May 29, 2009 | 2:39 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
The success of Wikipedia—the wild success—has been based on the premise that every individual can add a little or a lot to the overall body of knowledge on any given subject. More popular topics typically have longer Wikipedia entries because they have more individuals editing the page. It also has resulted in some of those interminably controversial topics being listed as disputed. See: Israel-Palestine conflict.
Considering the online battle between Scientology and Anonymous et al, it’s surprising that the neutrality of pages for Scientology and Church of Scientology are not disputed. But editors using Scientology IP addresses have apparently been abusing the crowd-sourcing encyclopedia, and, according to The Register, Wikipedia has banned all church-owned and -operated IPs.
According to evidence turned up by admins in this long-running Wikiland court case, multiple editors have been “openly editing [Scientology-related articles] from Church of Scientology equipment and apparently coordinating their activities.” Leaning on the famed WikiScanner, countless news stories have discussed the editing of Scientology articles from Scientology IPs, and some site admins are concerned this is “damaging Wikipedia’s reputation for neutrality.”
One admin tells The Reg that policing edits from Scientology machines has been particularly difficult because myriad editors sit behind a small number of IPs and, for some reason, the address of each editor is constantly changing. This prevents admins from determining whether a single editor is using multiple Wikipedia accounts to game the system. In Wikiland, such sockpuppeting is not allowed.
The Wikicourt considered banning edits from Scientology IPs only on Scientology-related articles. But this would require admins to “checkuser” editors - i.e. determine their IP - every time an edit is made. And even then they may not know who’s who.
“Our alternatives are to block them entirely, or checkuser every ‘pro-Scientology’ editor on this topic. I find the latter unacceptable,” wrote one ArbComer. “It is quite broad, but it seems that they’re funneling a lot of editing traffic through a few IPs, which make socks impossible to track.”
And it may be a moot point. Most the editors in question edit nothing but Scientology-related articles. In Wikiparlance, they’re “single purpose accounts.”
Some have argued that those editing from Scientology IPs may be doing so without instruction from the Church hierarchy. But a former member of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs - a department officially responsible “for directing and coordinating all legal matters affecting the Church” - says the Office has organized massive efforts to remove Scientology-related materials and criticism from the web.
“The guys I worked with posted every day all day,” Tory Christman tells The Reg. “It was like a machine. I worked with someone who used five separate computers, five separate anonymous identities…to refute any facts from the internet about the Church of Scientology.”
Christman left the Church in 2000, before Wikipedia was created.
(Hat tip: Sean Bonner)
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