Wikipedia Vandalism Study

MyWikiBiz, Author Your Legacy — Tuesday July 23, 2024
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Throughout mid-2008, a number of people interested in analysis of Wikipedia joined Gregory Kohs in a project to methodically enumerate one calendar quarter’s worth (4Q 2007) of edit data underlying the 100 Wikipedia articles about the (then) current United States Senators. What they found was alarming at times. While most vandalized edits were brief in duration and clearly juvenile in content, a substantial portion of edits were plainly intended to be hurtful and defamatory against the Senators — and they lasted for not just minutes, but hours, days, even weeks at a time.

Topline findings

Using the Wikipedia page traffic tool, the team attempted to interpolate the number of “page views” that each Senator’s article likely witnessed during the damaged edit. The damaged edit that saw the greatest number of page views before correction regarded Senator John McCain: "McCain was born in Florida in the then American-controlled Panama Canal Zone", which lasted for over 3 days, under about 93,000 views where nobody noticed or bothered to correct this obvious error.

In all, the median duration of a damaged edit was 6 minutes, but the mean duration was 1,440 minutes (exactly 24 hours). These 100 articles were viewed approximately 12.8 million times in the fourth quarter of 2007. Over 378,000 of those views could be considered “damaged”, yielding a 2.96% rate of damaged views. There were about 13.2 million article-minutes during the quarter, and over 901,000 of those article-minutes were in a damaged state — 6.80%.

This is not an issue of “damaged” versus “acceptable” rates. Rather, it is an issue that the Wikimedia Foundation allows anonymous editors to append the article about Hillary Clinton with “hillary needs to die and chop of her penis”; or to modify the article about Bob Menendez to say “Menendez and Jacobsen have since divorced because he was cheating on her”; all without any meaningful effort to change the parameters of editing to disallow this kind of drive-by hatred and libel. We note that the Wikipedia article about its co-founder, Jimmy Wales is kept in a state of "semi-protection", which wards off easily 95% of this sort of vandalism. Why is this level of protection not extended to all biographies of living persons on Wikipedia?

Notorious examples

  • For over 56 hours, the Wikipedia article about Senator Harry Reid of Nevada said that he was "married to his right hand". The page was viewed about 1,383 times in this condition before it was corrected.
  • For nearly 11 hours, the Wikipedia article about Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut described him as "a hideous, coffee-drinking Jew". The page was viewed about 446 times in this condition before it was corrected.

Access the complete database

More than 700 instances of vandalism were found and recorded into a database. All of the data is available for analysis in a Google spreadsheet that is open to the public.

External links