The WikiScanner: Mining underneath the Wikipedia’s layer of anonymity
August 19th, 2007

Wikipedia has been around for some time now, growing the number and the length of its articles like microorganisms in a Petri dish, powered by anonymous contributors. But how anonymous are they and how well intentioned each of them? How reliable is the information added and is it secured from being deleted or distorted? These questions are far from being news. They were addressed since 2005, when Congressmen or the e-voting machine-vendor Diebold were in the center of attention for modifying Wiki-content in their advantage. That was when people became aware of the vulnerability present in Wikipedia.

As Wired informs us, Virgil Griffith was among those concerned people at the time. Or, rather said, he got curious about it. He is a young student, presently attending Computation and Neural Systems courses at Caltech and who also describes himself as a “mad scientist and a disruptive technologist” with an appetite for creating “minor public relations disasters for companies and organizations” he dislikes. Even since back in 2005, he had the idea of a WikiScanner who could see further into the wikipedian edits, but academic work stopped him from bringing it to life. Until a few weeks ago, when he started programming it. In his template self-made interview for the press people, he mentions his motivations and describes his exploring journey towards the WikiScanner, adding along a few observations of his own about Wikipedia and his WikiScanner, like how it works by cross-referencing the edits with data on who owns the associated block of internet IP addresses.

Among other interesting things, he says that Wikipedia can be considered reliable on neutral topics, but surely not when it comes to controversial topics, where misinformation can be applied by interested parties under the layer of anonymity. Without mentioning names in order to avoid lawsuits, he gives a few generic examples of vandalism and disinformation to be found in Wikipedia: (1) ” Wholesale removal of entire paragraphs of critical information. (common for both political figures and corporations)”; (2) “White-washing — replacing negative/neutral adjectives with positive adjectives that mean something similar. (common for political figures)”; (3) “Adding negative information to a competitor’s page. (common for corporations).”

People can use WikiScanner on their own, depending on their specific interest and compare results, as Wired already did. Virgil says he could adapt WikiScanner for the various languages in Wikipedia.

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