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When Wikipedia Vandals Attack

When Wikipedia Vandals Attack

Wikipedia is tolerant of newbies, and accidents and experimenting aren't considered vandalism. Plus, there is a rule called the Wikipedia "three-revert rule," which means you can't do more than three reverts in a 24-hour period unless it's vandalism. So be sure it's vandalism and not an edit war.

By Patrick Nelson
05/10/12 5:00 AM PT

If you've been involved in a project that has been documented on Wikipedia and has earned its own Wikipedia page, it can be disconcerting to visit one day and see the page vandalized, as happened to an associate of mine recently.

This incident led to a frantic email exchange. One consideration was how to deal with the problem without getting tagged as the vandal -- Wikipedia is collaborative, after all. The research involved makes for a fascinating study, and I'm including some of it here.

What Is Vandalism?

Wikipedia is a collaborative encyclopedia compiled by often anonymous writers. Pseudonyms can be used, and anyone can get involved.

Vandalism isn't allowed, but it happens. The vandalism is often childish and can involve name calling and name changing. Less obvious vandalism includes adding superfluous characters, and the real surreptitious vandalism includes changing important words -- for example, in an obscure song title -- that only someone intimate with the content would spot.

What It Isn't

Good-faith edits are not considered vandalism, and that includes edit wars that take place when people disagree over facts or content.

You can't label good-faith edits as vandalism -- it makes you the baddie.

What to Do?

Undo the vandalism by going into the "View history" tabbed link on the page. Then look for the version that you want to change the page back to by clicking on the archived pages links. Be careful that you don't re-introduce vandalism that was obliterated in an earlier cull.

Leave the archived page open and click on the "Edit" tab on that archived page. You may be prompted to edit with a registered account.

Complete the "Edit summary" field. Simply use the abbreviation "rvv" for "revert vandalism." Then save the page. The reverted page will appear instead of the vandalized page.

Contact the Vandal

Warn the vandal that you've had to correct a page. Wikipedia suggests taking softly-softly approach and assuming the vandal has acted in good faith -- which may actually be the case.

Although that may be difficult to believe if your name has been altered to convey a colloquially termed human bodily function, you still have to go softly.

Reporting the Vandalism

Report the vandal to the Wikipedia administrators (see below) if the vandalism escalates. Wikepedia suggests you make four increasingly serious warnings to the vandal and then immediately report the problem.

The vandal must be active if it's a person who is unregistered, so time is of the essence. An administrator will decide whether to block the user.

Marginal Areas

Wikipedia is tolerant of newbies, and accidents and experimenting aren't considered vandalism. Plus, there is a rule called the Wikipedia "three-revert rule" (3RR), which means you can't do more than three reverts in a 24-hour period unless it's vandalism.

So be sure it's vandalism and not an edit war.

Edit Wars

Communicate with the defacer in the case of grey areas that an administrator may consider edit wars rather than vandalism.

Use the Talk function by clicking on the "talk" tab next to the IP address or User that you need to contact.

Be clear about the erroneous information, or suspected vandalism that you've removed from the page. For example, specify exactly what you think the user is mistaken about -- a dollar amount, say.

Demand that the user who has defaced the page or added erroneous information point you to the exact reference used. Then point out why the reference is not acceptable -- it's the vandal's blog, for example.

Making Additions

Look at the big picture. Disgruntled customer page additions that must remain because they are not vandalism and are substantiated by a legitimate reference can be qualified.

For example, a travel company with a 2002 bankruptcy mentioned on its page could appear to be callously damaging its suppliers.

Find a reference that cites terrorism as a cause of travel industry failures in that year, and include it on the page.

Want to Ask a Tech Question?

Is there a piece of tech you'd like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that's got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I'll try to answer as many as possible in this column.

And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!


Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.


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