Wikimedia Scandal: Proof Of Unreliability Or Confirmation That Crowdsourcing Works?

from the guess-who-caught-the-bad-guys dept

While Glyn just recently wrote about Jimmy Wales' effort to stymie UK snooping, it appears there may be other issues to address in England. If Wikipedia has had to fight any stigma, it's been the notion that a crowdsourced encyclopedia in which most anyone could contribute would be so rife with errors and bias as to be unusable. After all, there have indeed been reports of individuals and companies editing negative information out of thier own pages. This perception persists, despite evidence that Wikipedia is every bit as accurate as printed encyclopedias.

And so we have another such story, in which Roger Bramkin, Wikimedia trustee, is being accused of running a pay-for-play system using Wikipedia's "Did You Know" and GLAM projects to keep his day job clients in the wiki bloodstream. Essentially, it appears Bramkin took the country of Gibraltar on as a consulting client and then routinely pumped their stories into Wikipedia.
Roger Bamkin, trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation UK, whose LinkedIn page describes him as a high-return-earning PR consultant, appeared to be using Wikipedia's main page "Did You Know" feature and the resources of Wikipedia's GLAM WikiProject (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) initiative to pimp his client's project.
Now, it would be easy for anyone so inclined to throw their hands around and make a great deal of noise about how this proves Wikipedia's unreliability. Crowdsourcing, it would seem, has led to corruption of the bloodstream. This hand-wringing would be particularly easy in light of a second such Wikipedian in Residence (an editor held in high esteem) being found to have run a similar operation focused on SEO and Wikipedia pages for paying clients. Wikipedians in Residence are typically required to recuse themselves from editing pages in which they have a conflict of interest, and these incidences seem to violently violate those rules.

But here's what is being swept under the rug with all the hand-waving: it was the Wikipedia community members who found all this out and are bringing it to light. This entire incident began on a Wikipedia discussion page over abuse of DYK and that is exactly how Wikipedia is supposed to work. So, while conflicts of interest issues and erroneous entries in Wikipedia are certainly a huge concern, it is selective bias at work to point to them as examples for why crowdsourcing information doesn't work while also failing to mention that the same crowd was responsible for its ceasing.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2012 @ 3:57pm

    Typo

    "encyclopeda"

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2012 @ 4:04pm

    I'm sorry Tim, but I disagree with the idea that this isn't a clear failing for Wikimedia's current user model. This is a very serious issue for Wikimedia if the allegations are true, since I doubt Mr. Bamkin is the only one who has realized how lucrative this business model can be.

    If anything, it's an argument for the concept of having all users on equal footing. Which is something Wikipedia has been moving farther and farther away from as it establishes higher and greater tiers of trust between it's users. Mr. Bamkin, or any other pay2shill company on Wikipedia, wouldn't receive anything more than pennies if he had the same level of trust as every other user who was fact-checking his articles.

     

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  3.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 19th, 2012 @ 4:25pm

    Re:

    He didn't say it was a fail. He stated it was both one fail and a huge win since the community found out.

    I admit I tended to be wary of using Wikipedia in the past but if you confront it with one or two more sources it usually tends to be a pretty good one (and pretty well sourced itself).

    I'm quite sure this turned a potentially huge fail into an epic win by the community and if anything it only adds to its reputation.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2012 @ 4:33pm

    Re: Typo

    Yeah, should be encyclopedophile

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2012 @ 4:38pm

    Re: Re:

    Yes, but think of it this way: Would it have happened in the first place if B(r?)amkin was on equal footing with the rest of the users instead of being in a trusted tier?

    How many of the users who found him out are considered "less trustworthy" than B(r)amkin to Wikimedia? Seems like more of a reason to suspect Wikimedia's process of selecting trustees and other types of 'trusted users' than a reason to be celebrating crowdsourcing. Which at the end, seems like more of a security failing in a system where having that kind of security check should be considered unneeded in the first place.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2012 @ 6:17pm

    The real issue of Wikipedia isn't in the high visibility, highly patrolled pages, but rather what can be put on less important pages. Without informed eyes checking the content on a regular basis, you can get corruption.

    More over, as Wiki is often used as source material for other sites, it means that an error or an outright lie can be replicated many times before it is fixed at the source, but unlikely never fixed in the copies.

    The result is a bit like Techdirt - repeat a lie or an incomplete statement often enough, and people will think it's true. Get enough un-truth out there via a supposedly reliable source (wiki) and you can pollute the info stream entirely.

    It's only a win if the community spots the error before the error gets out. That isn't at all certain in Wiki's case.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2012 @ 7:29pm

    The result is a bit like Techdirt - repeat a lie or an incomplete statement often enough, and people will think it's true.

    Or cite Techdirt as your authoritative source on a debate on Techdirt.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2012 @ 8:19pm

    Take a look at:
    http://wikipediocracy.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=914

    ...and what they dug up

     

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  9.  
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    Lurk-a-lot (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 12:17am

    Re:

    repeat a lie or an incomplete statement often enough, and people will think it's true

    So how's that working out for you? ;)

     

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  10.  
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    Qûr Tharkasdóttir (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 2:00am

    Trustworthy?

    Take a look at this Wikipedia entry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accoya_wood

    and tell me its' not a commercial ad? OK, it's been "tagged" at such, but that's two and a half years ago and nothing has been done about it. Yet, someone could just have translated the Danish version, which is not a commercial ad.

    This said, years of experience with Wikipedia, including a brief spree as an editor, have taught me that the English and the Spanish localizations are rather untrustworthy, and the French one even more so. To some degree this is also the case of Swedish Wikipedia, whereas the German and the Italian ones are quite reliable. Other localizations I'm familiar with, like those in Portuguese or, worse still, in Danish, are almost irrelevant.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 3:00am

    Re: Re:

    Don't know, 'cuz I don't do it. Still trying to correct Mike on some of the things he does... but he keeps sticking with "truthiness".

     

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  12.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 3:56am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I think you need some sort of moderation. Much like the Govt/Judicial/Legislative powers, there is space for fraud in such system, however I believe Wikipedia has a huge advantage: the community can take down a bad 'moderator'.

    So I disagree. Smaller tiers are needed for a huge operation like Wikipedia specially when you have so much regional content and they will be promptly moderated by the community as a whole. That's the epic win here. Can we actually moderate our politicians and throw them out that efficiently? Last time I checked Lamar was still in his place.

     

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  13.  
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    JMT (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 4:40am

    Re:

    This petty attitude amuses me. Unless you're braindead, there's an obvious difference between a citation and a reference to a previous discussion. If a TD writer or commenter made reference to an earlier post without providing a link I'm sure you'd bitch about that too.

     

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  14.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 4:41am

    Re:

    The result is a bit like Techdirt - repeat a lie or an incomplete statement often enough, and people will think it's true.

    Oh, that is your tactic. Interesting!

    It's only a win if the community spots the error before the error gets out. That isn't at all certain in Wiki's case.

    It's a win in any case. Knowing Wikipedia is crowdsourced you'll never take its contents for granted without some proofreading. Admit it, you are just trying to discredit Wikipedia and Techdirt for the sake of it. And because you are still mad over the SOPA fiasco ;)

     

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  15.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 4:42am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Carry on, it's amusing to see how deep in denial you are =D

     

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  16.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 4:51am

    Re: Trustworthy?

    Good point. I'd guess they must have a lot of work with the versions that are more widespread such as the English/Spanish ones. In any case, it is tagged so it's clear there are issues with it. And as with anything you always proofread so it's not like you search Google and use the first non-wikipedia link that comes. It's part of researching something to read multiple sources..

    Generally speaking Wikipedia does a rather decent job in my opinion because even the articles that I find to be not trustworthy are usually tagged.

     

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  17.  
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    Bob Jonkman (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 10:45am

    But was it an improvement?

    Before asking questions about conflict-of-interest or abuse of Wikimedia Trustee powers, ask a more fundamental question:

    Have these entries improved Wikipedia?

    If the Wikipedia entries now have more information, additional facts, better grammar and spelling, then perhaps the entries that B(r)amkin made aren't such a bad thing. In fact, if he's prevented from contributing because of conflict-of-interest rules, perhaps those rules should be changed, since by preventing good contributions they're actually detrimental to Wikipedia.

    On the other hand, if B(r)amkin's entries aren't NPOV (Neutral Point Of View), contain factual errors, or are full of typos, then what prevents the regular Wikipedia community from improving those entries so that they DO meet Wikipedia's standards? THAT would be a sign of Wikipedia working the way it's supposed to.

    I wonder how many of those people complaining about those entries have actually taken the time to fix them...

    --Bob.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Roman, Sep 22nd, 2012 @ 9:15pm

    Wikipedia is great

    I love Wikipedia, what other encyclopedia has beer pong techniques? Suck it, Britannica is all I'm trying to say here.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Thomas, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 8:08am

    Apples v Pears

    This post is not really comparing like with like ... there is a big difference between the value of crowdsourced content and a conflict of interests in who can add content. So it neither lends support to the idea that crowdsourcing is unreliable nor that it works.

     

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