Wikipedia’s Shame – Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard“Wikipedia is an incredibly useful project, and it should be applauded for making the details of how its [salad] is made available to all. The construction of truth is always going to be a messy business, whether by the New York Times or Salon or the most decorated historian alive — or a bunch of Wiki editors. But Wikipedia’s openness hardly makes it perfect, or somehow, inherently better than the New York Times. Not when a look inside the machine gives us such clear glimpses of  rage and obsession.” – Andrew Leonard

Wikipedia LogoIs Wikipedia sexist? Or is it merely an unreliable mess of angry, ax-wielding psychos engaged in agenda-driven editing? Or is it something much more complicated than that?

Last Wednesday, novelist Amanda Filipacchi published an Op-Ed in the New York Times recounting her discovery that Wikipedia editors were culling women authors from Wikipedia’s list of “American Novelists” and relegating them into their own subcategory: “American Women Novelists.”

“The intention appears to be to create a list of ‘American Novelists’ on Wikipedia that is made up almost entirely of men,” she wrote, noting that there was no “American Men Novelists” subcategory. (Although, amusingly, just such a category was created shortly after the Op-Ed appeared.)

In the furor that erupted on Wikipedia in response to Filipacchi’s article, it was quickly determined that the bad behavior she noticed appeared to be the work of a single misguided Wikipedia editor. One could argue that, if true, this made the Times’ headline “Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists” unfair and inaccurate. All of Wikipedia was being tarred by the unthinking stupidity of one bad editor.

But then things got a lot worse. In a follow-up Op-Ed published on Sunday, Filipacchi recounted the all-too-predictable reaction from aggrieved Wikipedia editors.

As soon as the Op-Ed article appeared, unhappy Wikipedia editors pounced on my Wikipedia page and started making alterations to it, erasing as much as they possibly could without (I assume) technically breaking the rules. They removed the links to outside sources, like interviews of me and reviews of my novels. Not surprisingly, they also removed the link to the Op-Ed article. At the same time, they put up a banner at the top of my page saying the page needed “additional citations for verifications.” Too bad they’d just taken out the useful sources.

Welcome to the age of “revenge editing.” The edits didn’t stop at Filipacchi’s page. Edits were also made to pages about her novels, stripping content from them on the grounds that they were overly self-promotional (a big Wikipedia no-no.) One editor, as recently as Monday morning, even started editing the pages devoted to Filpacchi’s parents, and slashed huge swaths from a page about the media conglomerate Hachette-Filipacchi, whose chairman emeritus happens to be Filipacchi’s father, Daniel Filipacchi.

As is usually the case with Wikipedia, high-profile “revenge editing” clearly motivated by animus tends to draw a lot of attention. A frequent result: ludicrous “edit wars” in which successive revisions are undone in rapid succession.  Eventually, someone higher up in the chain of hierarchy steps in and freezes a page in which an edit war is occurring, or some measure of consensus is reached after a lot of shouting. Indeed, hardcore Wikipedia advocates argue that no matter how dumb or ugly the original bad edit or mistake might have been, the process, carried out in the open for all to see, generally results, in the long run, in something more closely resembling truth than what we might see in more mainstream approaches to knowledge assembly.

Wikipedia’s saving grace is that all the edit wars — all the ugly evidence of “revenge editing” — is preserved for eternity for anyone curious enough to investigate in the “talk pages” that reveal precisely how Wikipedia’s knowledge is constructed. A review of the talk pages associated with the various Filipacchi-related Wikipedia pages edited after the Op-Ed’s publication reveals the vast majority of the anti-Filipacchi edits to have been made by just one person, a Wikipedia editor who goes by the user-name “Qworty.”

Here are some excerpts from “Qworty’s” talk page postings in the last few days.

From the talk page for Amanda Filipacchi:

Oh, by all means, let’s be intimidated by the Holy New York Times. Because when the New York Times tells you to shut up, you have to shut up. Because that’s the way “freedom” works, and the NYT is all about promoting freedom all over the world, which is why they employed Judith Miller. Meanwhile, there were no fewer than FOUR Filipacchi articles on Wikipedia that were little more than blatant WP:PROMO.ANDshe’s using this scandal in order to promote and revive her writing career, since she hasn’t been able to publish a book in eight years. Mmmmmm-hmmmmm. But you needn’t worry about me, no sirree. I will certainly do as the Holy New York Times says and shut up now. Just as I and millions of others obediently shut up when they were spreading their lies about Saddam having WMD. Because the Holy New York Times never makes mistakes, don’t you know. The fact is that there was never a sexist conspiracy against women writers on WP–it was the misguided categorization work of a SINGLE user, as has now been shown. Would the Holy New York Times care to print TWO retractions? No, of course not. The NYT never lies, is never wrong, and their shit smells and tastes like ice cream, and we must all eat it with a smile.

Talk page associated with the user Qworty:

The bloody p.o.s. New York Times supposedly employs fact checkers, but they have allowed this incompetent woman to libel Wikipedia not once, but two times. They owe Wikipedia two separate retractions. They have no journalistic integrity whatsofuckingever. They are nothing better than a blog, a barrel full of dog feces offered to the world as the “truth.” There is one thing you are wrong about, however. This incident is never going to be forgotten. Not by anyone involved in it. Retribution will be taken five, ten, fifteen, twenty years from now. That’s just the way people seem to be, unfortunately. It is the way these things work, and that’s something about the world which many of us actively dislike, and are working hard to change. The documented fact is that this woman has sent thugs after certain Wikipedia editors. This is no slight affair, I am afraid.

The New York Times has a vested interest in trying to undermine Wikipedia. For one thing, the Times has only 600,000 digital subscribers, which makes it a piece-of-shit website in terms of numbers. On Sundays, its biggest day, the Times adds another 1.4 million readers in its paper edition, for a total of 2 million. Meanwhile, HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE are reading you and me on Wikipedia EVERY DAY. You can see why the Times feels it has a very very short and stubby and ugly little penis compared with us. This is the real reason why they want to run baseless articles slamming us. Because we are the future and they are already the distant past.

Wow! We’ve got Judith “weapons of mass destruction” Miller, penis comparisons, dog feces and accusations that Filipacchi “sent thugs” after Wikipedia editors, all popping up in the context of an apoplectic defense by one Wikipedia editor of actions that other Wikipedia editors labeled “revenge editing.” There’s a lot of anger here (not to mention an unhealthy fixation with excrement!). Call me persnickety, but reading Qworty’s comments did not give me the greatest faith in Wikipedia’s internal process for building an encyclopedia of human knowledge.

As of Monday morning, most of Qworty’s most objectionable edits appear to have been reverted. It’s true, when the world shines a harsh, scrutinizing light on Wikipedia, Wikipedia tends to respond reasonably well. Inch by inch, the project gets upgraded. But one has to wonder what is going on in regions that haven’t attracted the attention of someone with the media pull necessary to land an Op-Ed in the New York Times. How many other passionate agendas are playing out in neighborhoods less traveled? There are a lot of very angry people on the Internet, and some of them are extraordinarily busy. The rest of us do not have the time to examine the talk page give-and-take for every Wikipedia article we want to consult.

Wikipedia is an incredibly useful project, and it should be applauded for making the details of how its [salad] is made available to all. The construction of truth is always going to be a messy business, whether by the New York Times or Salon or the most decorated historian alive — or a bunch of Wiki editors. But Wikipedia’s openness hardly makes it perfect, or somehow, inherently better than the New York Times. Not when a look inside the machine gives us such clear glimpses of  rage and obsession.

What’s Judy Miller got to do with whether Amanda Filipacchi is improperly using Wikipedia for self-promotion? Absolutely nothing. And what place does “revenge editing” have in the context of the quest to create the greatest repository of human knowledge ever put together? Zero. – Salon, 29 April 2013

» Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter @koxinga21.

3 Responses

  1. I have similar experience while editing St.Thomas apostle article in Wikipedia. I tried to bring to the notice of the administrators of the article that POV (point of view) of the article is disputed and heavily biased. Instead of listening to valid arguments, these administrators and editors are trying to ban my edits accusing me as a POV pusher!

    Below is the link to the talk page of the article which shows how this edit war is progressing:- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Thomas_the_Apostle#.23

    Below is the link to the history of edits:- http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Thomas_the_Apostle&action=history

    Here is the link to the article itself. The article tries to push the view that St. Thomas visited south India and was martyred at Mylapore Chennai while all the evidences are against it. Any link or sentence which tries to tell the truth that St. Thomas was killed in an Indo-Parthian kingdom in Iran is ruthlessly eliminated by the administrators of this page and they propagate the falsehood that St. Thomas was martyred in Mylapore Chennai. This is then used for converting Hindus into Christianity.

    • Thank you for the comment, Jijith, and the links to the talk and edit pages. They are valuable. Wikipedia’s Thomas the Apostle page has been made a public scandal by the prejudiced edits and actions of the administrator. Surely he must know that his lies and manipulations will not stand up to scrutiny in the end!

  2. This editor’s unfortunate encounter with Wikipedia is described below in a quote from Chapter Four of The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple):

    Sometime in May 2008 we looked at the Thomas the Apostle page on Wikipedia. It did not have very much to say about St. Thomas in India except for the usual fabricated dates of arrival in Kerala and death by assassin’s hand in Madras. On the talk page we noted a demand by the rabid Hindu-hating Chennai-based missionary and co-conspirator of Catholic “free-thinker” Deivanayakam, Alexander Harris, that our website link Hamsa.org (now defunct) be removed from reference. But the main article page included Pope Benedict’s categorical statement made at the Vatican on 26 September 2006, that St. Thomas did not come to South India,[15] and this encouraged us to try our hand at Wikipedia editing. We felt assured that Wikipedia was interested in verifiable truth and not just Indian Christian traditions – Indian Christians are not able to distinguish between their beliefs and historical facts; they think beliefs and facts are the same thing – and decided to contribute to the Thomas the Apostle article. We adopted the user name Vena Varcas and introduced our self on the Thomas the Apostle talk page with the following statement:

    Historicity of St. Thomas controversial and disputed

    The editors of this article will have to consider the fact that all references to Thomas in Indian Christian tradition and folklore have been rejected as unhistorical by responsible Christian scholars and ecclesiastics (barring a few like Medleycott and Arulappa) for the past two centuries. The elaborate and confusing mythology of Thomas is not factual or verifiable and cannot ethically be represented as true history in an encyclopedia. These pious legends may have a role to play in religion but they do not have a place in Indian history writing unless they are identified and qualified for the general reader.

    The reputed Christian historian A. Mingana has written in THE EARLY SPREAD OF CHRISTIANITY IN INDIA that “What India gives us about Christianity in its midst is indeed nothing but pure fables”. This is true about the Thomas tradition in India and in the numerous other places it exists in Asia except perhaps Edessa where it originated. Any serious article about Thomas in India, or the various controversial and disputed places of pilgrimage associated with him, should be unambiguously declared as faith-based and historically unverified. To do otherwise in an encyclopedia article is intellectually dishonest and misleading and amounts to little more than religious propaganda created in the interests of a certain theological point of view.

    The Trichur bishop Medleycott wrote his Thomas history with ulterior motive and is the favourite scholar of Thomas protagonists who quote him at length (including the EB which is a known RC-biased encyclopedia). He has been discredited by the renowned Christian historian Bishop Stephen Neill. Neill spent many years in India researching Indian Christian Thomas traditions and the Thomas legend and wrote in 1985, in HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN INDIA: THE BEGINNINGS TO 1707 A.D., that “A number of scholars, among whom are to be mentioned with respect Bishop A.E. Medleycott, J.N. Farquhar and the Jesuit J. Dahlman, have built on slender foundations what can only be called Thomas romances, such as reflect the vividness of their imaginations rather than the prudence of rigid historical critics.”

    Bishop Neill goes on to say, “Millions of Christians in India are certain that the founder of their church is none other than the apostle Thomas himself. The historian cannot prove to them that they are mistaken in their belief. He may feel it right to warn them that historical research cannot pronounce on the matter with a confidence equal to that which they entertain by faith.”

    The point is that this article Thomas the Apostle is a matter of Indian Christian faith, not Indian history, and it should not be presented in an encyclopedia as Indian history. Some parts of the article are neutral and other parts are just fiction propped up with facts and figures, names and dates, or some doubtful reference. In some cases the article assumes too much, and in others it shows extreme bias. In fact, the whole project shows bias in its declared intention, when it treats as proven a legend that most respected world historians declare is fiction and unprovable. What the article needs is review and revision by a neutral historical critic who has no Indian Christian axe to grind. Is this possible in the Wikipedia scenario? Would the article’s administrator and watchdog with his declared special interests ever permit it? — Vena Varcas (talk) 15:55, 15 May 2008 (UTC).


    We then set to work on the Wikipedia Thomas the Apostle article adding verifiable references and short sections with citations. Every statement we made was supported with an authoritative reference from a recognized historian of Christianity. We were very careful not to delete any material already posted on the page or refer to the demolition of the Kapaleeswara Temple in Mylapore by the Portuguese. However, as our contribution progressed, Mylapore did come into the picture and we introduced it with a reference to Swami Tapasyananda of the Ramakrishna Math in Mylapore and the article he had written in Vedanta Kesari called “The Legend of a Slain Saint to Stain Hinduism.”

    This single attributed reference to a Hindu scholar was too much for the Kerala Christian Wikipedia page administrator Tinucherian (Cherian Tinu Abraham). Within an hour of the post, he deleted our reference to Swami Tapsyananda and rolled back the other postings we had made that day. It was a real surprise to us. Where we had made an effort not to interfere with earlier postings, we discovered that the same courtesy was not extended to us and that we would not be informed when we had “offended” Tinucherian’s Christian enterprise. We abandoned Wikipedia as a waste of time and effort and our contributions were soon perverted or deleted altogether.

    The concocted absurdities found in the Wikipedia Thomas the Apostle article today, which has neither citations or credible references, can be exposed with a single example: the statement in the Thomas and India subsection of the main article that the king who executed Judas Thomas for sorcery and crimes against women, Mazdai (also Masdai, Misdaeus in Greek), was “the local king at Mylapore”. This is a preposterous statement. The name Mazdai is Persian and specifically identifies a person who is Zoroastrian by religion. Mazdaism identifies a worshiper of Ahura Mazda and is a synonym for Zoroastrianism. Associating the Acts of Thomas and its Persian king Mazdai with Mylapore is motivated Christian scholarship — something “Dr.” Deivanayakam of the Madras-Mylapore Archdiocese would produce — and the fact that the Wikipedia administrator Tinucherian allows such unsupported statements to stand unchallenged shows that he is deeply involved in the crime of writing a deliberately false and perverted history of Christianity in Mylapore.

    Wikipedia by its free-for-all constitution and arbitrary, secretive contribution and editorial oversight system lacks all credibility. Every fact checked with this Internet reference has to be checked some place else if it is to be accepted as authoritative. Many of its articles on Christianity in India are propaganda projects set up to project a particular Christian world view. This is to be expected: the wiki editing system invites India’s cultural enemies, Christian missionaries and other western neo-colonialists, to propound their hostile, anti-Indian theories. Its administrators are not authorities on the subjects they oversee (Tinucherian is a Bangalore software engineer who knows nothing about St. Thomas and the history of Christianity in India except for what his pious mother may have taught him) and their personal prejudices soon become evident and interfere with factual and cited contributions. Wikipedia is the perfect platform for Christian propaganda in India and is being used for that purpose with great effect in its Christianity in India project. This Wikipedia series even employs the symbol of a cross superimposed on a light blue map of India, a symbol that is highly offensive to the majority Hindu population who identify India as their mother and civilisational homeland.

    The fabulous and false “facts” about St. Thomas and India found in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and its Internet sister Wikipedia make the ancient Greek historian and geographer Strabo into a prophet (he was a contemporary of Jesus and Thomas). He said, “Generally speaking the men who have written on India were a set of liars.” And so it is with the contributors to the mainstream encyclopedias and dictionaries that reference Indian history today.[16]

    But it is not only international English-language reference works that repeat the falsehood that St. Thomas came to South India and was murdered in Madras by hostile Hindus. Indian reference books repeat the St. Thomas tale because they are too lazy to do any original research of their own and simply copy existing sources which are usually Christian or western sources. For example, the Internet reference Indianetzone in its long self-persuading entry for St. Thomas treats him as Kerala’s first Christian missionary. They wax eloquent about the old St. Thomas traditions in Kerala and how everybody believes them so they must be true. Fine for the Christian faithful, but this is story telling not India history writing. A lie does not become truth with old age and much repetition by Christian priests! We have twice contacted the editors and given them the known historical data on St. Thomas, but to no effect. They block our comments, delete our registration from their site, and refuse to acknowledge our mail. Like the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia, Indianetzone is deeply attached to its fictitious and fabulous St. Thomas entry and will not let it go for a more prosaic and truthful account of Christianity’s origins in India.

    If St. Thomas lived at all — and we have no positive evidence for this either — it was in Palestine and Syria, and it was in Syria and Persia, or Parthia, that he proselytised the inhabitants and established churches.[17] This is what the most ancient Alexandrian tradition maintains and what the seventh and eighth century Metropolitans of Fars, Mar Isho Yahb and Mar Thiomothy, testify to when they refuse to submit to the Patriarch of the East at Seleucia-Ctesiphon because their Persian church had been established by Thomas while his had not.[18] The later Edessene tradition is a case of Edessa glorifying an apostle they considered their own — Thomas had visited their city and they possessed his bones — at the expense of India — if of course the “India” of the Acts doesn’t simply mean Parthia or Persia.


    Notes

    15. G. Ananthakrishnan in the Times of India, Mumbai, 26 Dec. 2006, reports: “Pope Benedict XVI made the statement [about St. Thomas] at the Vatican on September 27, [2006]. Addressing the faithful during the Wednesday catechises, he recalled that St. Thomas first evangelised Syria and Persia, and went on to western India from where Christianity reached Southern India. The import of the statement was that St. Thomas never travelled to south India, but rather evangelised the western front, mostly comprising today’s Pakistan.” Though the Pope is a declared enemy of Hindu India, he is a scholar and had reported the known facts about St. Thomas and his missionary journey to Syria and Parthia. He had said, ” … Thomas first evangelised Syria and Persia and then penetrated as far as western India, from where Christianity reached also South India.” It is another matter that his editors on the Vatican website changed this sentence the next day to read that Thomas himself had reached South India.

    16. A friend of this writer had in 2011 created an “Ishwar Sharan” page in Wikipedia with the help and encouragement of a Wikipedia editor called Chiswick Chap. Some months latter the page was attacked and vandalised by another Wikipedia editor called Arun. Arun obviously worked with the Kerala Christian mafia who watch over and closely control Wikipedia’s “Christianity in India” pages. The page made for this writer was subsequently deleted at its author’s request, as the content of the page had been grossly perverted and politicised. Wikipedia operates like a Stalinist re-education camp and though it pretends anybody can create and edit a page, in fact the pages are controlled by anonymous administrators who are both ignorant of the subjects they administer and very abusive of their absolute editorial powers.

    17. The churches that are traditionally said to have been established by apostles were known by the names of the cities or countries that they were established in. The famous four were the Churches of Alexandria by Mark, Jerusalem by James, Antioch by Peter and Paul, and Rome by Peter. The Church of Edessa was said to have been established by Addai the disciple of Thomas and the Church of Fars by Thomas himself. But there was no Church of Muziris (as Kodungallur was known to the Greeks and Romans) or Shingly (as it was known to the Jews) or Malabar or India in the first centuries CE.

    18. The Church of Seleucia was said to have been established by Aggaeus the disciple of Addai of Edessa in the second century CE.

     

    Since this editor’s attempt at Wikipedia editing in 2008, the Thomas the Apostle page has gone through a number of incarnations. The account above does not reflect the page today.

    Tinucherian is the administrator for the Thomas the Apostle page on Wikipedia.

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