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Vandalism on Wikipedia

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On Wikipedia, vandalism is the act of editing the project in a malicious manner that is intentionally disruptive Vandalism includes the addition, removal, or other modification of the text or other material that is either humorous, nonsensical, a hoax, or that is of an offensive, humiliating, or otherwise degrading nature

Throughout its history, Wikipedia has struggled to maintain a balance between allowing the freedom of open editing and protecting the truth and accuracy of its information when false information can be potentially damaging to its subjects Vandalism is easy to commit on Wikipedia because anyone can edit the site, with the exception of articles that are currently semi-protected, which means that new and unregistered users cannot edit them

Vandalism can be committed by either guest editors or those with registered accounts; however, a semi-protected or protected page can only be edited by autoconfirmed or confirmed Wikipedia editors, or administrators, respectively Frequent targets of vandalism include articles on hot and controversial topics, famous celebrities and current events In some cases, people have been falsely reported as having died This has notably occurred to United States Senators Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd both of whom are now deceased, and American rapper Kanye West who is alive

The challenge from vandalism in Wikipedia was once characterized by the former Encyclopædia Britannica editor-in-chief Robert McHenry: "The user who visits Wikipedia is rather in the position of a visitor to a public restroom It may be obviously dirty, so that he knows to exercise great care, or it may seem fairly clean, so that he may be lulled into a false sense of security What he certainly does not know is who has used the facilities before him"


  • 1 Fighting vandalism
  • 2 Notable acts of vandalism
    • 21 Seigenthaler incident
    • 22 Stephen Colbert
    • 23 Hillsborough disaster vandalism
    • 24 Other notable acts of vandalism
  • 3 See also
  • 4 References

Fighting vandalism

Padlocks of different colors are placed on top right of pages to indicate levels of protection From left to right: semi-protection, move protection, and full protection

There are various measures taken by Wikipedia to prevent or reduce the amount of vandalism These include:

  • Using Wikipedia's history functionality, which retains all prior versions of an article, to restore the article to the last version before the vandalism occurred; this is called reverting vandalism The majority of vandalism on Wikipedia is reverted quickly There are various ways in which the vandalism gets detected so it can be reverted:
    • Bots: In many cases, the vandalism is automatically detected and reverted by a bot The vandal is always warned with no human intervention
    • Recent changes patrol: Wikipedia has a special page that lists all the most recent changes Some editors will monitor these changes for possible vandalism
    • Watchlists: Any registered user can watch a page that they have created or edited or that they otherwise have an interest in This functionality also enables users to monitor a page for vandalism
    • Incidental discovery: Any reader who comes across vandalism by chance can revert it In 2008 it was reported that the rarity of such incidental discovery indicated the efficacy of the other methods of vandalism removal
  • Locking articles so only established users, or in some cases only administrators, can edit them Semi-protected articles are those that can only be edited by those with an account that is considered to be autoconfirmed – an account that is at least 4 days old with at least 10 edits, for most accounts Fully protected articles are those that can only be edited by administrators Protection is generally instituted after one or more editors makes a request on a special page for that purpose, and an administrator familiar with the protection guidelines chooses whether or not to fulfill this request based on the guidelines
  • Blocking and banning those who have repeatedly committed acts of vandalism from editing for a period of time or in some cases, indefinitely Vandals are not blocked as an act of punishment – the purpose of the block is simply to prevent further damage
  • The "abuse filter" extension, which uses regular expressions to detect common vandalism terms

Editors are generally warned prior to being blocked Wikipedia employs a 4-stage warning process up to a block This includes:

  1. The first warning assumes good faith and takes a relaxed approach on the user
  2. The second warning does not assume any faith and is an actual warning in some cases, this level can be skipped if the editor assumes the user is acting in bad faith
  3. The third warning assumes bad faith and is the first to warn the user that continued vandalism may result in a block
  4. The fourth warning is a final warning, stating that any future acts of vandalism will result in a block
  5. After this, other users may place additional warnings, though only administrators can actually carry out the block

In 2005, Wikipedia started to require those who create new articles to have a registered account in an effort to fight vandalism This occurred after inaccurate information was added to Wikipedia in which a journalist was accused of taking part in Kennedy's assassination

Wikipedia has experimented with systems in which edits to some articles, especially those of living people, are delayed until it can be reviewed and determined that they are not vandalism, and in some cases, that a source to verify accuracy is provided This is in an effort to prevent inaccurate and potentially damaging information about living people from appearing on the site

Screenshot of the vandalism-reports-page on the English Wikipedia as of December 2013

Notable acts of vandalism

Seigenthaler incident

Main article: Wikipedia Seigenthaler biography incident John Seigenthaler, who in 2005 criticized Wikipedia

In May 2005, a user edited the biographical article about John Seigenthaler, Sr so that it contained several false and defamatory statements The inaccurate claims went unnoticed between May and September 2005, when they were discovered by Victor S Johnson, Jr, a friend of Seigenthaler Wikipedia content is often mirrored at sites such as Answerscom, which means that incorrect information can be replicated alongside correct information through a number of websites Such information can develop a misleading air of authority because of its presence at such sites:

Then son discovered that his father's hoax biography also appeared on two other sites, Referencecom and Answerscom, which took direct feeds from Wikipedia It was out there for four months before Seigenthaler realized and got the Wikipedia entry replaced with a more reliable account The lies remained for another three weeks on the mirror sites downstream

Stephen Colbert

See also: Wikipedia references on The Colbert Report

Comedian Stephen Colbert has made repeated references to Wikipedia on his TV show The Colbert Report, frequently suggesting on air that his viewers vandalize selected pages These instances include the following:

  • On a 2006 episode of his show, Colbert suggested viewers vandalize the article "Elephant" This resulted in an account named "Stephencolbert" being blocked from editing, as well as many elephant-related articles being protected
  • On 7 August 2012, Colbert suggested that his viewers go to pages for possible 2012 US Republican vice presidential candidates, such as the Tim Pawlenty and Rob Portman articles, and edit them many times This was in response to a Fox News hypothesis that mass editing of the Sarah Palin page the day before she was announced as John McCain's running mate could help predict who would be chosen as Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 election After Colbert's request and his viewers' subsequent actions, all these articles were put under semi-protection by Wikipedia administrators, with editing restricted to established users

When Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales appeared as a guest on 24 May 2007 episode of The Colbert Report, they discussed Colbert-related vandalism Wales later said on the show that he may have to lock down the entire Spanish-language Wikipedia for a few days after Colbert commented that perhaps it should learn English

Hillsborough disaster vandalism

Main article: Hillsborough Wikipedia posts

In April 2014, the Liverpool Echo reported that computers on an intranet used by the United Kingdom government had been used to post offensive remarks about the Hillsborough disaster on Wikipedia pages relating to the subject The government announced that it would launch an inquiry into the reports Following the allegations, The Daily Telegraph subsequently reported that government computers appeared to have been used to make rogue edits to a number of other articles, often adding insulting remarks to biographical articles, and in one case reporting the false death of an individual

Other notable acts of vandalism

  • In 2006, Rolling Stone printed a story about Halle Berry based on false information from Wikipedia, which had arisen from an act of Wikipedia vandalism
  • A person from Łódź was attacking Polish Wikipedia throughout 2006 and early 2007, inserting profanity and pictures of penises and anuses into pages especially ones related to Catholicism or Polish politicians, without any reaction from his internet provider, Neostrada The vandal's activity finished when he was deprived of his internet connection, but not before the entire city of Łódź had to be blocked from editing Wikipedia for three days
  • Professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller sued a Miami company whose IP-based edits to the Wikipedia site included negative information about him
  • In May 2012, media critic Anita Sarkeesian created a Kickstarter project, intending to raise money to make a series of videos exploring sexism in digital gaming culture The idea evoked a hostile response, which included repeated vandalism of Sarkeesian's Wikipedia article with pornographic imagery, defamatory statements, and threats of sexual violence More than 12 anonymous editors contributed to the ongoing vandalism campaign before editing privileges were revoked for the page
  • In November 2012, the Leveson report—published in the UK by Lord Justice Leveson—incorrectly listed a "Brett Straub" as one of the founders of The Independent newspaper The name originated from one of several erroneous edits by one of Straub's friends as a prank to Wikipedia by falsely including his name in several articles across the site The name's inclusion in the report suggested that that part of the report relating to that newspaper had been cut and pasted from Wikipedia without a proper check of the sources The Straub issue was also humorously referenced in broadcasts of BBC entertainment current affairs TV programme Have I Got News for You and extended edition Have I Got a Bit More News for You, with The Economist also making passing comment on the issue: "The Leveson reportParts of it are a scissors-and-paste job culled from Wikipedia"
  • In April 2015, The Washington Post reported on an experiment by "Gregory Kohs, a former editor and prominent Wikipedia critic": "Kohs wrapped up an experiment in which he inserted outlandish errors into 31 articles and tracked whether editors ever found them After more than two months, half of his hoaxes still had not been found—and those included errors on high-profile pages, like "Mediterranean climate" and "inflammation" By his estimate, more than 100,000 people have now seen the claim that volcanic rock produced by the human body causes inflammation pain"
  • In July 2015, Donald Trump's entire Wikipedia page was replaced with one sentence: "Let's be fair, nobody cares about him"
  • In August 2016, a sentence was added to Chad le Clos's Wikipedia page saying that he "Died at the hands of Michael Phelps, being literally blow out of the water by the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln" after Phelps won the gold medal for 200 meter butterfly in the 2016 Summer Olympics This instance of Wikipedia vandalism attracted moderate media attention
  • In September 2016, following Hillary Clinton's "medical episode" at the 9/11 memorial, she was added to the cast on the Weekend at Bernie's Wikipedia page
  • In October 2016, both Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton's Wikipedia pages were vandalized and pornographic images added to their articles
  • In October 2016 New York Assembly candidate Jim Tedisco's Wikipedia page was modified to say that he had "never been part of the majority," and "is considered by many to be a total failure" Tedisco expressed dismay at the changes to his page

See also

  • Internet portal
  • Reliability of Wikipedia


  1. ^ "Wikipedia testing new method to curb false info" CSMonitorcom Retrieved 2012-06-07 
  2. ^ a b "Wikipedia tightens editorial rules after complaint – 06 December 2005" New Scientist Retrieved 2012-06-07 
  3. ^ a b "Wikipedia tightens online rules" BBC News 6 December 2005 
  4. ^ a b c d Kleeman, Jenny 2 April 2007 "Wikipedia fights vandalism" New Zealand Herald 
  5. ^ Martin, Lorna 18 June 2006 "Wikipedia fights off cyber vandals" The Guardian London 
  6. ^ "Vandals prompt Wikipedia to ponder editing changes" ABC News 28 January 2009 Retrieved 26 November 2011 
  7. ^ "Caslon Analytics: wiki and wikipedia" Caslon Analytics Archived from the original on 23 April 2013 Retrieved 13 July 2010 
  8. ^ Robert McHenry 15 November 2004 "The Faith-Based Encyclopedia" TCS Daily Retrieved 10 September 2009 
  9. ^ Hicks, Jesse "This machine kills trolls" The Verge Retrieved 18 February 2014 
  10. ^ a b c Broughton, John 2008 Wikipedia: the missing manual p 122 ISBN 0-596-51516-2 
  11. ^ Broughton, John 2008 Wikipedia: the missing manual p 134 ISBN 0-596-51516-2 
  12. ^ Wikipedia:Abuse filter
  13. ^ Broughton, John 2008 Wikipedia: the missing manual pp 130–31 ISBN 0-596-51516-2 
  14. ^ Wikipedia:WikiProject user warnings/Usage and layout#Levels
  15. ^ "Wikipedia Tests Approval System to Reduce Page Vandalism" Maximum PC 19 July 2008 Retrieved 2012-06-07 
  16. ^ "Wikipedia plans to enforce new editing policy to thwart vandals – eBrandz Search Marketing & Technology News" Newsebrandzcom 27 August 2009 Retrieved 2012-06-07 
  17. ^ John Seigenthaler 2005-11-29 "A false Wikipedia "biography"" USA Today 
  18. ^ "Mistakes and hoaxes on-line" Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2006-04-15 Retrieved 2007-04-28 
  19. ^ "Did Colbert hack Wikipedia – VIDEO" Tvsquadcom Archived from the original on 19 January 2011 Retrieved 2012-06-07 
  20. ^ "Stephen Colbert's Wikipedia Vice Presidential Scheme Short Circuited" The Hollywood Reporter 8 August 2012 Retrieved 2012-08-08 
  21. ^ "Jimmy Wales" Comedy Central 24 May 2007 Archived from the original on 10 May 2008 Retrieved 2008-09-02 
  22. ^ "Hillsborough Wikipedia posts were 'sickening', Cabinet Office says" BBC News BBC 25 April 2014 Retrieved 25 April 2014 
  23. ^ Duggan, Oliver 27 April 2014 "Des Lynam 'killed by a giant snowball' and other embarrassing Wikipedia edits from Whitehall computers" The Daily Telegraph Telegraph Media Group Retrieved 4 May 2014 
  24. ^ "Rolling Stone prints story based on Wikipedia vandalism – Wikinews, the free news source" Enwikinewsorg Retrieved 2012-06-07 
  25. ^ "2007-04-19: Wikipedia blokuje anonimowe edycje z łódzkiej Neostrady – Wikinews, wolne źródło informacji" in Polish Plwikinewsorg Retrieved 2012-06-07 
  26. ^ Cheung, Humphrey 26 February 2007 "Pro golfer sues over Wikipedia vandalism" Tom's Hardware 
  27. ^ Carlen Lavigne 24 January 2013 Cyberpunk Women, Feminism and Science Fiction: A Critical Study McFarland p 184 ISBN 978-0-7864-6653-5 Retrieved 20 April 2013 
  28. ^ a b Helen Lewis 12 June 2012 "Dear The Internet, This Is Why You Can't Have Anything Nice" New Statesman Retrieved 20 April 2013 
  29. ^ Andrea Weckerle 13 February 2013 Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies and Other Jerks Que Publishing p 33 ISBN 978-0-13-313498-8 Retrieved 20 April 2013 
  30. ^ Allen, Nick 5 December 2012 "Wikipedia, the 25–year–old student and the prank that fooled Leveson" The Daily Telegraph Telegraph Media Group Retrieved 8 December 2012 
  31. ^ Andy McSmith 30 November 2012 "Leveson's Wikipedia moment: how internet 'research' on The Independent's history left him red-faced" The Independent 
  32. ^ "Have I Got News for You series 44, episode 8 TV programme" BBC 7 December 2012 Retrieved 12 December 2012 
  33. ^ "Have I Got News for You: Series 44, Episode 8 Leveson clip" BBC 7 December 2012 Retrieved 12 December 2012 
  34. ^ "Hacked to pieces" The Economist 8 December 2012 Retrieved 8 December 2012 
  35. ^ Caitlin Dewey April 15, 2015 "The story behind Jar'Edo Wens, the longest-running hoax in Wikipedia history" The Washington Post Retrieved October 19, 2016 
  36. ^ Ben Popper 22 July 2015 "Someone just deleted Donald Trump's entire Wikipedia page" The Verge Vox Media
  37. ^ "All The Content On Donald Trump's Wikipedia Page Was Just Deleted" TPM
  38. ^ Andrea Peterson 22 July 2015 "Donald Trump’s Wikipedia page was deleted today Twice" Washington Post
  39. ^ "Somebody trolled Chad Le Clos with the greatest Wikipedia page edit ever" 2016-08-10 Retrieved 2016-08-12 
  40. ^ "Chad le Clos' Wikipedia Page Edited to Say Phelps Killed Him" Retrieved 2016-08-12 
  41. ^ Girdusky, Ryan September 13, 2016 "Hillary Clinton added to the 'Weekend at Bernie's' credits" Red Alert Politics Retrieved September 21, 2016 
  42. ^ O'Connor, Brendan October 13, 2016 "Clinton Wiki pages vandalized" Jezebel 
  43. ^ "Assemblyman Tedisco's Wikipedia vandalized" 

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