for all the world to see, and you were trying to help them do this, why is there a non discloser agreement keeping you from reveiling the product?

        Inquiring minds want to know.

        • Back then, there wasn't a NDA obviously since they were trying to get the product out. But the situation has changed a lot since then and I have subsequently had to sign a NDA. Enough said. It isn't relevant to the article.

      • If your client was trying to post their product on wikipedia for all the world to see, and you were trying to help them do this, why is there a non discloser agreement keeping you from reveiling the product?

        Inquiring minds want to know.

        • Back then, there wasn’t a NDA obviously since they were trying to get the product out. But the situation has changed a lot since then and I have subsequently had to sign a NDA. Enough said. It isn’t relevant to the article.

  1. I love Wikipedia, I think it's a great resource and a lovely idea, and it's just so damn handy. But if I'd gotten a reply like that from a complaints email from anyone at all I would be bloody furious. It's unprofessional, immature and rude. I would be trying to track down this persons supervisor right now.

  2. I love Wikipedia, I think it’s a great resource and a lovely idea, and it’s just so damn handy. But if I’d gotten a reply like that from a complaints email from anyone at all I would be bloody furious. It’s unprofessional, immature and rude. I would be trying to track down this persons supervisor right now.

  3. Here here cousin geek, these nazis of knowledge are doing something that is a grave injustice to our generation. There bias editorials are dictating the knowledge and the views of our youth. I say damn wikipedia, I say damn the CEO , and damn them all.

    Far as the email, what kind of prick would write that to somebody. He must be a person who gets off on power on face less emails. Man I got your in back on this one brother.

  4. Here here cousin geek, these nazis of knowledge are doing something that is a grave injustice to our generation. There bias editorials are dictating the knowledge and the views of our youth. I say damn wikipedia, I say damn the CEO , and damn them all.

    Far as the email, what kind of prick would write that to somebody. He must be a person who gets off on power on face less emails. Man I got your in back on this one brother.

  5. I think the email response was very inconsiderate, if your original email was polite and straightforward then I think some Wikipedia admins are just being jerks.

    Nevertheless, I can tel you right now why you're client wasn't allowed to make a page about their product: It was either considered advertising or was lacking in notability. Besides from that, Wikipedia strongly discourages biased articles. If your client writes an article about their own product, this presents a conflict of interest.

    The reason the email response was so rude is probably because they thought you were a spammer of some sort. Believe me when I tell you that Wikipedia has procedures and guidelines for deletion and that they try to keep a neutral point of view.

    Personally, I love Wikipedia. I realize it has very serious flaws but I think its a great idea and can help improve the access to knowledge worldwide. There's a bunch of administrators, bureaucrats and stewards, in addition to the Wikipedia Board of Trustees. You can find more about the board here I can assure you everyone has a "supervisor".

    I'm sorry you had such a bad experience with Wikipedia. You can report admin abuse in the administrator's incident noticeboard.

  6. I think the email response was very inconsiderate, if your original email was polite and straightforward then I think some Wikipedia admins are just being jerks.

    Nevertheless, I can tel you right now why you're client wasn't allowed to make a page about their product: It was either considered advertising or was lacking in notability. Besides from that, Wikipedia strongly discourages biased articles. If your client writes an article about their own product, this presents a conflict of interest.

    The reason the email response was so rude is probably because they thought you were a spammer of some sort. Believe me when I tell you that Wikipedia has procedures and guidelines for deletion and that they try to keep a neutral point of view.

    Personally, I love Wikipedia. I realize it has very serious flaws but I think its a great idea and can help improve the access to knowledge worldwide. There's a bunch of administrators, bureaucrats and stewards, in addition to the Wikipedia Board of Trustees. You can find more about the board here I can assure you everyone has a "supervisor".

    I'm sorry you had such a bad experience with Wikipedia. You can report admin abuse in the administrator's incident noticeboard.

  7. I think the email response was very inconsiderate, if your original email was polite and straightforward then I think some Wikipedia admins are just being jerks.

    Nevertheless, I can tel you right now why you're client wasn't allowed to make a page about their product: It was either considered advertising or was lacking in notability. Besides from that, Wikipedia strongly discourages biased articles. If your client writes an article about their own product, this presents a conflict of interest.

    The reason the email response was so rude is probably because they thought you were a spammer of some sort. Believe me when I tell you that Wikipedia has procedures and guidelines for deletion and that they try to keep a neutral point of view.

    Personally, I love Wikipedia. I realize it has very serious flaws but I think its a great idea and can help improve the access to knowledge worldwide. There's a bunch of administrators, bureaucrats and stewards, in addition to the Wikipedia Board of Trustees. You can find more about the board here I can assure you everyone has a "supervisor".

    I'm sorry you had such a bad experience with Wikipedia. You can report admin abuse in the administrator's incident noticeboard.

  8. First, I can't believe that companies are trying to market their products using Wikipedia.

    Second, why the multiple accounts needed to fight over articles? Is this massive sock-puppetry attempts in trying to push an agenda on certain articles? Or have the other accounts been banned?

    • There's nothing wrong with a company looking for exposure through Wikipedia. Google does it. So does Yahoo. Hell, politicians do it too. I'm not saying they should outright publicise themselves but if they do something noteworthy, there's nothing wrong with setting up a Wikipedia page, discussing the product and generating some discussion and debate.

      I have had multiple accounts with Wikipedia due to the various disputes I have had with editors over various articles on various subjects. Let's just say I have become rather well known by my usernames. So whenever I have hit an insurmountable wall with them, I have just started a new account and started again. For example, I have edited articles on historical subjects relating to things like the war, the Holocaust and things like that and I have had fierce arguments from people claiming that the events didn't happen. Crap like that.

      • So it WAS sockpuppetry. Its understandable that passionate people want to defend their ideas and try to keep the facts straight. But after the second sockpuppet, its time to quit. Its far more damaging to your reputation to be caught using a sockpuppet than to allow information on a wiki site to be outdated.

        And I'm pretty sure that Wikipedia has a strict "no self promotion" policy. Sure, Google and Yahoo are on it and take part in keeping their articles up to date. But they are imminently more noteworthy than "Jim's Used Auto Parts," or whatever client wanted an entry on Wikipedia. If the company is noteworthy enough, someone will write the article.

        But you are right about wikipedia being broke for all of these reasons. Until information can be validated as authoritative, along the lines of digital signatures, things on the internet cannot be trusted to be accurate.

        • sockpuppetry?? What the hell are you talking about? If some crass idiot comes along and tells me that Auschwitz didn't happen and reverses all my Wikipedia edits, and then blacklists everything that I subsequently do on that page, then I sure as hell am going to start up a new account to get around that narrow-minded bigoted idiot. Call it whatever name you want to.

          And who gets to decide who's "noteworthy" and who's not? And who gets to decide who writes the article and who doesn't? Wikipedia is a very noble idea but I get scared when these "editors" get to decide what is and what isn't noteworthy in the world and then schoolkids get the impression that everything on Wikipedia is 100% correct.

        • Mark, ironically enough, Wikipedia has a pretty good def of sockpuppetry, and it applies to what you did with the use of multiple accounts:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sockpuppet_%28Intern

          I agree that idiots shouldn't use an open encyclopedia to promote despicable agendas, especially about the holocaust or 9/11. But its going to happen on any non-commercial venture like wikipedia.

          And the mob mentality gets to set its own agenda. I think its time to recognize that wikipedia is a broken, unreliable idea.

        • Mark: If you're adding referenced and well-sourced facts to Wikipedia, and someone with a different agenda tries to get in your way (being disruptive, reversing your edits without consideration, etc) you can report the incident to Wikipedia's Mediation Committee, but first I suggest you read up on Wikipedia's policy on dispute resolution.

          Making multiple accounts is a brute-force method and is strongly discouraged. Sock puppetry is against Wikipedia's policies and can get your account(s) and IP banned from editing Wikipedia. Please read Wikipedia's Policies and guidelines to get a better view of how Wikipedia works. I hope I was helpful.

  9. First, I can’t believe that companies are trying to market their products using Wikipedia.

    Second, why the multiple accounts needed to fight over articles? Is this massive sock-puppetry attempts in trying to push an agenda on certain articles? Or have the other accounts been banned?

  10. First, I can’t believe that companies are trying to market their products using Wikipedia.

    Second, why the multiple accounts needed to fight over articles? Is this massive sock-puppetry attempts in trying to push an agenda on certain articles? Or have the other accounts been banned?

    • There’s nothing wrong with a company looking for exposure through Wikipedia. Google does it. So does Yahoo. Hell, politicians do it too. I’m not saying they should outright publicise themselves but if they do something noteworthy, there’s nothing wrong with setting up a Wikipedia page, discussing the product and generating some discussion and debate.

      I have had multiple accounts with Wikipedia due to the various disputes I have had with editors over various articles on various subjects. Let’s just say I have become rather well known by my usernames. So whenever I have hit an insurmountable wall with them, I have just started a new account and started again. For example, I have edited articles on historical subjects relating to things like the war, the Holocaust and things like that and I have had fierce arguments from people claiming that the events didn’t happen. Crap like that.

      • So it WAS sockpuppetry. Its understandable that passionate people want to defend their ideas and try to keep the facts straight. But after the second sockpuppet, its time to quit. Its far more damaging to your reputation to be caught using a sockpuppet than to allow information on a wiki site to be outdated.

        And I’m pretty sure that Wikipedia has a strict “no self promotion” policy. Sure, Google and Yahoo are on it and take part in keeping their articles up to date. But they are imminently more noteworthy than “Jim’s Used Auto Parts,” or whatever client wanted an entry on Wikipedia. If the company is noteworthy enough, someone will write the article.

        But you are right about wikipedia being broke for all of these reasons. Until information can be validated as authoritative, along the lines of digital signatures, things on the internet cannot be trusted to be accurate.

        • sockpuppetry?? What the hell are you talking about? If some crass idiot comes along and tells me that Auschwitz didn’t happen and reverses all my Wikipedia edits, and then blacklists everything that I subsequently do on that page, then I sure as hell am going to start up a new account to get around that narrow-minded bigoted idiot. Call it whatever name you want to.

          And who gets to decide who’s “noteworthy” and who’s not? And who gets to decide who writes the article and who doesn’t? Wikipedia is a very noble idea but I get scared when these “editors” get to decide what is and what isn’t noteworthy in the world and then schoolkids get the impression that everything on Wikipedia is 100% correct.

        • Mark, ironically enough, Wikipedia has a pretty good def of sockpuppetry, and it applies to what you did with the use of multiple accounts:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sockpuppet_%28Intern

          I agree that idiots shouldn't use an open encyclopedia to promote despicable agendas, especially about the holocaust or 9/11. But its going to happen on any non-commercial venture like wikipedia.

          And the mob mentality gets to set its own agenda. I think its time to recognize that wikipedia is a broken, unreliable idea.

        • Mark: If you're adding referenced and well-sourced facts to Wikipedia, and someone with a different agenda tries to get in your way (being disruptive, reversing your edits without consideration, etc) you can report the incident to Wikipedia's Mediation Committee, but first I suggest you read up on Wikipedia's policy on dispute resolution.

          Making multiple accounts is a brute-force method and is strongly discouraged. Sock puppetry is against Wikipedia's policies and can get your account(s) and IP banned from editing Wikipedia. Please read Wikipedia's Policies and guidelines to get a better view of how Wikipedia works. I hope I was helpful.

  11. (I know I'm posting a long time after the article has been put up, but I was on holiday and I'm catching up. Sorry, fellow geeks.)

    Interesting. I agree and disagree with some the comments above. I don't think Wikipedia or the idea of it is broken, but I do agree that the elitism that pervades the site is despicable. I only have one account, but I don't feel that editing with multiple accounts — even within the same article — is inherently a bad thing, yet I do see the obvious potential for rampant abuse.

    I tend to edit articles that are generally uncontroversial, and I also try to give other users ("editor", in my opinion, is clearly an inaccurate term for most of Wikipedia's community) the benefit of the doubt by asking them to cite their claims and such before deleting.

    Then again, I rarely edit articles that I care deeply about, and even then I typically edit for grammar and punctuation. I've only ever run into a few jerks, but they were Class A elitist morons who felt their years of experience on Wikipedia and their gazillion edits (most made through automated programs) made their opinions more valuable than others. It is also truly difficult to get any form of consensus on a matter when hundreds of users have the ability to opine on subject matter they no little about.

    I also agree with Mark that Wikipedia should attempt some housecleaning. Wikipedia could use an accredited editorial board, made up of truly qualified individuals. I'm unsure how that might be achieved, though. I do think users should be made to register to avoid mostly anonymous edits. Assuming spammers and idiots are not spoofing their IP addresses, it's kind of fun to track someone down and out them…

    As with any publicly accessible site (e.g. message or bulletin boards) there will be long-time users who believe they are more important than anyone else by sheer dint of their longevity. For example, Gamefaqs.com is such a site where comments from users with high karma (the point system required for obtaining more access to the site) are sometimes given too much credibility and weight. Sites like these tend to form bizarre, elitist sub-communities – a more recent example for your consideration is Facebook's Human Pets application.

    In closing, I feel Wikipedia is an excellent resource but rife with moronic users probably just having a laugh. Something should be done to make it more accountable, yet if it never happens, I'd still visit the site.

  12. (I know I’m posting a long time after the article has been put up, but I was on holiday and I’m catching up. Sorry, fellow geeks.)

    Interesting. I agree and disagree with some the comments above. I don’t think Wikipedia or the idea of it is broken, but I do agree that the elitism that pervades the site is despicable. I only have one account, but I don’t feel that editing with multiple accounts — even within the same article — is inherently a bad thing, yet I do see the obvious potential for rampant abuse.

    I tend to edit articles that are generally uncontroversial, and I also try to give other users (“editor”, in my opinion, is clearly an inaccurate term for most of Wikipedia’s community) the benefit of the doubt by asking them to cite their claims and such before deleting.

    Then again, I rarely edit articles that I care deeply about, and even then I typically edit for grammar and punctuation. I’ve only ever run into a few jerks, but they were Class A elitist morons who felt their years of experience on Wikipedia and their gazillion edits (most made through automated programs) made their opinions more valuable than others. It is also truly difficult to get any form of consensus on a matter when hundreds of users have the ability to opine on subject matter they no little about.

    I also agree with Mark that Wikipedia should attempt some housecleaning. Wikipedia could use an accredited editorial board, made up of truly qualified individuals. I’m unsure how that might be achieved, though. I do think users should be made to register to avoid mostly anonymous edits. Assuming spammers and idiots are not spoofing their IP addresses, it’s kind of fun to track someone down and out them…

    As with any publicly accessible site (e.g. message or bulletin boards) there will be long-time users who believe they are more important than anyone else by sheer dint of their longevity. For example, Gamefaqs.com is such a site where comments from users with high karma (the point system required for obtaining more access to the site) are sometimes given too much credibility and weight. Sites like these tend to form bizarre, elitist sub-communities – a more recent example for your consideration is Facebook’s Human Pets application.

    In closing, I feel Wikipedia is an excellent resource but rife with moronic users probably just having a laugh. Something should be done to make it more accountable, yet if it never happens, I’d still visit the site.

  13. Wikipedia is full of a bunch of fascist pigs. They fish for people's ip address who don't agree with them and accuse people of sockpuppetry without much evidence. I have a dynamic ip address, which randomly changes every other day or so. They told me that my ip was associated with someone else. I have no clue who this other person is but they still believe that i was using a sockpuppet.

    They have the most ridiculous phrases and the worst company culture.

    They banned an old ip I was using. The next day my ip updated. I have a completely new ip now and I'm free to do whatever I choose with a new ip. I could go and create a new wikipedia user b/c they banned a dynamic ip address, which makes no sense.

    I told them that they probably inadvertently banned any luckless person who happened upon that old ip. If someone in my network area just happens to pop up with that ip then they're out of luck. They don't care and they don't believe me. So oh well.

  14. Wikipedia is full of a bunch of fascist pigs. They fish for people’s ip address who don’t agree with them and accuse people of sockpuppetry without much evidence. I have a dynamic ip address, which randomly changes every other day or so. They told me that my ip was associated with someone else. I have no clue who this other person is but they still believe that i was using a sockpuppet.

    They have the most ridiculous phrases and the worst company culture.

    They banned an old ip I was using. The next day my ip updated. I have a completely new ip now and I’m free to do whatever I choose with a new ip. I could go and create a new wikipedia user b/c they banned a dynamic ip address, which makes no sense.

    I told them that they probably inadvertently banned any luckless person who happened upon that old ip. If someone in my network area just happens to pop up with that ip then they’re out of luck. They don’t care and they don’t believe me. So oh well.

  15. Wikipedia is full of a bunch of fascist pigs. They fish for people’s ip address who don’t agree with them and accuse people of sockpuppetry without much evidence. I have a dynamic ip address, which randomly changes every other day or so. They told me that my ip was associated with someone else. I have no clue who this other person is but they still believe that i was using a sockpuppet.

    They have the most ridiculous phrases and the worst company culture.

    They banned an old ip I was using. The next day my ip updated. I have a completely new ip now and I’m free to do whatever I choose with a new ip. I could go and create a new wikipedia user b/c they banned a dynamic ip address, which makes no sense.

    I told them that they probably inadvertently banned any luckless person who happened upon that old ip. If someone in my network area just happens to pop up with that ip then they’re out of luck. They don’t care and they don’t believe me. So oh well.

  16. Far too many wiki users are simply obnoxious megalomaniacs lording over their pet article. There is no point io complaining, as the proceedure is useless and the whole site basically plagaries the rest of the internet and spams googles results.

    I wish it would die, preferably ruining the frontal cortexes of its users at the same time. It would she humanity of many rude and unpleasant people.

  17. Far too many wiki users are simply obnoxious megalomaniacs lording over their pet article. There is no point io complaining, as the proceedure is useless and the whole site basically plagaries the rest of the internet and spams googles results.

    I wish it would die, preferably ruining the frontal cortexes of its users at the same time. It would she humanity of many rude and unpleasant people.

    • The biggest problem with Wikipedia is that the folks who effectively run the place are too in love with enforcing Wikipedia’s rules to consider that a good deal of them don’t make much sense, or that the rules stifle progress and keep Wikipedia from reaching its full potential. As an example, consider the case of Ian Mortimer, a notable historian who made some edits to an article to address a factual error, only to see those edits reverted by an editor who admitted that he knew nothing about the subject. This editor, who went by the name “Mike Rosoft”, reverted Ian’s edits, not because they were factually incorrect, but because they were based on Ian’s own research, and of course original research is a no-no on Wikipedia. Let’s forget for a moment that all research is original research, and that the only real difference between Ian’s and that which they cited; besides the fact that Ian’s was correct and the cited research was not, was that Ian posted his research on Wikipedia himself. Should that really stand as a reason to dismiss his edits if they’re otherwise sound? Not to my mind. Providing accurate information should be the single most important thing to anyone and everyone who edits Wikipedia. When the rules become more important than the quality of the information that’s presented on Wikipedia, then you might as well close down shop. Sadly, the trend seems to be moving towards favoring the rules over facts, as Ian’s incident isn’t an isolated one. Not by a long shot.

      Wikipedia was supposed to be the repository for all the world’s knowledge, but between power-mad editors making senseless reverts and Jimbo stupidly leaving it up to the editors to determine what is or isn’t noteworthy, it’s hardly that. Worse still, the information that Wikipedia’s editors have managed to pull together is nigh worthless, because it’s integrity is questionable. Sure they cite their sources, but how can we trust in the value of the information when so often their sources are of questionable worth? More to the point, how are we to know that any of the many folks who edit a given article are authorities on the subject? I recall a noteworthy case involving a Wikipedia editor by the name of Essjay, who faked his credentials in order to pass himself off as an authority on several different subjects, so why should we trust that that an editor really is authority even if they claim to be? There’s just no way for the average Wikipedia user to trust that what he or she reads there is factually accurate, and/or contributed by folks who know what they’re talking about, so the site really isn’t much more than a mild curiosity at best. Wikipedia has a lot of kinks to iron out if it wants to qualify as even a worthwhile encyclopedia, much less as the repository for all the world’s knowledge.

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