- Internet & the Web
WikiTrolls and WikiWars - What's Behind The Wikipedia Curtain
Beware the unsuspecting...
It seems like such an innocent thing... People coming together, voluntarily dedicating their time to create millions of pages of information for the world to devour and use as they please. You wouldn't figure it would be anything but the nicest most intellectual people that would do such a thing in the first place. Or maybe that was my own naivete...
You'd be amazed, but also be warned, that behind the curtains of that usually well formed wikipedia page - there are creatures, games and gangs more ferocious and terrifying then you'd ever imagine there being in an online community of volunteer information contributors.
Prepare Yourself for the Wikiground!
I bet you never stopped to ponder putting on any armor before clicking that simple little "edit" button near the top of any wikipage. It's so innocent and welcoming. Knowing that the founders of wikipedia created the media for any and all to contribute to. Clicking that button almost makes you feel proud. Not only did you know something of value, that others should know about, but you weren't afraid to step up to the plate instead of waiting for someone else to do it.
So you, unarmed and unaware, click the edit button and start adding your information. You might have been correcting a few paragraphs of information that weren't correct. Maybe you were adding some information that you already happen to be an expert in. Or maybe you just felt you were correcting a gross bias, which can happen innocently enough. Either way, this is more than just a small typo fix or two. It's more than some grammar errors.It's at least enough work that you feel the need to take your time in writing, to fit the norms of wikipedia linguistics.
So after a few hours have passed, and you feel you've already devoted to much time to such an activity, but still feel proud that you took the time to help out. You press the save button and step back to admire what you've contributed to. It looks good, organized and informative. Something everyone could be proud of. Right?
And who would have thought just how quickly you can be so wrong. Maybe you decide to go back and marvel at your silly contribution. Maybe you go back to make sure you didn't leave any typos. Or maybe you wanted to get the page link and share it with your friends and see if they like what you added. After all, no matter how insignificant, it is your first thought out addition.
But when you get your browser back onto that page, you find that the page has been completely changed back to the original. None of your work remains. Those few hours - as short as that is in a life time or even a week - that you spent trying to help out the article, are GONE. Now, you might be one of those who says "who cares?", or you might be like me and say, "Hey! Where'd my work go?". If you're the latter, like me, you start trying to figure out what's up with the wiki, and you search for more info. You find the talk tab.
From there you find yourself immersed in time wasting conversations over how the article in question should be written. It's just your luck, that what you thought was a minor (maybe even silly) subject, just so happens to be so heated by controversy that you could fry an egg just off of the fumes rising from the words.
You read through them, and you notice there is at least a sizable number of individuals whom have also attempted similar changes to your own. Some of them were clearly trying to push what wikipedians know as their POV (point of view), though it seems that it's not just the ill-intended who get bashed, it's anyone attempting any sort of edits to fix the information in any meaningful way, who find themselves entering the wiki-battlefield of that page, which I have dubbed - the Wikifield.
On that wikifield, you have numerous competitors of varying cognitive abilities.. Some are fierce, some timid. Some intelligent, some belligerent. Each has a diverse arsenal to use at their will known best as the Five Pillars of Wikipedia - all them open to interpretation and contradiction depending on who holds the largest monopoly over a given page - which someone usually does.
Then there are various shields that can be used, known as Wiki-Guidelines, which are often embedded with purposefully picked out Wiki-Essays. These guidelines and essays are created and maintained by wikipedians themselves, some to truly help protect or defend the just, others to further the agenda of the ruling Wiki-Elitists, others to preserve the quality of wikipedia itself and some just to create further mischief and spread confusion.
Regardless, wikipedia is anything but the peaceful place that WP:PEACE suggests it should be. So make sure, that before you enter the wikifield, you arm yourself with some information about the various opponents and alias you might come across on your next perilous adventure.
Lurking in the twilight...
Getting back to your perilous journey, after you so fondly found yourself slowly becoming emotionally invested in the absurdity that any group of people could get so ridiculous about what information to include or exclude from an encyclopedic article. So you decide to go back into the page and edit again, this time taking extra care to try and balance the bias without offending anyone or being unrealistic. Again - for reasons almost unaware to even yourself - you dedicate even more time to an article that really doesn't matter that much. Though the virtue of unbiased, wholesome and accurate information on a website you regularly seek for info, matters to you a lot.
Once you have given the task at least four or five hours of your time (that probably could have been utilized elsewhere), you once again hit that "save" button and publish the work for the world to see. You read over it, to make sure it looked as polished as you felt it was, and it looks good. Before, you left the page after this, assuming everything would be fine. This time though, you're more keen to come back and see if your hard work is so quickly cast aside again.
It's a good thing you were watching to, because the clearing of all your work from the first time happened in less then twenty minutes, and this time a new record was set at less than 1 minute. Outraged at how quickly and discourteously that could happen. You rush to check the talk page, and find no notes left. Desperate to find some answers, you find the History tab and search its contents, now finally finding out who so unscrupulously retracted your work. It is here that you also find a tiny "edit summary", including at most, three words - all of them oozing superiority and insult.
You find at this point, that you're more than a little upset. A more thorough explanation might have helped, even a few considerate pointers about what was wrong might have sweetened the heat sparking up beneath your collar. Yet none of those took place, and as you investigated more thoroughly, you find that one of the buggers who blighted your work, even used some sort of fancy anti-vandalism tool only available on wikipedia. "A vandal? I am not!", you think. So you head to the few personal pages of the rude offenders who treated you so unkindly, and let them know just how that makes you feel, and even add in some offensiveness of your own. Maybe you threaten to revert back until they give up. Maybe you suggest you'll out their behavior to the rest of the world. Or it could be that you call them several names you wouldn't ever want your mother to hear that you called anyone. Regardless, you've already been sucked into the world of one of wikipedia's most prevalent competitors....
By now, you're still not really sure what you're in for, assuming that others on wikipedia might be rational, even logical. Though you've just so happened to have tread in the wrong place, especially with so little experience as you have. Still unaware of all this, you go back and undo the unkind revert of your work. Within less than a few minutes, you find a new editor has come back and reverted your work this time, though they were courteous enough to tell you why they did so. It could be that you needed verifiable sources, or that the sources you used weren't verifiable enough for wikipedia standards. It might have been that there was a more specific issue, due to a sensitivity of the topic you chose to contribute to - such as pseudoscience, paranormal phenomenon, folklore or another topic that is highly scrutinized by most wikipedians (though it could end up being any topic really). It is then that you start to learn, that most of wikipedia is ruled by a small consensus of dominating contributors that believe that if mainstream science, society or religion still can't prove it or agree with it, regardless of any potential, then it doesn't deserve a fair reporting.
So with the lacking information about what needed to be corrected, you went back and begin to edit the article, determined to make some sort of meaningful impact on the article, even if it's only in a small way. So you do your work looking up some wiki-standards until you feel you understand what you need to do, and then you do it. This time making more subtle changes, mostly just cleaning up formatting and reorganizing information. You dedicate less time to the issue, but still enough that you hope you won't get slapped in the face one again. Yet it doesn't take long for your work to once again be reverted, regardless of how much time you put in or any potential for the work to stick around and maybe be cleaned up.
So you go back to the history tab, find the offender and give them a whats-for as well, telling them how unkind you find it that they think it's okay to just erase someones hard earned effort without at least trying to make some corrections themselves, or to even communicate with you and make an effort to work together. Then you head back to the talk section, determined to declare just how frustrated you are, when you find a comment left there with your user name specifically tagged to it, stating how horrible it is of you to come on and push an agenda, try to add in information you didn't realize wasn't allowed or how ridiculous it was that you broke this rule and that one.
You read through the words again and again, trying to figure out if you are taking things to seriously or if there is some amount of constructive criticism you can take from the response. After all, any response is better than none. Yet you just can't get past the clear indication that the person responding feels that you are stupid, greedy and unworthy of editing a wikipage that supposed to be open to everyone. So with your best effort, you try to respond to the comment, letting them know you'll try to work with their input, but making sure to add in how offensive you find their comments and accusations.
That, of course, only results in a few more responses not only from the original offender, but followed by several new offenders, who clearly see you as no better than the first. You attempt to show your reasoning, and even go through the wikipolicies and guidelines and prove why your ideas are worthy. Yet it does no good. You get tossed around and brow beat until your beyond frustrated and you start to think, "Geez! What trolls!".
In any historical accounts or orally passed on traditions, there are myths and legends of trolls. Some are beautiful, some are scary. Some are noble, some are very hairy. Some have huge razor sharp claws, and some.... the most threatening and disconcerting of the bunch, are invisible but for there words... Words that are designed to be much more swift then swords or blades.. Syntax that convey not enough malice to really penetrate you, but more than enough to leave sweltering welts.
The worst part of isn't the danger, which many or more than willing to brave. It isn't their impenetrable camouflage, or their eerie silence, which has helped them become titans in their domains. Kings of Confusion. Masters of Mischief. Dukes of Dominance. Artistocrat's of Absurdity. Sultan's of Superficial Reality.
No, the worst part about these trolls isn't any of those things. It's that just like any other troll, they BITE. They bite with a venom so unlike any other, that I can't even fathom trying to find the words to describe it. The one thing I can say about it, is that their venom carries a contagion that can quickly transform any unsuspecting noob into the next savage beast to roam the wiki's, unsure if they will ever turn back.
These trolls are colloquially known as WikiTrolls, and they lurk in some of the most unexpected places on wikipedia. Beware of them, and only enter into editing at your own risk...
Feeling so beat upon, and seeing that so many others had previously been pushed out of contributing on the page you were struggling with, you decide not to give up and let the issue sit, as probably would be smarter. Instead you decide to uphold what you feel to be just and try to make an impact where others gave up.
You go back, regardless of your scathed emotions, and try once again to make some good changes. You take into account the feelings of the trolls you now despise, because you know that it won't do any good to suggest their points are any less important than your own. You didn't come into this to treat anyone the way you'd been treated so far. You make sure to carefully spend a day going through any potential rules, policies, guides or information you can find on the issue, and even get creative about doing exactly what was asked, without feeding the trolls...
You even decide to go back and apologize for your own ungracious behavior, which you felt anywhere else would have been warranted, but what clearly was not acceptable on wikipedia, regardless of how right you may be or how much others may have wronged you. You don't expect that the trolls you're dealing with, will reciprocate your sincerity, though you hope that they will at least accept your apology as an attempt to create a workable truce where everyone can feel proud of any future changes made.
By this time, you've already given up on attempting to edit anything without discussing it first, and instead decide to through out some ideas and try to bring in some more clarity for why you feel the article needs to change. You put plenty of effort and thought into what you use and how you suggest anything or defend any ideas. You make some points about how the current way of having the page, damages the core values of wikipedia and the perspective of readers who come across the page. You don't really have to spread it on to thick, because the page in question has been receiving horrible marks for years already.
Yet regardless of how new, logical or appropriate your suggestions are or become, nothing budges. Up until you find that one or two of the beasts your fight with, add some of their own information that is neither justified or helpful, and which goes against several of the same policies you've been accused of disregarding. You through out a few more ideas, and ask questions about the why certain things are accepted under a standard and then ignored under the same standard later. After a while, you find yourself being confronted by a new challenger (or two) who not only join in on bashing on you - regardless of how well-behaved you have been since realizing there were so many rules or expectations involved in the process - yet they come at you in a different way then the others. They are even more delicate with their statements, though the contention is just as clear. They come in and give you reasons why their way is superior, and without obviously doing so, they make it clear that you aren't allowed to use the same defense because of reasons a, b and c. Those reasons don't have to be fair or just, as this isn't the real world, it's wikiworld.
These new challengers that you've come across, are not so grotesque as the WikiTrolls, though their bite is no less lethal. They come at you with the illusion of more intelligence, though that intellect is clearly clouded by clouded judgment and a POV that they feel is superior to any other. As you read through their comments, you recognize that there is no way you are going to be able to get anything done on the article without some outside and hopefully impartial help. You go through and re-read through the whole sad situation once again, feeling dejected and wondering how much more you can take before finally just swearing off of wikipedia all together. As you are going back through all the comments, you can clearly recognize the trolls now, but this new sort is different and definitely creepy. What comes to mind when you try to visualize this equally invisible foe, you find the image of a slimy and unsightly creature in your mind. It's skin makes yours crawl, it's face holds razor sharp teeth and any hair available juts out in the strangest places. It takes you a moment to realize, that the vision that has entered your mind, is that of a Gremlin. A WikiGremlin is what I would call them, though they are known by many names, some more specific than others, but the most prevalent being a WikiLaywer.
These are the creatures that lurk through various pages, reveling in their ability to get in on any heated battle and make sure that what should be done is not done, and taking special care to create their mischief in such way that no admin could really do anything about it, even if they did see the true intention behind their deeds.
As with most hero's journey's, you find that if you continue and don't give up, you will be faced with more peril and challenges then most people can't handle. You aren't sure if you're up to the task, though you feel you should uphold what is right and just, and not give up just before the finish line.
So instead of attempting to engage the gremlins, or feeding the trolls, as you realize that's all you'll do by attempting any logic or reason, and that will only make your task impossible then if you don't throw them any scraps - which is when you decide to seek help. After all, there has to be somebody somewhere, who's in charge. Yet when updating yourself with the processes of getting help on wikipedia, you realize that there is a certain hierarchy of help involved, that you must go through. In keeping with the theme of this hub, the hierarchy involves entering various WikiArena's where varying sizes of squrmishes are taken to get them out of the main wikifields in the talk section. Most of the beginning arenas didn't look promising, but you tell yourself that if anything is going to get done properly, you must apply yourself to the rules as best as you can. It's definitely better not to sink to the level of the trolls and gremlins who clearly want to drag you down so low that you will look like the lesser party and no one will want to help. The worse part being, that regardless of your reasons for your previous inappropriate behavior or how much it may have been justified, you know that anymore slips on your end, could lead to being banned - no matter how unfair it might truly be.
So, in your endeavor to get help, you do your best to follow the processes normally used. The only arena you feel warranted to skip, is the process of attempting to "talk things out" with those being uncivil to you, on their own user pages. It doesn't take much to know that it will do you no good to enter the direct domain of either the gremlins or the trolls, as they clearly aren't persuaded by any intellect or logic. Instead, you go to the next step after that and head to wikipedia's Dispute Resolution Arena (noticeboard) and plead your case to the public.
Still rather emotional, you can't help but admit just how unfairly you feel you're being treated. Though you try to keep the complaint as focused as you can, not on the issue of incivility itself, but on the issue of not being able to see any meaningful changes made on the page, one way or another. You admit to your wrongs, and make sure that no one assumes your trying to seek any punitive action. You only want some advice on how to get the others to stop ganging up on you and realize that there are more perspectives then their own. You show that you value others contributions and don't want to devalue any of them, you simply want to the hostility ceased, and you want to stop feeling like anything you do will be met with such aggressive forces. Just admitting all this already makes you feel like your tattling, and there is no way to really say it without heavily implying that you're a victim in one way or another.
You do your best to be impartial and stay on task though, publish your request for help and then wait to see who replies. Of course, the first person to answer, doesn't focus on the issue on single-minded perspectives effecting the work in question, instead they focus on the issue of your claims of incivility between the parties you've been dealing with. You aren't really sure how to answer, so you simply post the responses you felt were unhelpful and that came across to you as uncivil.
Of course, instead of getting back a response from the original editor asking what happened and attempting to help you. No, instead you gain the attention of the trolls you hadn't yet had time to notify, in your attempt to impartially state the problem and disputes going on. That trolls comes equipped with a great big digital club, with poisoned nails sticking out at odd angles. They take a swing at you, this time being less shy about their insults and clear attempts to goad you into fighting with them more. By now you can tell this is happening, and you step back from the situation, trying to figure out just what the right thing is to do.
It's a trap!
By now, you realize that you've walked into a baited trap. You had a hunch before that this "help" process wasn't really going to help that much, but you didn't consider that it would be such a trap. At this point, if you give up and walk away, all the accusations flying out from your computer screen will seem justified, no matter how trollish they maybe be. Yet if you go on, you'll now have to be even more cautious about how you continue. That being said, you do find some solace in the notion that if you can keep your cool, and respond appropriately, you will not only not have to respond any further (to the trolls at least), but you'll be able to turn the tables and step back, to allow the trolls and gremlins to oust themselves and show just what a ruthless gang they really are. IF you can pull it off, help will come. Though IF you make just one more mistake, you will be beheaded and left on a stake for all to see.
So you set to work, making sure to say enough not to be misrepresented by your own words and making it so that no logical person could misinterpret your plea to be anything other than what it is - a need for serious help. At the same time, you take special care to edit down your explanation so that it is not to long, otherwise you'll make the mistake of filibustering, which is another wiki-no-no. It isn't easy, especially under such a pressurized situation. Yet you manage to get out another apology, without sounding like a victim and maintain a focus on the need for balancing the situation in the talk page, so that everyone can get back to work and not feel misunderstood or undervalued. You even read your response to several in your household before publishing, just to make sure you aren't making any obvious mistakes in how you phrased anything, and that your intent is clear and intention free of any inappropriate agendas.
With the green flag waving in front of you, you release your hopefully final response, and hope that it will be seen in the right light, from third parties entering the wikifield. From there you leave it up to fate, seeing that it doesn't take any time at all for the trolls and gremlins to come and claim how victimized they are and how wrong your prior actions have been, and hope that someone - somewhere, will come in and help re-balance the situation.
Knights of the Wikitable
It is, at this point, clear that there just aren't enough of true nobility on wikipedia, to handle all the complaints, accusations and true needs for help on wikipedia, or to step and protect what needs to be protected or right unjust situations. The few that are genuinely helpful, courteous, knowledgeable, impartial, experienced and courageous enough to be up for the task on wikipedia, I have decided to call the Knights of the Wikitable.
Those that would qualify with all the virtues that anyone would normally attribute to a knight, are rarely found wholly in one wikipedian. Most have been bitten by trolls or trumped by gremlins, and although they might have once had the potential of knightdom, they lost the chance for that nobility when they allowed the venom of wikibites to corrupt their core beliefs about the way wikipedia works and the way they feel it should work.
Now, that is not to say that no troll, gremlin or those in the gray area, will ever be able to turn things around and achieve knighthood. Though it's much more of a challenge for them then for those who resisted temptation from the beginning.
If we continue on the sordid tale that you might have already continued on, you would most likely come across a knight or two (or a few soon-to-be) after pleading for sincere help in the dispute resolution arena. The ones with the most experience will step in, and in all their shinning glory, he or she will attempt to give some clarity to both parties. You can almost always pinpoint the Knights from the rest, as they are the only ones who can come in and end a dispute without making any sweeping accusations about either party involved. If they are really experienced knight, they can also usually motivate both parties to work with each and will keep tabs on all parties for a little while, to help facilitate fair play and general camaraderie. The knights also rarely ever ask for anything in return, nor do they usually ever subject anyone to any undue sanctions unless it is extremely necessary.
The knights of the wikitable are those that you'd do best to align yourself with, not because you can form any sort of team with them, because they won't do that, but because they will be best able to teach you how to avoid the temptation of feeding the trolls, attracting the gremlins or giving in to the draw of the venom if you've already been bitten.
To Be Continued....
There are way more challengers, creatures and archtypes to be aware of when entering the wikifield, though this hub is getting long enough. So stay tuned for PART 2 coming up soon!