Wikipedia on the Edge
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|Martin Barillas||April 19th 2010|
Cutting Edge senior correspondent
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia created by anonymous editors, has reacted to disclosures in The Cutting Edge News that three of its editors were jointly seeking to water down or delete the history of IBMâ€™s involvement in the Holocaust. One editor has been banned and a second has been openly challenged for being â€œannoyingâ€ and revising an entry on IBM despite the open appearance of pushing a personal â€œpoint of view.â€
A group of mainly anonymous administrators has â€œindefinitely blockedâ€ the combative contributor operating under the moniker â€œFred the Oysterâ€ from further contributions after an investigation concluded that he was the same individual as one previously banned for uncivil and threatening activity. â€œFred the Oysterâ€ was one of three Wikipedians, openly bolstered by an IBM archival official who offered to be â€œhelpful,â€ that took the lead in revising IBMâ€™s history page as well as the article devoted to the book IBM and the Holocaust authored by Edwin Black.
The word â€œHolocaustâ€ was completely erased from the IBM entry as was the name of the book. Numerous attempts were made to insert IBMâ€™s 2001 press release as the sole statement on the subject.
â€œFred the Oysterâ€ was â€œindefinitely blockedâ€ by the adminstrators, which means his IP address is refused admission to Wikipedia edit pages. The block occured after Black openly objected to the Wikipedia article devoted to his biography being marked with two prominent labels: â€œAmerican Jewâ€ and â€œWeasel.â€ To that, â€œFred the Oysterâ€ responded on a public Discussion Page, â€œI wonder what colour an American Jewish weasel is, and are they similar to a circumcised ferret?â€
Wikipedia administrators who police such remarks took a closer look at â€œFred the Oysterâ€™s track record.â€ They decided that the remark crossed the line. More than that, they compared his history of postings with that of another previously offensive, banned editor contributing under the pseudonym â€œWebhamster.â€
Webhamster had been blocked earlier in the face of complaints of â€œblackmailâ€ and â€œa long track record of... letâ€™s just say incivility.â€ The earlier consensus among adminstrators late last year, as one phrased it, was to: â€œEternally remove WebHamster from Wikipedia.â€ The indefinite ban cited â€œhis long, dark history of incivility, warnings, blocks, and the rest.â€ However, numerous blocked contributors at Wikipedia routinely adopt a substitute anonymous identity, sometimes called a â€œsockpuppetâ€ and use a different IP address. They then continue to push and and even endorse their prior conduct. Such â€œsockpuppetryâ€ is rampant on Wikipedia, which is known for thousands of text reversion wars, disputes, and editorial conflicts. When these co-called â€œsockpuppetsâ€ are discovered through careful analysis of IP addresses and contribution history, the new identity is also blocked. Under this policy, â€œFred the Oysterâ€ was exposed as the â€œreincarnationâ€ of â€œWebhamsterâ€ and indefinitely blocked from further posting on Wikipedia.
â€œBlaxthosâ€ was next to receive a review. Shortly after â€œFred the Oysterâ€ was exposed and blocked, Wikipedians took a hard look at the editor operating under the name â€œBlaxthos.â€ The charge to revise the entries regarding IBMâ€™s role in the Holocaust was led by the user known as â€œBlaxthos,â€ who compared the notion to â€œa fringe,â€ with the word â€œfringeâ€ hyperlinked to a picture of the man in the moon. After â€œBlaxthosâ€ continually rejected substantiating information from other editors, another editor openly challenged him for what Wikipedia terms â€œCivil POV Pushing,â€ that is, pushing a â€œpoint of viewâ€ even though not crossing the line of abusive conduct. Under Wikipediaâ€™s group-enforced strictures, editors must not push their own personal agendas. An Australian editor now living in Switzerland posted this notice: â€œBlaxthos obviously has a very strong POV [Point of View] and a lot of their behaviour (carrying on about reliability of sources etc.) appears to be well characterised as â€˜WP:Civil POV pushingâ€™ (which is both intensely annoying and very difficult to deal with). Remember, this is not about the book; the â€˜factsâ€™ are undisputed (even by IBM).â€
â€œBlaxthosâ€ has a history of involvement in Wikipedia conflicts which have escalated to the administrative review level. This latest challenge, accusing â€œBlaxthosâ€ of â€œannoyingâ€ POV pushing was linked to a page of official explanations. That official page explained the problem and the conduct in detail:
â€œWikipedia, and specifically the dispute resolution process, has a difficult time dealing with civil POV pushers. These are editors who are superficially polite while exhibiting some or all of the following behaviors:
- They often edit primarily or entirely on one topic or theme.
- They attempt to water down language, unreasonably exclude, marginalize or push views beyond the requirements of WP:NPOV, or give undue weight to fringe theories ...
- They revert war [incessantly revert revisions] over such edits.
- They frivolously request citations for obvious or well known information.
- They argue endlessly about the neutral-point-of-view policy and particularly try to undermine the undue weight clause. They try to add information that is (at best) peripherally relevant on the grounds that â€˜it is verifiable, so it should be in.â€™
- They argue for the inclusion of material of dubious reliability; for example, using commentary from partisan think tanks rather than from the scientific literature.
- They may use sockpuppets ...
- They hang around forever wearing down more serious editors and become expert in an odd kind of way on their niche POV.
- They often make a series of silly and time wasting requests for comment, mediation or arbitration again to try to wear down the serious editors ...
â€œThe problem is compounded because it often takes the form of long-term behavior that cannot accurately be summarized in a few diffs [visible revision comparisons]. As such, the committee has difficulty dealing with â€˜civilâ€™ POV pushersâ€”editors who repeatedly disregard Wikipedia's content policies but are civil, or not-quite-uncivil-enough to merit sanctions ... These users are generally very knowledgeable about the subject and committed to Wikipediaâ€™s policies on sourcing and appropriate weight. Unfortunately, they tend to burn out. Usually they burn out in one of two ways:
- The impatient ones tend to become angry as a result of the seemingly never-ending problems these articles cause, become uncivil, and be sanctioned by the arbcom for incivility.
- The patient ones tend to go more quietly. They become disillusioned by the never-ending problems and the lack of support from the Wikipedia community, and stop editing on these topics or quit the site entirely.â€
The Wikipedia explanation page concluded that such objectionable conduct creates â€œan untenable situation.â€
Wikipedia's challenge to â€œBlaxthosâ€ for pushing a point of view on the IBM history entry came after related complaints that he was attempting to subtly change the article title on â€œIBM and the Holocaustâ€ to â€œIBM and the Holocaust (book),â€ claiming the parenthetical in the article name was necessary to avoid misleading readers into thinking the book was actually about IBM's role in the Holocaust. In truth, the book is completely to that topic, but "Blaxthos" argued otherwise. A concensus of anonymous editors rejected his thinking and arguments. By custom, all Wikipedia articles about books retain the original title of the book without comment or modification, a group of editors independently insisted. After a vigrous online debate featuring tenacious objections by â€œBlaxthos,â€ the original article name for the book IBM and the Holocaust was restored. Reports suggest that the article is now being slowly restored to its original factual character. As of this writing, the original accurate Synopsis was removed.
At press time, â€œBlaxthosâ€™sâ€ edits regarding the Holocaust on the â€œIBM Historyâ€ page were also being challenged on the basis of a â€œconflict of interest.â€
What's more, several posters have asserted as one did that the â€œâ€˜factsâ€™ are undisputed (even by IBM).â€ At press time, in the fast moving, minute-to-minute world of Wikipedia, editors have suggested new phrasing which in part reads, â€œIBMâ€™s punch card machines were used by Germany to keep track of people who were to be subjected to the Holocaust. Only after Jews were identifiedâ€”a massive and complex task that Hitler wanted done immediatelyâ€”could they be targeted for efficient asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, enslaved labor and, ultimately, annihilation. It was a cross-tabulation and organizational challenge so monumental, it called for a computer. Of course, in the 1930s, no computer existed. But IBMâ€™s Hollerith punch card technology did exist. IBM and its German subsidiary custom-designed complex solutions, one by one, anticipating the Reich's needs. They did not merely sell the machines and walk away. Instead, IBM leased these machines for high fees and became the sole source of the billions of punch cards Hitler needed.â€
The Dutch user known as â€œAndries,â€ originally one of the main advocates of inserting an IBM press release and deleting the word â€œHolocaust,â€ revised his view and has now commented, â€œI think your proposed text is quite okay.â€
Black himself remarked, â€œHolocaust history has been partially vindicated for the moment, perhaps a brief moment. But it would be better if all the players, from â€˜Blaxthosâ€™ on, would be obligated to study up on a topic before they try to rewrite history, especially Holocaust history.â€
Martin Barillas is senior correspondent for the Cutting Edge News.