Wikipedia scandals

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Wikipedia scandals are the all-too-frequent ethical lapses that pervade Wikipedia. This page will attempt to document some of those that are worth saving for history, since otherwise they will likely be whitewashed out of Wikipedia culture.

Essjay is not a professor

A wave of problems began with a decision by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, when he hired a 24-year-old college dropout named Ryan Jordan to work at Wales' for-profit corporation Wikia, Inc. The hiring decision was made, even though Wales apparently knew Jordan had been passing himself off to the Wikipedia community (and to The New Yorker magazine's Pulitzer Prize winning Stacy Schiff) as a tenured professor holding multiple advanced degrees.

Further aggravating the issue, Jordan (whose Wikipedia screen name was "Essjay") was soon appointed by Wales to the highest volunteer adjudicating body within Wikipedia -- the Arbitration Committee.

Wikimedia Foundation donations are dropping substantially

When The New Yorker outted Ryan Jordan's academic fraud, their editors contacted Jimmy Wales for comment. Wales was quoted with the now infamous, "I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it." This set off a firestorm of criticism, both within Wikipedia and external to the world's largest encyclopedia community. Especially damaging seemed to be the numerous administrative cover-ups that attempted to hide the historical wiki record of Essjay's actions and the community debates that followed.

The financial consequences

The Essjay incident appeared to have an adverse impact on daily financial donations to the Wikimedia Foundation. The downward slide closely mirrored a number of ethically questionable decisions by key administrators of Wikipedia.

The Wikimedia Foundation enjoyed a total of $3,477 in donations on February 23rd, the day Essjay was elevated to ArbCom status. Contrast this with a total of only $739 made on March 18th, less than one month later. This represented a 79% drop in daily contributions!

Wikia / Wikimedia finances

Discussions took place on Wikipedia about the relationship between Wikia, Inc. and the leadership of the Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees. As you can see, these discussions were mostly rebuffed by hard-headed loyalists who couldn't imagine any wrongdoing.

I heard that the person who is in charge of the Wikimedia Foundation's finances is the very same person who is in charge of the for-profit Wikia, Inc.'s finances. Is that true? --Dude Manchap 03:56, 19 August 2007 (UTC)

Good question. DurovaCharge! 20:35, 19 August 2007 (UTC)
So what if it is? I certainly trust them to do a good job if they are, and I'm sure that the board (who is in charge of the person) knows about this considering the owners of Wikia are previous board members. (...and the Board isn't stupid). Cbrown1023 talk 23:01, 19 August 2007 (UTC)
That's fine if you personally trust them, Cbrown1023, but you may want to look at the IRS form 1023 (no joke -- it's the same form number as the number found in your User name -- coincidence or irony?), especially what's said about Line 5a: A "conflict of interest" arises when a person in a position of authority over an organization, such as a director, officer, or manager, may benefit personally from a decision he or she could make. Note also Appendix A, starting at Page 25, which outlines a sample Conflict of Interest policy that a non-profit organization might adopt. Do you think that, as Appendix A suggests, either Jimmy Wales or Michael E. Davis have ever left the room during a Wikimedia Foundation board meeting, so that the other board members could discuss whether a conflict of interest was present for those two, who just happen to be former business partners and are currently vested in Wikia, which benefits from many, many favorable associations within Wikipedia? Jimmy Wales tried to hire a Wikipedia Arbitration Committee member onto Wikia. Wikia has many thousands of outbound links from Wikipedia, which point to pages monetized by Google AdSense ads. I guess, Cbrown1023, the question is not whether the Board "knows about this", but rather, why are they allowing such a gross appearance of conflict of interest to continue unabated? --Dude Manchap 03:27, 20 August 2007 (UTC)
If you feel that the Wikimedia Foundation is doing something wrong, by all means file a complaint with them. Otherwise, please take this discussion elsewhere. This noticeboard isn't for solving legal problems. - Jehochman Talk 03:43, 20 August 2007 (UTC)
This is not currently a legal problem. Nobody said it was. It is a Conflict of Interest problem. Another administrator has called it a "Good question", so why should it be swept under the rug and be "Resolved" by a non-administrator? --Dude Manchap 14:23, 20 August 2007 (UTC)

Hi again Dude. A few clarifications: you posted to ask whether there's a conflict of interest but haven't supplied much information. Normally requests to this board cite specific activity and evidence. And normally there's an onsite edit history to reference. If this person actually has registered and edits in a way that reflects a conflict of interest, this noticeboard might be able to accomplish something. If the conflict of interest relationship doesn't extend to actual editing activity then I have no direct power and only a little influence. Yet as the founder of Category:Eguor admins I'm particularly open to this type of request. Sure, why not investigate a Wikipedia/Wikia COI? Burden of evidence rests squarely on your shoulders. Go for it if it's particularly important to you. Just expect to shoulder most of the work yourself. I'll check it out, see if there's anything I can do about it, and possibly ask for broader input. That's as fair as I can be. DurovaCharge! 15:19, 20 August 2007 (UTC)

Well, this is a wiki, so the burden of evidence isn't just on me -- it's on the other users who will hopefully see this thread and have enough "wikisleuthing" in their blood to check it out some more. I appreciate your support of it staying in the open, rather than being hastily "resolved", which really would have reflected poorly on the Foundation. For starters, people may wish to look at these discussions about the Wikia/Wikipedia conflict of interest:
Again, I look forward to whether anyone else will step up and investigate this further. --Dude Manchap 15:48, 20 August 2007 (UTC)
(stepping over issues of whether this is the right page to talk about the subject)...indeed, board members and accountants both have fiduciary duties to act in the best interest of their organizations. By various laws and governance principles they have to recuse themselves or avoid involvement when there is a conflict. Even a perceived conflict can be corrosive to governance and is sometimes prohibited because people lose faith. Someone who is on the board of Wikimedia or does its finances and also has a financial stake in Wikia should be very careful about taking positions here on things that benefit Wikia by directing traffic there, banning things from Wikipedia so as to distinguish it from a commercial site, making Wikipedia less attractive to constituents than Wikia. Actions that seem to raise a conflict include banning commercial links, advertisements, fair use media, conflict-of-interest editors, etc., from Wikipedia so that people go to Wikia for that.Wikidemo 16:05, 20 August 2007 (UTC)

(outdent) Looking over those five links, two of them are specifically legal issues outside my expertise. I have no qualification to evaluate them. Joe Szlilagyi's blog is hardly a reliable source and another on-wikipedia thread was started by someone who's expended his credibility also. The article holds water, in my opinion. What exactly are you seeking? If the basic complaint regards financial relationships at that level, then the most I could do would be to ask the WMF board to review this matter, and possibly to ask someone to institute nofollow to outgoing links to Wikia. My sysop tools would be useless to address this. Or is more forthcoming? DurovaCharge! 17:06, 20 August 2007 (UTC)

This is a wiki -- there's no telling if there is "more forthcoming" or not. Another example might be the Essjay situation. Essjay was nominated by Jimmy Wales to the Arbitration Committee -- the highest level of dispute resolution below the Board itself. Only a month earlier (I may be wrong about the timeline), Wales had also hired Essjay to work for Wikia, Inc. This took place this year, well after the issue of "Conflict of Interest" has been made so noticeable on Wikipedia, thanks in part (ironically) to Wales' discussions of editing by conflicted parties. Was it appropriate for Wales to nominate one of his Wikia employees to a position on the Arbitration Committee? I believe that question was obscured by the whole firestorm over Essjay's fabricated credentials. Yes, I think the Board of Directors should look at this entire matter; but do you realize that it should be while Wales and Davis and Beesley (and any other Wikia parties I may have missed) are not present in the room? The other factor that I think is important here is that this discussion remain open for some time. Already two non-admin users have attempted to hide it from plain view, with the reason being it belongs somewhere else. This seems very weak, being that this is a Conflict of Interest Noticeboard, and this is a conflict of interest issue. --Dude Manchap 17:15, 20 August 2007 (UTC)
How does this question have anything to do with the purpose of this page? Corvus cornix 17:15, 20 August 2007 (UTC)

Heidi Wyss editing as Gwen Gale


Gwen Gale with heads of contributors she blocked

Heidi Wyss is a Swiss administrator of Wikipedia. Under the user name Gwen Gale, she has handed out numerous account blocks (more than 500 in October and November of 2008) to other users who supposedly violated Wikipedia's rules. However, she herself broke a cardinal rule of Wikipedia -- don't self-publish autobiographical puff pieces in the encyclopedia. The article she wrote looked something like this:

Heidi Wyss

Heidi Wyss (born 1975, Geneva) is a Swiss author.

Wyss was educated in Geneva and in the United Kingdom. She has worked as an histologist and technical writer. Her first novel Gormglaith, published in 2007, has been described as a "Radical lesbian separatist cult hit set in a plausible future with a witchy bent",[1] " a female Finnegans Wake..." along with "touches of Tolkien" and reminiscent " some ways of the very intricate work of Patricia Kennealy-Morrison's Keltiad novels."[2]


  1. ^ The Secret Society of Lesbian Propellerheads, SSOLP home page, accessed February 1, 2008
  2. ^ Swann, Morgaine, Gormglaith by Heidi Wyss,, accessed February 1, 2008

External links

[[Category:Swiss feminists]] [[Category:Swiss science fiction writers]] [[Category:1975 births]] [[Category:Living people]]

After Gwen Gale got her administrative tool she quickly turned the mop to a witch's broomstick. Now she uses this broomstick to fly around Wikipedia to collect heads of innocent editors while allowing trolls to troll.


As if the autobiography were not enough, administrator Gwen Gale went on to write a self-promotional advertisement on Wikipedia about her rather non-noteworthy novel, Gormglaith:

Gormglaith (2007) by Heidi Wyss is a hard science fiction novel set in a radical feminist separatist world of the future.

Plot introduction The tale follows its protagonist Gormglaith as she copes with the outcome of her own rashness throughout five life-shifting days and nights.

Reception Morgaine Swann in her review on said "I'm sure there are Druids and Wiccans who'll devour it whole... LOTR fans who'll sleep out for tickets to the movie and Witchy young women enamored of fantasy books on all things Keltic... for my part, I had trouble getting into it. It isn't just a book -- it's a project. From the first page, it was incomprehensible and there was nothing there to draw me in, or make me care enough to dig in. A little seduction, or at least introduction, would go a long way. It felt like a female Finnegan's Wake, with all that implies, good and bad. It had touches of Tolkien and reminded me in some ways of the very intricate work of Patricia Kennealy-Morrison's Keltiad novels. If that appeals to you, I recommend this book."[1] Karen Campbell in her review on Quiet Mountain Essays said "We meet Gormglaith Hafgan Halsen (Celtic for "dark blue-green lake, storm in summer changing course") in a pastoral late summer setting under elm trees, mid-conversation with her friend Findabair. Their rolling banter deftly pulls us into the story, and a state of extreme culture shock. This is wonderfully written and fun English dialog, but not quite any sort the reader has encountered before... Gormglaith's radical setting, vocabulary and deceptively linear structure will present a challenging and rewarding read for some, but it'll be a difficult, uneven slog for others. This may depend more on individual temperament and interest in the story than on reading skills. As feminist literature it's unceasingly assertive, positive and controversial. As hard science fiction it offers a deeply structured, often entertaining story, at turns inspiring and disturbing, in a unique contribution to the genre."[2]


  1. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Morgaine Swann (2004-12-01). "Gormglaith". Archived from the original on 2008-10-18. Retrieved 2008-10-18. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  2. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Karen Campbell (2004). "Quiet Mountain Essays; "Gormglaith" Book Review by Karen Campbell". Archived from the original on 2008-10-18. Retrieved 2008-10-18. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)

External links

[[Category:2007 novels]] [[Category:Science fiction novels]] [[Category:Utopian novels]] [[Category:Feminist science fiction]]


As usual on Wikipedia, even the most conflicted volunteers think that they are better than others to lead the project, and Gwen Gale had even put herself up for election to the Arbitration Committee, Wikipedia's highest ruling authority below the Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees and staff. Once her conflicted edits were exposed, though, she withdrew herself from consideration for ArbCom.

The lesson here, of course, is not so much that what Heidi Wyss had done was so terribly wrong, but rather that Wikipedia is corrupt from the very top down. Thus, we should not be surprised as observers when these conflicts of interest are exposed; indeed, we should be surprised that such conflicts are not revealed more often... because what gets publicized is only the tip of the iceberg.

In January of 2010 Willowtree(probably Gwen Gale) tried to remove the information about herself from this article just as she did many times on English wikipedia, but this time it did not work out, and she was reverted. It is not the only appearance of Gwen Gale on mywikibiz. In 2007 she wrote an article about her novel. According to this screenshot this IP# was used by Heidi Wyss (Gwen Gale) to edit an article about her novel on wikipedia as well.

Tolerance of plagiarism

The original version of any wiki-formatted article about the Arch Coal company was authored in September 2006 by Gregory Kohs and released under the terms of the GFDL on this website, It was then scraped by an independent editor into Wikipedia. In October 2006, erroneously thinking that the article was paid for by Arch Coal, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales acted to delete the article from Wikipedia, but the Wikipedia community determined that Wales' action had been unjustified. The article was revised, largely by "User:JzG" (Guy Chapman). However, in January 2008, Kohs demonstrated to Chapman that the article as modified by User:JzG actually plagiarized many aspects of the original. Faced with that evidence, Chapman elected to cover up his misdeed by deleting the original edits on the Wikipedia site, thus making the provenance of the article appear to have come from Chapman, and not from MyWikiBiz. When Jimmy Wales was notified about this violation of professional ethics and proper GFDL attribution of the edit history, Wales very reluctantly restored the original edit history, with the childish edit summary, "might as well restore all of it I suppose".

When later asked to comment on this affair, Jimmy Wales instead relied on one of his loyal followers to erase the uncomfortable question and to block the editor who asked it.

Additional comment

When in December 2008, Kohs sought to improve the article about Arch Coal on Wikipedia, his improvements were reverted back by a mindless administrator from Belgium. This underscores the true system of editorial control on Wikipedia -- it matters not the content of one's edits, but rather who authors the content. (Which, of course, directly contradicts Wikipedia's supposed credo that "anyone can edit".)

Rachel Marsden affair

Wales allegedly made attempts to "clean up" a Wikipedia entry for a woman with whom he had a relationship, and it generated headlines.

The Wikipedia article regarding controversial Canadian radio commentator Rachel Marsden has been the subject of controversy on Wikipedia from some years. According to Ms. Marsden, whom Wales has admitted to dating, she had asked Wikipedia to delete her biography. Her concerns led her to contact Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales in 2006, claiming that it was wrong and libelous. According to her, he reviewed her biography and, deeming that it was not up to standard, helped to clean up the entry. However, the article was mainly revised as the result of an extensive review by Wikipedia's arbitration committee.[1]

Wales announced in a statement on Wikipedia "My involvement in cases like this is completely routine, and I am proud of it."[2] On February 29, 2008, the technology gossip blog Valleywag claimed that they had entered into a relationship, and published instant messaging chats that they had allegedly exchanged. On the following day Wales announced on his Wikipedia user page that he was no longer involved with her. In return, Marsden, who claimed to have learned about the breakup by reading about it on the Internet, turned to eBay and put up for auction a t-shirt and sweater that she claimed to be Wales'.[3][4][5][6][2] [7][8]

A typical editor of Wikipedia is not allowed to document this incident within the Wikipedia article about Jimmy Wales.

Scorpions "Virgin Killer" album cover

In December 2008, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) added to its "potentially illegal" list the Wikipedia image of the original album cover of The Scorpions' fourth release, Virgin Killer. The image depicted a young girl posed naked with only her vulva covered by the appearance of cracked glass. Many found the picture offensive. Internet service providers in the UK followed suit with the IWF and blocked the image and page from users' browsing, and channeling those requests through a very limited set of IP addresses.

Regardless of your opinions about whether this image constitutes child pornography, or whether the IWF engaged in "censorship" of art, one thing was clearly missed by the mainstream media in this affair:

If Wikipedia did not suffer from an intractable vandalism problem, this one-page block on a 22-yr old album cover might never have been noticed. It was only noticed because the proxy IP was blocked on the Wikipedia side of the connection.
The fact of the matter is, Wikipedia admins blithely block thousands of IPs, sometimes in wholesale range-blocks that affect major metropolitan areas. - Barry Kort, 12/09/2008.

That is, the Wikipedia apparatus practices wide-scale editorial censorship, without due process, on an hourly basis; yet few seem concerned about this even within an encyclopedia that purportedly anyone can edit. Yet, there is much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth when an image that portrays a young girl, told by a photographer to strip down naked and pose for the camera, all in the name of marketing a rock band's album, is censored.

Put images to the test

Would you contribute $25 to see this billboard in real life?
(Click picture only if you're a not-easily-offended adult)

Many Wikipedia zealots possess a feverish reflex urge to shout "Wikipedia is not censored" and will defend vehemently not only the right but the need to publish on Wikimedia servers prurient content that is neither properly sourced nor even encyclopedic in nature. One Wikipedian pauses to note:

...I really do worry that any media organisation actually putting the effort in to scratch beneath the surface of the Wiki machine may find some things that will be harder to defend than an album cover from 1976. - "George the Dragon", 12/09/2008.

Wouldn't it be interesting to put the Wikipedia standard to the test, say, in an environment of "community standards" like St. Petersburg, Florida? How fun would it be to start a grassroots fundraising campaign to pay for a "free speech"-testing, GFDL billboard such as this one? Comment on this talk page.

David Boothroyd, sockpuppet admin

David Boothroyd created controversy in 2009 when it was discovered that he edited Wikipedia under the user names Dbiv, Fys, and Sam Blacketer and eventually became part of the site's policy-enforcing Arbitration Committee. After earning Administrator status with one account, then being de-sysopped for inappropriate use of the admin tools, Boothroyd regained Administrator status with the "Sam Blacketer" sockpuppet account. A Labour Party member, after being sleuthed out by Wikipedia Review contributor, "Tarantino", Boothroyd outted himself for having used sockpuppets in the course of obtaining his position and for having edited the article of Conservative Party leader David Cameron.[9]

Johann Hari and his socks

Johann Hari a disgraced journalist used Wikipedia for a few years to prize himself in his own entry, and to libel his opponents in their entries.


In August, 2012, Fæ was forced out of his position of chair of Wikimedia UK.[1]


In September, 2012, Victuallers was busted for being paid by the Government of Gibraltar to ensure placement of Gibraltar-related material on the front page of Wikipedia.[2]

See also

External links

  1. ^ I did much of the work on this case, and probably played the major role in providing guidelines for revising the article. Jimmy Wales played little, if any, role in editing the article or requesting its revision. Guidelines for editing were based on Wikipedia's Biographies of living person's policy, [[w:Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons]]. [[User:Fred Bauder|Fred]] [[User talk:Fred Bauder|Talk]] 22:44, 17 March 2008 (EDT)
  2. ^ a b Template:Cite news
  3. ^ Template:Cite news
  4. ^ Template:Cite news
  5. ^ Template:Cite news
  6. ^ Template:Cite news
  7. ^ Template:Cite news
  8. ^ Template:Cite news
  9. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Metz, Cade (26 May 2009). "Sockpuppeting British politico resigns from Wikisupremecourt". The Register. Retrieved 2009-05-27.

Wikipedia, Scandal