The online information resource relied upon by millions the world over has shut down more than 250 editing accounts and is apparently targeting many others as part of an ongoing investigation into “suspicious edits and sock puppetry” on the Wikipedia website.
In a public report, Wikipedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner said the organization aims to protect Wikipedia pages against paid or non-neutral editing. Sock puppetry refers to phony or bogus online identities that are being used for the purpose of deception or obfuscation (a sock puppet is like a glove puppet except a sock is used).
According to Gardner, the increase in paid edits on the Wikipedia website is reflected in the apparent success of services like Wiki-PR, which bills itself as “Wikipedia writers for hire.” The group charges a flat fee to create a client page and a monthly maintenance fee to make certain the page is protected 24 hours a day against any marauding editor who might be inspired to anonymously attack the page with the intent of twisting or trashing whatever its message might be.
Robert Currey, a British astrologer who has edited Wikipedia pages, isn’t optimistic that Gardner’s plans to shut down editing accounts will have much impact on sock puppetry practices.
“If an account is blocked it’s possible to reopen a new account with another name. If due to persistent problems an IP address is blocked, it’s possible to change the IP address or get a dynamic IP that changes automatically,” he says.
But Wikipedia’s problems are much larger than phony IP addresses, Currey believes.
“When so-called fringe topics like astrology, the paranormal or alternative medicine are involved, the business of creating and editing Wikipedia pages morphs into a clandestine enterprise where nothing is as it seems. Interested visitors to so-called fringe pages find content that has been creatively edited by a resolute band of editors working in collusion with new editors (known as meatpuppets) recruited to help push their point of view.”
Ostensibly supported in this activity by organized skeptics groups, biased editors anonymously patrol, edit and delete Wiki pages not to their liking. Under the cloak of anonymity, they make thousands of edits every year, routinely bending or breaking every Wikipedia rule dealing with neutrality or conflict-of-interest along the way.
When non-aligned editors challenge these edits they have been ridiculed, intimidated and pushed into being banned in a mock trial, Currey said.
How far organized skeptics are willing to go to sway public opinion is captured in a recruitment video posted online. Entitled “Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia,” the video reveals a campaign that actively seeks to demote competing viewpoints and denigrate opponents.
A copy of the video can be viewed at http://www.astrologer.com/tests/wp.htm.
“Essentially, the Wikipedia model is a busted flush. It looks brilliant but has a very serious flaw that it cannot remove without overhauling the system,” he believes.
Roy Gillett is President of the Astrological Association of Great Britain and thinks Wikipedia is “a wonderful service to the world that I am happy to use for many areas of research. But when it comes to astrology it is appallingly incomplete and misleading.
“This is not because colleagues have failed to submit scholarly researched information, but because editors controlling the process have voted to reject this information, or have enforced critical omissions of information by not allowing links to in-depth studies from credible sources,” he says.
Correlation is an academic journal published by the Astrological Association. Since 1969, the journal has critically studied astrological truth claims and has published articles describing statistical research projects, including studies that are critical of astrology.
But information seekers on Wikipedia astrology pages have been denied an opportunity to consider relevant results published in this peer-reviewed journal because the results don’t support the beliefs of organized skeptics.
“It seems strange to me and my colleagues that, in the end, it all comes down to a vote of editors who, as far as anyone knows, have no interest in astrology. Quasi-scientific interest groups organize and come mob-handed, not in the interest of truth but of their opinion,” he said.