January 28, 2007
MarkBernstein.org
 
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WikiPolicing

A further problem raised by the wiki biography controversy is the construction of the wiki police force. Wikipedia, like other wikis, confronts a constant stream of spam and vandalism. To repair the damage, Wikipedia relies on a corps of dedicated, and mostly-anonymous volunteers.

That’s a problem. Volunteer police forces are proverbially dangerous. Police forces in which officers are protected by anonymous pseudonyms are equally proverbial. In the guise of enforcing the rules, all sorts of scores may be settled and vendettas waged. It’s very difficult for anyone to distinguish a legitimate rule enforcement from capricious score-settling or from trolling.

Wikipedia tries to ameliorate the situation by rewarding frequent editors. That discourages the casual troublemaker, but encourages the dedicated nutcase, the busybody, and the Grundy. Someone who has made 30,000 wikipedia edits might be a world-class scholar and font of wisdom, but they might equally be a sad, lonely little local tyrant whose days would otherwise be empty.

The first, obvious step is accountability. For starters, a real name. At some point, we are going to need more: a domain, and address, and a footprint on the Web so we can see clearly who the police are and what they are doing.

A further step is to require that rule enforcement actions need to be taken by people who are demonstrably disinterested in the dispute. If you dislike A. B.. Clump for some reason, you can try to add critical comments to his page or attempt to delete his accomplishments. But if you have done or advocated either of these things, you should not be involved in deciding whether Clump’s page is NPOV or or AUTO or should be deleted.