The Wikipedia case study introduction.
What is a wiki war? Introduction to the topic.
Internet Drama: A consensual field study into online consensus building Introduction and overview of the case study.
The case study began with an inquiry into how majority and minority views build a consensus on a Wikipedia article, specifically when a phenomenon known as “Wiki Wars” erupt on the article.
As a designer of a computational and algorithmic process for online conflict resolution, understanding how consensus building actually worked on Wikipedia was essential research. For years I was intimidated away from ever participating in one to view the dynamics for myself. Primarily, because of my own lack of expertise in topics where “Wiki Wars” could emerge, such as in politics, especially intimidating topics such as Israel or Palestine, or commercial industries like Oil and Gas or pharmaceutical industry. Finding the right entry point into the case study was always challenging, but then I got lucky.
In 2013, I made the decision to initiate the case study into what I thought would be a small and benign wiki war, but one that was getting mainstream media attention. The BBC Radio Hour featured an interview with Rupert Sheldrake, a Cambridge biologist and researcher whom is somewhat vilified by “skeptic organizations” and according to Rupert, this community of editors were taking control of his own biographical article.
Professor Jerry Coyne from the University of Chicago penned a polemic against Rupert Sheldrake and the BBC for treating his views as science. Linking to Wikipedia specifically, Coyne jostled Rupert and any group of editors who wanted to edit the article. “Rupert Sheldrake is no scientist, he is not practicing science!” is a phrase often heard by this very agitated group of bloggers, and Wikipedia’s article did start to reflect this “editing war” happening around the “history” of Rupert Sheldrake.
On one side of this editing community were the “skeptic” editors, who in their minds defend Wikipedia from pseudoscience and bizarre new age claims entering the encyclopedia. On the “other” side of the issue is an incredibly diverse community of various viewpoints around things like alternative and integrative medicine or things considered “fringe” research, things like AI, emergence, parapsychology, cold fusion, even cryptocurrency.
I assumed this would a harmless community contrasted against the broader heated political or religions pages and editors.
Boy was I mistaken.
In my study, I learned quickly and the hard way. I discovered that a few notable influencers within the “skeptic community” were leveraging Wikipedia as a way to assault their critics by operating essentially a troll farm. Over five hundred “fake” Wikipedia editing accounts were discovered being managed by this small group.
When I began my case study on Wikipedia, the “skeptic community” was one of the more larger social networks on the internet, and early adopters of web tools to bolster broadcast and consensus.
“Skeptics” as a collection of social networks and groups who identify as “skeptics” around this time were primarily white males which divided into two groups at the time of GamerGate.
One cultural side of skeptics became more focused progressive or left wing political influences (the SJWs), and the other skeptic group group became what is now known as the “alt-right”, suspicious of “mainstream media sources”, applying their “skeptic prowess” to online research and YouTube videos. This has become much of the culture of the “dark enlightenment” and even the “alt-right”. Both groups can be highly toxic online, independent of their ideological swing as skeptics. To me, both of these ideological groups reflect far more as psychological types rather than ideological types.
With GamerGate lighting the match, within a short amount of time what was once a semi-unified community across social media, now “skeptics” became politically divided like the rest of the country.
Since 2014, the internet has become increasingly more toxic, and there is no question that GamerGate was a significant culture milestone of online division, creating streams of “troll farms” across the web engaging in what are “misinformation” wars about each other’s motivations.
I wrote an executive summary of the MediaWiki problem here. MediaWiki is a significant vulnerability on the web which is often quite clouded by the sheer amount of goodwill internet users extend towards Wikipedia and WikiMedia Foundation.
Below is the eight year case study that would inform this conclusion.
The MediaWiki Case studies
Originally, the study was a focus on how majority viewpoints and minority viewpoints build a consensus on a contentious Wikipedia article in a “wiki war”.
The study now broadly focuses on consensus building with individuals or groups of individuals who make three distinguishable choices or assertive behaviors in a group consensus process;
- individuals who practice deception in an online consensus.
- individuals who attempt to influence an online consensus through intimidation, non-resolving communication, or bullying.
- individuals who attempt to control all the permissions (access to participation) in a consensus building process.
These behaviors create three “arcs” in Aiki Wiki’s computational system for conflict resolution. Three of these narrative events, which the system refers to as “Heat, Mirrors and Shadows” were informed by these Wikipedia interactions.
Aiki Wiki, a type of discussion threading for conflict resolution, applies an algorithmic narrative structure to the chaos of online conversation, creating a total of nine narrative events that play out through decision making and interaction.
These three narrative structures can predict when contentious consensus building occurs and the case study details these events as they occurred in real time on social media platforms specifically wikis, and primarily focuses on Wikipedia with a few exceptions.
It was these specific behaviors which can emerge within consensus building that I developed the Aiki Wiki algorithm to and completed in 2020.
As a case study on majority and minority view editing on Wikipedia, the event travels across three of the most controversial issues and topics on Wikipedia; Biographies of a Living Person (BLP), Fringe subjects (WP: Fringe), and Paid/Agenda Editing.
This case study presents both first-person narratives along with third-party evidence detailing “harassment”, as defined by the Wikipedia community editing guidelines, which is referred to in this study as editor suppression.
Editor suppression is a community strategy to control editing permissions on Wikipedia.
This study details how an agenda group (troll farm) can control and influence an article on Wikipedia, and influence perception of a topic via various MediaWiki platforms.
This study focused on two well-publicized and well-known wiki wars occurring on Wikipedia, the biographical articles about Rupert Sheldrake and Deepak Chopra, and I worked directly with these subjects through the entire process.
I offer complete transparency within the case study about my relationships with these individuals.
Much of this communal tit for tat between two communities editing on Wikipedia, the “woo” on one side and the “skeptics” on the other, does contain much of a genuine concern of Wikipedia, which has to deal with many problematic situations especially around alternative health claims. Wikipedia is correct to police that.
Yet at the same time, Wikipedia still has a responsibility to treat controversial subject matter to the same terms it treats any other subject. And even a controversial subject can have valid editorial concerns or reasonable boundaries.
So how do the two views co-operate on Wikipedia? That is what I wanted to find out.
So in my case study, I solely focused on bland information about the subjects. On both articles, the problem was identical, the lede section meta data, the data about the individuals that would be feed to the rest of the web and discovered first if anyone was doing any research on them.
Deepak Chopra is a medical doctor, this is factually correct about his biography, and significant to his biographical narrative. Rupert Sheldrake is a Cambridge biologist, this is a factually correct detail in his biography, and central to everything in his personal life.
This information was being suppressed in these two articles by the majority view on Wikipedia. They did not want to list Deepak Chopra as a medical doctor, or Rupert Sheldrake as a biologist, but rather Deepak as a “New Age Guru” and Rupert as a “parapsychologist”.
The community on Wikipedia made it clear that Wikipedia should not give them any credibility, and justified this suppression of factually correct information and the treatment of minority view editors who, rightfully, wanted it included.
Even supporting this editorial decision about this non-controversial information made the minority view, in the eyes of the majority, “promoters of pseudo-science.”
So I wanted to apply the methodology of non-dual consensus building specifically in this environment.
I only personally met Rupert Sheldrake once previously and had no relationship with him prior to the study. While Rupert initially asked for my help as a professional, I told him that I would propose to him a counter-offer, I wanted to turn his BLP problem on Wikipedia into my case study that I was already wanting to work on for Aiki Wiki. Since the case study, Rupert and I have become friends. I don’t mind defending Rupert Sheldrake as an individual. I find him to be a lovely person, his wife as kids as well, lots of fun to hang out with. A type of “bohemian intellectual” and family.
Biography of a Living Person; Rupert Sheldrake
- A worrisome welcome to a wiki war.
- The Battle Begins.
- Enter “The Tumbleman”
- Request for a new consensus, denied
- The First Trial of the Tumbleman: Sock Puppet
- The Second Trial of the Tumbleman: Troll
With Deepak Chopra, he contacted me after he learned about the case study on Rupert’s biography, as the individuals know each other. My brief relationship with Deepak was professional for a few months as his media representative on Wikipedia. Since the case study, we have continued no further contact and relationship.
First when we met, Deepak was simply interested and fascinated with both Aiki Wiki and the research, and offered a donation of $5,000.00 to the project, so I could keep working on it. I accepted, it was put to good use. He then asked about my professional services, and if they could be acquired, as he needed help. He did need help. No matter anyone’s personal view of Chopra, his BLP on Wikipedia was truly a mess factually.
I proposed he could pay me to be his direct media representative on his article, as this would be another dynamic to research, “paid editing”.
What happens when a famous person has a legitimate problem with their BLP? They can hire a representative, Wikipedia allows this. The representative cannot perform any edits, only negotiate with the community. From this constrained position, I was able to use the methodology within Aiki Wiki to resolve Deepak’s article, including the influence of the community to make this change without me doing any direct editing.
At the time, this victory for “non-dual” consensus took about 30 days to accomplish, but was short lived. While Wikipedia’s “Pillars” offers a process to protect notable individuals from platform abuse around their topic, this case study proved that process simply does not work, and notable individuals do have a very legitimate claim to make against Wikipedia in this regard.
Biography of a Living Person; Deepak Chopra
- Wikipedia, please delete my article. (pt 1)
- How to catch a skeptic. (pt 2)
- A gathering consensus. (pt 3, not yet published)
- How to win a wiki war, ISHAR (pt 4, not yet published)
- Deepak Chopra’s article reflects a wider problem.
RationalWiki — the troll farm MediaWiki.
For many years and even to this day, the troll farm that I exposed on Wikipedia attempts all sorts of “disinformation” broadcast about me, if anyone does a search on Google for Rome Viharo, they will discover a RationalWiki article about me that is, with intention, designed to discredit me so as no one would ever take the case study, of which RationalWiki features prominently, seriously.
Meet a MediaWiki troll farm; RationalWiki
- RationalWiki trolls have stolen my narrative, and I want it back (updated: 2017)
- The Attack of David Gerard’s 50ft troll farm, and the RationalWiki hustle. (2018)
- RationalWiki is gaslighting, lying, covering up cross platform harassment. (2018)
- Targeted on RationalWiki, can we talk about this? (December 2013)
- Sh*t RationalWiki says (May 2015)
- RationalWiki editor FuzzyCat Potato initiates “rational discussion”(April 2015)
- RationalWiki censors essay criticizing RationalWiki (April 2015)
- Revisiting RationalWiki (April 2015) and RationalWiki revisited
- RationalWiki’s tangled rationalizations for harassment (May 2015)
- Magical thinking on RationalWiki (November 2015)
- RationalWiki’s Drinking Games (June 2017)
- “This whole mess needs to be cleaned up!” (June 2017)
- So an atheist, a Muslim, a fruitarian and a futurist walk into a saloon… (Nov 2017)
Because this troll farm exploits MediaWikis in their disruption campaigns, all of their activities is stored on MediaWikis, making my case study very easy to prove.
This disinformation campaign waged against me was one of the more remarkable things to have happened to my case study, and to this day I am still proud of having a clearly wrong view written about me along with a small dedicated “troll farm” of a few Wikipedia editors who are clearly irate with the publication of this study.
The case study (with help from others on the internet) did expose well known internet trolls, twin brothers out of the UK, who were operating a list of over five hundred Wikipedia editing accounts that were used in influence and harassment campaigns, even influencing the press. These individuals still taunt me to this day, and are also quite adept, even clever, at online impersonations, their speciality.
Meet the Wikipedia sockpuppet army. (Manul/Vzaak, Atlantid, Goblin Face, Dan Skeptic, etc)
- Oliver D. Smith, MediaWiki poster boy. (Sept 2018)
- True Tales from Weird Wikipedia: Incident at the Fringe Theory Noticeboard (April 2018)
- The Smith’s Dark Entanglement: Full Three year report (Oct 2013 — April 2017)
- Impersonations on Wikipedia, Tim Farley, and flag waving on Reddit, again.
- Flag Waving, watch out for it.
- Oh Reddit and Twitter, am disappoint.
- Wikipedia editor shenanigans (may 4th 2015)
- How Manul/Vzaak greeted me on Wikipedia (2015)
- Vzaak changes their Wikipedia account to Manul (April 2015)
- Manul’s troll pals stalk me on Reddit, defending Manul (May 2015)
- Manul tries to bully Wikipedia admin Liz (June 2015)
- Vzaak/Manul’s misinformation, debunked (2013)
- What will Goblin Face do next?
- Email threatens to increase harassment if I don’t stop publishing Wikipedia, We Have a Problem
- Skeptic sock puppet army gets busted on Wikipedia, finally.
- “We’ll never stop!” claims Wikipedia/RationalWiki editors, claim they are paid by “prominent skeptic”
This troll farm of experienced Wikipedia/MediaWiki editors usually find a home on RationalWiki, which has featured itself into the MediaWiki case study by broadcasting misinformation about the study itself as well as target the author, moi. Being the focus of this agitated troll farm presented a new opportunity, as I am a subject matter expert on myself, they showed me all the possible ways “actual” subjects or events can become twisted by disinformation and misinformation.
RationalWiki began as an actual trolling platform against conservative Wikipedia editors.
RationalWiki formed when conservative Wikipedia editors created “Conservapedia”, a MediaWiki alternative to Wikipedia, where as RationalWiki began literally as a way to troll their conservative counter-parts.
RationalWiki, looking like it could be Wikipedia, and branding itself with a title that should speak to its own credibility, is a common example of how MediaWiki’s are created by “wiki-wars” beginning on Wikipedia, and then the ideological wings of the wiki-war finding another platform to broadcast their lost narrative on Wikipedia, or, when necessary, broadcast misinformation about your ideological opponent.
Because of this targeting and misinformation about both myself and the case study, the work now had a dual purpose. Wikipedia, We Have a Problem had to serve as an account of events that happened within my research, but also as a way to negotiate and build consensus with the many troll farms now spreading misinformation about me, quite a challenge to overcome, about the author, which was having a direct impact on my professional life.
As I challenged actual “skeptic communities“ (and by skeptic I mean their preferred pronoun is literally “skeptic” on the social media profiles) these skeptics claim that my intention for publishing Wikipedia We Have a Problem was because I was hired to “promote pseudoscience”, an absolutely ridiculous claim considering I was upfront about my intention and my research from the very beginning.
The case study did expose activities of publicly known Wikipedia editors, editing accounts that already revealed their identities.
What opened up in my first Wiki-war experience was learning how Wikipedia was used by academics and influencers in their own personal “tit for tats” with other academics or scientists they don’t like.
A well known blogger from the University of Chicago, Professor Jerry Coyne, and a few well known skeptic bloggers such as Tim Farley were shown to be using Wikipedia as a platform for their peculiar brand of activism, personal grudges, and “activism” of which Rupert Sheldrake and Deepak Chopra are their primary targets.
Meet the leaders of the troll farms
- The Attack of David Gerard’s 50ft troll farm, and the RationalWiki hustle (2018)
- Come play the Wikipedia BLP-Palooza! (2018)
- True Tales from Weird Wikipedia: The incident at the FTN
- Tim Farley does not want skeptics linking to Wikipedia We Have a Problem (Jan 2014)
- An open letter to Tim Farley regarding him faking his data sets on Wikipedia (May 2014)
- Tim Farley’s big black hat on Wikipedia (April 2014)
- Tim Farley asks “Why do people edit Wikipedia?” does not mention activism. (June 2014)
- Tim Farley, be honest about activism on Wikipedia (June 2014)
- Tim Farley, if this dirty trick is coming next, don’t (updated 2016, published 2015)
- Skeptic activists now using Google AdWords to promote Wikipedia editing, Susan Gerbic admits to socking on Facebook (may 2016)
- Impersonations on Wikipedia, Tim Farley claims WWHP is “harassment” (2017)
- David Gerard versus the blockchain, a peek into an emerging wiki war (2017
I don’t have that many ideological differences with RationalWiki or skeptics, especially when it comes to a pro-science position, or even progressive policies publication.
What I deeply object to is the dualistic (competitive, divisive) promoting science or progressive politics as specific acerbic style of confrontation, applying GOAT to what is supposed to be “rational” commentary, attacking their perceived ideological foes on the far right.
I do have problems with how these subjects are treated by communities who are responsible for publishing content.
I am critical of any scientist who choose this pathway, I think it is very harmful to the productive to the spread of science. More individuals now in 2023 believe in a Flat Earth, despite access to the largest repository of knowledge the world could ever conceive of.
I propose this de-evolution is a result of how the subject of science is treated by many who promote science itself. In this regard, Richard Dawkins has been more harmful to the communication of science than he could ever imagine.
A troll farm, at the end of the day, is still a troll farm.
I did not predict that I would be a target of harassment when I began this study. Nor did I realize it would ever extend into the darker depths of “wiki” communities that it did, and never in my wildest dreams did I believe it would continue to give me a unique insight and deeper understanding of the psychologies that lurk under the surface of the internet for the past four years since it began, allowing me to complete the deep computational narrative structures of Aiki Wiki, of which I am deeply grateful.
So below is the relevant list of published articles that were on Wikipedia, We Have a Problem from 2013–2019.
Case study commentary
- Will a definition of online harassment please stand up?
- How to Ban a POV You Don’t Like, in 9 Easy Steps. (with video!)
- Come play the Wikipedia BLP-Palooza!
- Am I a Sock Puppet?
- Investigating Dicks, the Wikipedia Noir chronicles. (Fun Stuff)