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See Who Is Whitewashing Wikipedia 478

Posted by Zonk
from the who-isn't-these-days dept.
Decius6i5 writes "Caltech grad student Virgil Griffith has launched a search tool that uncovers whitewashing and other self-interested editing of Wikipedia. Users can generate lists of every edit to Wikipedia which has been made from a particular IP address range. The tool has already uncovered a number of interesting edits, such as one from the corporate offices of Diebold which removed large sections of content critical of their electronic voting machines. A Wired story provides more detail and Threat Level is running a contest to see who can come up with the most interesting Wikipedia spin job."
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See Who Is Whitewashing Wikipedia

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  • TOR (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ArcadeX (866171) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @10:58AM (#20225683)
    How long before the savy ones start hiding? On another note I could also see this as a tool companies use to find wiki whistleblowers.
  • by swid27 (869237) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:02AM (#20225753) Homepage

    One of the pages on my watchlist is Adrian Smith [wikipedia.org] (R - Nebraska, third district). About once a month, an anon IP or recently-created user account tries to whitewash his WP article by removing unflattering sourced details about his campaign contributors.

    If you want to follow along in the fun, view the article history [wikipedia.org].

  • by pzs (857406) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:04AM (#20225789)
    It's a bit of a pity that the more successful a source of information like Wikipedia becomes, the more likely it is that some twat is going to try and adopt it for their own ends.

    Peter
  • by TheWoozle (984500) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:05AM (#20225795)
    But as this guy's project goes to show, in an open, transparent environment it doesn't matter... as a bonus it also serves to show who you can and can't trust.
  • Re:TOR (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OverlordQ (264228) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:11AM (#20225889) Journal
    They don't need Tor, they could just create sockpuppet accounts like everyone else who trolls Wikipedia, and hide their IP that way.

    Checkuser [wikipedia.org] anyone?
  • Re:TFA Interesting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:11AM (#20225891)
    tinfoil hat on - Well of anyone doing self interested edits, you would imagine the CIA would be covering their ones with a lot of noise. That is what those innocent edits are.
  • by MSTCrow5429 (642744) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:13AM (#20225901)
    How about instead of going after corporate IP addresses, a study of the corrupted power structure, administrator abuses, and Linda Mack/Jayjg? The problems are not from IP address on the outside. The problem is that there are not and have never been any objective criteria for delegating power to accounts, and while I don't know if it's a majority or not, a very good plurality of administrators believe their purpose is to use their power to ensure articles reflect only their point of view, and anyone that tries to change that, even with multiple citations and sources, find themselves personally attacked wikilawyered, and often blocked. There is no system separate from the administrators to handle this kind of abuse, so it almost never is addressed. Sure, edits from organizational IP addresses can be annoying, but they wield no power in the system, and cannot hurt anyone. Administrators and bureaucrats, they have a bad habit of supporting vandals and trolls that are later banned by Wikipedia, and harassing users that have not been able to protect themselves by becoming administrators, as being elevated to administrator largely depends on the desires of the current administrators, who are very adept at gaming the system. It is almost impossible to become an administrator unless you have the same character flaws as those in power. It's the iron law of bureaucracy; those that seek power and only power, to the detriment of the organization, seize and hold power. Wikipedia is a failed experiment, it failed a long time ago due to structural deficiencies, and the attention it continues to receive is like a bad addiction on the part of internet users.
  • Re:TFA Interesting (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:19AM (#20226003)
    Almost as funny was someone at the NSA (the security organization) adding the "National Softball Association" to the disambiguation page for "NSA" :-)

  • That's ridiculous (Score:4, Interesting)

    by blueZ3 (744446) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:22AM (#20226049) Homepage
    Or, more politely, I think you're mistaken.

    There's no magical incantation that makes an "open, transparent" information editing environment inheirently better. You just get a different bias, and it's more difficult to figure out where that bias is coming into play.

    With Brittanica, you have a (known) establishment bias. With a Boeing sales brochure, you have a (known) "areospace is the ultimate industry" bias. What you generally see on Wikipedia are astounding examples of groupthink. Wikipedia's NPOV is a bias, make no mistake. And just because you can "see" the bias of article editors, that doesn't mean that the bias of the "Wikipedians" is easier to find, define, or overcome. All this does is make one type of bias more obvious. That doesn't solve the problem.

    All content contains a bias. Knowing that is a good starting point for interpreting the content. This project is fine, as far as it goes. But implying (as you seem to) that somehow Wikipedia wonks are more trustworthy and less biased than other editors is, well, silly.

    There's no "bonus" here
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:24AM (#20226059) Homepage Journal
    or the political bias at times that persists in Wikipedia?

    Their top level admins are no where near as impartial as they claim to be. Obvious subjects to avoid on Wikipedia are those which are based on religious, political, or environmental, concerns. People have taken "maintaining" those types of entries to ridiculous levels that whole pages of discussion exist behind the page where the various factions bitch at each other. The best way to see the bias is to watch what they require to have accredited links and what they do not, let alone what sites they consider credible sources for disputed information.

    While it has much useful information there are just certain subjects to avoid
  • Meta-encyclopedia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bziman (223162) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:28AM (#20226117) Homepage Journal

    When I was in college, I took a history course in which we read three different books on slavery in the United States — one from the 1860s, one from the 1950s, and another from the 1990s. Obviously, they all had completely different spins on the reality of slavery. The goal of the assignment wasn't so much to learn about slavery as it was to learn about the three different time periods perception of slavery.

    I think that these "edits" can provide us an interesting insight into the real issues, and how the public perceives them, and how various invested parties would like the public to perceive them. As long as there is transparency to the edits (and clearly, there is), I think a lot can be learned from the edits themselves.

    —brian

  • Re:TFA Interesting (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:29AM (#20226141)
    Or they are really code for something. Perhaps its a kind of Kryptos for the new millennium. A code spread over the internet.
  • by Raul654 (453029) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:32AM (#20226187) Homepage
    I submitted it to the Wired blog, but it's worth sharing here: in March, I caught two SCO editors whitewashing Wikipedia. One did a massive chop-and-run [wikipedia.org] on the SCO article. The other was complaining [wikipedia.org] about the article on SCO's CEO, Darl McBride. I have checkuser - the ability to find the IP addressed used by logged in users. I found out that both of those users originated from SCO corporate IP addresses.
  • Re:TOR (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Raul654 (453029) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:43AM (#20226363) Homepage
    The above comment is a troll, but I'll bite anyway. TOR is a huge time waster for Wikipedians. It basically gives vandals an unlimited stock of IP addresses from which to vandalize. The proximate reason that caused me to block TOR was that one particularly tenacious vandal (Enviroknot) was cycling through ranges of TOR IPs, vandalizing the Arbitration Committee page.

    Roger Dingledine (the guy who invented TOR) came to Wikimania '06 and I was luckly enough to have dinner with him. We had a long talk about TOR - he explained the technical underpinnings of TOR to me and what he's doing next (to get around the Chinese firewall). His position was that he's not happy that TOR is blocked, but he understands why we do it, and he thinks we're going in the right direction. He also thinks that we need a trust metric - at which point, editing Wikipedia through TOR will become possible.
  • Re:That's ridiculous (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:44AM (#20226381)

    the Chinese government killed student protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
    actually, it can be said that statement has bias in it. first, you're implicating "the chinese government". who is that? the communist party as a whole? the military? the soldiers themselves who fired on the protesters?

    which brings me to the second point: student protesters. what were they protesting? you only protest if something is wrong, right?

    your "bias-free" sentence, which states nothing but the facts, absolutely has the underlying message: the chinese government [which is controlled by the opressive communist party] killed [innocent] student protesters [who wanted a better life] at Tiananmen Square in 1989 [and they were wrong for doing so]."

    of course, that's probably because the facts themselves carry a bias.
  • Discovery Institute (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Raul654 (453029) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:53AM (#20226491) Homepage
    Does anyone happen to know the IP address range used by the Discovery Institute? They're constantly complaining about Wikipedia's Intelligent Design article, and related articles. I'd love to find out if they've been editing.
  • How is Science any different from groupthink? Scientists are no where near as impartial as they claim to be. The only checks and balances in place are reviews by scientific peers!

    Think about it.
  • Re:RfA? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MSTCrow5429 (642744) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:54AM (#20226525)
    The RfAs are not a good procedure for elevating anyone to administrator, as the most actively involved are administrators, I'm not entirely certain it's a straight majority vote (all votes may not be equal, if administrators are given more weight, the power of the oligarchy increases), and an infinitely small percentage of users vote on RfAs. It is extremely uncommon for an abusive administrator to be stripped of powers. The system is not designed to remove abusive administrators via any established procedure or independent third-party mechanism. I can count the incidents where abusive administrators have been punished on one hand, two at most.
  • Re:TOR (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:55AM (#20226535)
    Anyone worth their salt uses private proxies now. Either get a collocated machine at an ISP anywhere in the world or more simply, buy a webhosting package anywhere in the world that supports PHP (most do) and then install one of the many PHP proxies (such as this one [sourceforge.net]) and you are set.

    A webhosting package is the best way to go as you can get those monthly and thus you can switch IPs/locals quite rapidly (or have many on the go at a cost of less than $10/month each), where as a collocated machine is much more costly and more time consuming to setup.

    One of the individuals that first perfected this technique was a Wall Street message board addict Gary Weiss [antisocialmedia.net] who brought the technique to Wikipedia a couple years ago. It's fairly common knowledge within some communities (such as WikipediaReview.com [wikipediareview.com]) and is understood as the preferred way to get around Wikipedia administrator hassles.
  • It is all spin. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @12:05PM (#20226625) Homepage Journal
    Just about every Wikipedia article has a spin to it. People feel that it is unbiased only when it shares their bias. Even if it is 100% factual odds are that the author will present those facts the way that he or she sees them.
  • Re:RfA? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Marcika (1003625) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @12:11PM (#20226715)
    The RfA process is not just a vote, but a discussion of possible issues that might disqualify a candidate. Nonetheless, very few candidates with less than 75%-80% approval are ever appointed.
    You are also misinformed about the removal of admin privileges: In the English Wikipedia alone, there have been 37 cases [wikipedia.org] of it, and the Arbitration process is designed to deal with such abuses and has the authority to penalize them.
  • by Kadin2048 (468275) * <`ten.yxox' `ta' `nidak.todhsals'> on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @12:14PM (#20226743) Homepage Journal

    Almost as funny was someone at the NSA (the security organization) adding the "National Softball Association" to the disambiguation page for "NSA" :-)
    Maybe they work in the mail room and were tired of sorting through all the softball-related catalogs they receive?

  • Re:Meta-encyclopedia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rbanffy (584143) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @12:17PM (#20226789) Homepage Journal
    Maybe there should be some visible element depicting the last few significant changes. It's not enough that the data is available. It must be obvious to get and easy to understand.
  • by thue (121682) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @12:49PM (#20227163) Homepage
    Diploma mills [wikipedia.org] are frauds who give out realist looking university diplomas, complete with grade and course itemization, to anyone who will pay for them. No need to have any real knowledge or take any real courses, just as long as you can pay.

    Many of them try to justify it by saying that they evaluate the persons "life experience" to judge whether the person is worthy of the diploma, but in reality most of them just give the diplomas to anyone who pays the fees [wikipedia.org].

    It is pretty obvious that the diplomas are used by their buyers to get jobs for lying about their abilities, i.e. pretty much plain fraud.

    I noticed that the articles of diploma mills are frequent targets of whitewash (see fx this [wikipedia.org]). I don't know for certain who the whitewashers are, but I assume it is either the diploma mills themselves (most like), or people holding the diplomas and afraid to be exposed. Many of Wikipedia's articles rank highly in Google, so they are an important target.

    I have a number of diploma mills in my watchlist, and sometimes I have to revert whitewashing every day...
  • by molo (94384) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @12:53PM (#20227207) Journal
    Here's one that I found a while back. Brown Brothers Harriman, an investment bank, removed information linking them to Nazi Germany around 1940. They also removed information linking them to Prescott Bush, grandfather of G.W.Bush.

    edit 1 [wikipedia.org]
    edit 2 [wikipedia.org]

    The IP addresses can be confirmed to be from BBH with whois:

    OrgName: Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.
    OrgID: BBH
    NetRange: 204.136.16.0 - 204.136.31.255
    CIDR: 204.136.16.0/20
    NetName: BBHNET
    -molo
  • by MSTCrow5429 (642744) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @01:01PM (#20227319)
    Not really. Anarchism wouldn't have a near all powerful elite sitting on top of a very large mass of editors. I don't think anarchism would work either, but I wouldn't call Wikipedia anarchist in style. I think it's a failed largely unstructured bureaucracy.
  • by aluminum_geek (756252) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @01:04PM (#20227363)
    No one is immune to groupthink.. I mean, it took 20 years for them to believe val Leeuwenhoek that he had seen microscopic organisms. And if you try to argue "but they changed their minds after 20 years," remember that it still took 20 years.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_van_Leeuwenhoek [wikipedia.org]
  • by nuzak (959558) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @01:27PM (#20227703) Journal
    Knee-jerking was indeed what my reply was. Apparently "insightful" knee-jerking... sigh.

    Still, the difference between the wiki editor community and the scientific community is that the scientific community is made up of actual experts (at least in a vastly larger proportion) with verifiable credentials. There's also a little more professional tone going into most journal publications as well.

    Every group has bias and groupthink -- we're more or less wired for it. But it turns out that despite that, they can still be right most of the time on the subjects they actually know about.
  • by AxelBoldt (1490) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @01:41PM (#20227965) Homepage
    You don't like Wikipedia; we get it. But rather than simply dismiss it and read something else, you have clearly expended a tremendous amount of energy and obsessively researched it in detail, and have developed a deep-seated hatred for the project.

    People like you usually started out with trying to add their favorite person, business, music band or political or pseudo-scientific theory to Wikipedia, only to be rebuffed, repeatedly. Did that happen to you? If so, ask yourself: is your pet topic covered more neutrally and in more detail in Encyclopedia Britannica than in Wikipedia? In all likelihood, your pet topic isn't covered at all in any encyclopedia; so why don't you complain about the bias and rotten structure of all the other encyclopedias? Because with the other encyclopedias you would never even have dared to try to get your pet topic covered: deep down you know it to be uncencyclopedic.

  • by Bramantip (1054582) <jenkins&piusx,org,pl> on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @01:42PM (#20227985) Homepage
    <quote>They poked, prodded, and tested his theory (both logically and empirically) until they were forced to accept it.</quote>

    Not to belabor the person's point, but testing the theory implies that the peers saw that it correponds to reality. There is actually only 'interpretation' when something is unclear or not yet really known - when one speaks of the probability of something or an uncertainty. Science as a whole is a knowledge by causes, which means that once one has established that a certain effect is related to another (its cause), the matter is proven - interpretation has very little to do with actual science, but rather with hypotheses and the application of a scientific theory to other branches of knowledge (for instance the philosophical implications of the Heisenberg principle).

    JJ +
  • by ZorroXXX (610877) <hlovdal@ g m a i l .com> on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @02:13PM (#20228519)

    Tools like this provided much-needed transparency to the process.
    One tool that I am missing very much is to download the history of a given page into some version control format (git, svn, cvs, etc).

    If I want to look at say the last 100 edits of a page, doing so manually clicking in the history page would be way too much work and too cumbersome to the point that I would never do that. If on the other hand it was possible to download the history and use a local version control tool to get a list of the last 100 edits shown as a continuous list of patches it would be easy to look through all changes and I would do so often I guess.

    More transparency of editing history can only be good, and I think such a tool is much needed.

  • Re:TFA Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @02:25PM (#20228707)
    Uhh, we should also remember that there are some people at these places that make legitimate edits to Wikipedia. Just because an IP changes one or two things controversial, doesn't mean that all of their edits are BS.

    Not to mention that one IP can cover a LOT of people.

    My work IP is currently banned from wikipedia for vandalism. I've investigated this, and it was apparently some idiot in another building that's not even in the same zip code but who happens to work at another subsidiary under the same parent company that shares my IP. There are probably more than 10,000 people that share this same IP spread across New York City. Some of us work at the same company he does, some of us don't.

    You really cannot take any of the IP's on this list and directly connect it to anyone at any company or organization, any more than the RIAA can take an IP of an alleged music pirate and say they individually are the ones that did it.

    My IP, for example, says I work at a completely different company than the one that signs my paychecks. That's the way it is in the age of conglomerates.
  • Re:TFA Interesting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kaizokuace (1082079) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @07:27PM (#20231783)
    more importantly, it seems the CIA has a lot of free time when the guys are at their desks and have nothing to do but edit wiki. On the other hand, they are the business of intelligence and well someone has to add entries to the damn thing.

"Text processing has made it possible to right-justify any idea, even one which cannot be justified on any other grounds." -- J. Finnegan, USC.

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