Biased Editing at Wikipedia Causes Concern Over Accuracy

Photo Caption: Artwork by Frank Alan Bella, www.bellastudios.com
Photo Caption: Artwork by Frank Alan Bella, www.bellastudios.com
Writer Robert Clark Young, aka “Qworty,” has been accused of editing Wikipedia entries in a biased attempt to alter people’s perceptions of historical events.

Wikipedia, the online super-encyclopedia, describes itself as the largest and most popular general reference site on the Internet---with 26 million articles, in 286 languages. 

Most importantly, almost all of the articles on the site can be easily edited by anyone with access to a computer. That is, unless the article happens to be about you--then, you’re forbidden to touch it.

However, like many living public figures, I’m guilty of having edited my own Wikipedia entry, which is against the rules of the mega-encyclopedia’s website.

Wikipedia requires that all entries about living public figures be written by people who are not associated with that particular person in any way.

In practical terms, however, this is an almost unachievable possibility, as anyone can anonymously contribute to this vast online database of human knowledge.

But when I edited my own entry, I wasn’t particularly careful about being anonymous, and as a result I became vulnerable to attacks from someone acting as an editor there, that went by the pseudonym “Qworty.”

Qworty criticized me for editing my own entry in a “self-promotional” manner, saying that my work wasn’t “notable” enough to be included on the site.

Then he made some rather outrageous accusations about my entry, which I couldn't help but find amusing--as they are so over-the-top and so completely baseless in reality.

According to Qworty, my entry--which basically summarized my work as a science writer and researcher---was said to praise me “as a modern-day messiah who combined all of the powers of Jesus and Freud and Einstein and Marx and, oh why the heck not, Timothy Leary, lol.”

Qworty went on to say that my entry was “...not the first time a self-appointed spiritual savior has promoted himself on Wikipedia, nor the first time we've been abused by the followers of such a person.” 

Wow, well I certainly had no idea that I was a “spiritual savior” with “followers,” or that anyone ever thought of me as such.

I thought that I was a science writer and researcher, with basically good standing, and I honestly haven’t the slightest idea how this self-appointed editor came up with these strange allegations from my entry.

Nonetheless, despite the ludicrous nature of these accusations, because my entry did need some editing to meet Wikipedia’s standards, and because I had edited it myself, Qworty was successful in his relentless attacks, and he managed to have my entry deleted from the online encyclopedia under the guise that my work wasn’t “notable” enough to be included.

I couldn’t help but feel like the attack was personally motivated.

I mean, without bragging, the body of work that I’ve produced--12 popular, well-reviewed books, valuable, cited scientific research, and numerous literary awards--is certainly “notable” enough to meet Wikipedia’s standards for inclusion.

It seemed like Qworty just didn’t like my work, and I soon learned that I wasn’t the only one who appeared to be unfairly targeted on Wikipedia.

An article by Christine Kraemer on patheos.com--that appeared November 20, 2012--entitled “Wikipedia vs. Pagans” discussed how numerous notable leaders in the pagan community had entries on Wikipedia that had been marked for deletion. 

Then, more recently, there was the scandal about Wikipedia editors removing female authors from its “American Novelists” page. 

On April 24th novelist Amanda Filipacchi reported in a New York Times op-ed piece that women’s names were disappearing from the “American Novelists” page. 

According to Filipacchi, “It appears that gradually, over time, editors have begun the process of moving women, one by one, alphabetically, from the “American Novelists” category to the “American Women Novelists” subcategory.”

After having my own unpleasant  experience with Wikipidea, and learning all this, I was, therefore, quite interested to read journalist Andrew Leonard’s recent (May 17th) article on Salon.com about “The unmasking of a writer who took extraordinary advantage of online anonymity to pursue old vendettas.”

Thanks to Leonard’s thorough detective work, he uncovered “Qworty,” the disguised Wikipedia editor, as writer Robert Clark Young, and Leonard found a whole string of editorial abuses attached to his actions. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person that Young didn’t like.

Young is said to have made a series of biased edits to the Wikipedia page for the late Southern writer Barry Hannah, and to have initially denied that he was “Qworty” to Leonard--only to later publicly admit to the Wikipedia edits that he performed under this identity.

According to Leonard, Young “has also been at the center of scores of disputes over the years. He has even come to the angry attention of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on at least three separate occasions.”

Most ironic of all, Young--who attacked me and others for editing my own Wikipedia page--anonymously performed his first action as a Wikipedia editor, on March 10, 2007, archiving the Talk page devoted to his own Wikipedia page.

In other words, it appears that Young has been editing his own Wikipedia entry for years!

What could possibly motivate someone to viciously attack other people for doing exactly what they themselves are doing? 

This is truly an aspect of human psychology that totally baffles me, as I’ve always thought that creative collaboration was so much more fruitful than petty competition.

After reading Leonard’s article, and looking at Robert Clark Young’s actual Wikipedia page, I was astonished to see that Young appeared to be guilty of the very violation that he accused me of--editing his own Wikipedia page in a self-promotional manner. 

To add further irony to this hard-to-believe story, according to Young’s own words about what qualifies a person to be included in Wikipedia, it appears that Young's entry didn’t actually meet Wikipedia’s qualifications for “notability”-- that is, until now!

According to Young, “Just being a published author does not confer notability per Wikipedia standards;” and his books have received no notable reviews that I could find. 

However, Young is actually now notable, according to Wikipedia’s qualifications--for his biased editing, his corruption of Wikipedia, and his gross misuse of editorial power.

UPDATE: See Andrew Leonard's new article on Salon.com--"Wikipedia's anti-pagan crusade: A rogue editor targeted witches, warlocks and psychedelic scientists -- and cast doubt on the sites's judgment."

To read Andrew Leonard’s article “Revenge, ego and the corruption of Wikipedia” see: http://www.dev22.salon.com/2013/05/17/revenge_ego_and_the_corruption_of_wikipedia/

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Please share any thoughts that you may have about biased editing and the corruption of Wikipedia.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

W C Casey May 23, 2013 at 11:15 AM
As a moderately active editor for about four years, I have seen many of the Wikipedia abuses described here. Although "corruption" is perhaps too strong a word, There is certainly a lot of abuse and vandalism by irresponsible editors. Others do they best they can to catch and correct those thousands of misdeeds every day. Anyone can help - conscientious and responsible editors needed and always welcome!


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