© RomeViharo.comRome Viharo

According to a tiny handful of Wikipedia editors and admins, I'm the engineer of a vast and co-ordinated global social media experiment for creating conflict. I'm a 'fringe' promoter, a conspiracy theorist, a charlatan for 'pseudoscience' and hold 'views' outside the mainstream. I'm also a well known internet troll with an anti-social personality disorder and am borderline autistic, a ringleader for countless sockpuppets and in bed with PR agencies as well as just being plain old incompetent. According to them, as colorful as such a description it is, I'm just that sort of 'peculiar person'. This description of me was then used to get admins on Wikipedia to ban me indefinitely from the platform in addition to further off Wikipedia site harassment.

I'm not that interesting of a person to get this much scrutiny. I am a casualty of a 'wiki' war. The article I was editing is not even something controversial, it was not an article about Israel/Palestine, Islam, Jesus or JFK conspiracy theories. I was simply editing a biography of a living person - a notable individual who has as many detractors as he does supporters.

If this reads to you like another case of online harassment, it is. If you think that Wikipedia must have clear policies and guidelines against this sort of thing - they do. If you think admins should guard and protect against this from happening - they didn't.

Please don't think however that I take this as a victim or just a disgruntled editor who lost his voice. I'm not.

I'm a huge supporter of collective editing platforms and the usefulness of their utility and a developer of a collective editing platform myself. Harassment and bullying may be a disruptive annoyance on Facebook or discussion forums, but in an online collaborative environment its poisonous to consensus building.

Since my own sanction in Oct of 2013, other editors who have joined the article have been threatened with similar treatment and banned. It's still happening, other admins are literally threatening recently banned editors that if they do not go quietly from Wikipedia, they may find similar 'media attention' as other problem editors, i.e. yours truly.

Activist editors game Wikipedia, a case study

This entire case study is a detailed summary with evidence provided in links which shows how Wikipedia's own guidelines, notice boards and committees are gamed by activist editors. It shows how personal attacks are leveraged by experienced editors and admins. It is suggested by this study that this may be a symptom of an increasingly shrinking and increasingly insular community who may be blind to its own toxicity to its core principle of neutrality.

Other points of view on the issue

This happens more than you think, as this recent discussion on Reddit reveals. Its turning away countless new editors and is responsible for more leaving. Sophisticated studies are showing that Wikipedia is in decline. 'Polluted' editor culture is often mentioned.

In case you think I'm driven by my own bias in writing this, see how neutral editors with no opinions on the topic note the same.

We simply can't have bullying influence articles on Wikipedia

I write this account both for selfish and unselfish reasons. My selfish reasons are to clear my name online and the attack on my reputation that was waged on me from editing on Wikipedia.

The unselfish reason is that this is simply 'wrong', both morally, ethically, and yes perhaps even legally. That Wikipedia is turning a blind eye to its own internal online harassment is troubling and I believe a genuine and reasonable concern. What happens when the largest repository of knowledge becomes run amok with bands of activist editors who have bullied their way to the top of the food chain?

This case study shows this happening in one particular instance. It is the hope that seeing how this can happen in one instance may prevent it happening in another. I believe this study may be unique because the evidence shows where the flaws are in Wikipedia's own internal process.

Admittedly, I may appear to bring a 'idealistic enthusiasm' to this project, but if I do I do so without apologies.

As a big supporter of collective editing platforms, even a developer of one myself, I believe we must not allow online bullying and harassment to 'work' on any consensus building platform, much less the worlds largest website and repository of knowledge.

Even Google and Apple assume the credibility of Wikipedia's meta data and distribute it directly to their users, regardless if its corrupted meta data gamed by agitated editors.

So while my case study is about me - the problem on Wikipedia is not. And that is what my case study addresses.

A Biography of a Living Person poses a unique problem

This happened on a very well known and contentious article on Wikipedia about biologist Rupert Sheldrake and a 'bona fide' wiki war occurring there long before my arrival. This wiki war has captured the attention of the BBC, Forbes, The New Republic, The Huffington Post and a microsphere of bloggers, with mainstream skeptics like Jerry Coyne and Sheldrake supporters such as Deepak Chopra escalating the wiki war to the mainstream.

I was surprised to find detractors of a notable living person controlling his biography on Wikipedia

To me it did not seem appropriate that vocal detractors of a living biography would be allowed to control his Wikipedia article. It was as if members of the Tea Party would be allowed to control the biography of Barak Obama, or if the biography of George Bush was controlled by the editorial staff at the Huffington Post. Regardless of the ideologies or beliefs, that's clearly not an environment that would produce a neutral point of view nor is it in line with the principles of Wikipedia.

I was just one of a handful of outside editors or bystanders that came in to help. Speaking for pretty much most of the other editors on the page, we just wanted the article to be more neutral.

I took this challenge of getting the page towards a more keen neutrality pretty seriously too. I spent weeks doing research into Wikipedia guidelines and even hired an experienced Wikipedian as a consultant to make sure my participation was in tune with Wikipedia's rules. This is partially why this whole experience was so surreal to me. I made such an effort to operate with integrity to Wikipedia's principles. I was shocked to see all of these guidelines and rules as I understood them ignored and editors like myself who diligently tried to stick to them harassed and banned.

Overview: Harassed in first three days of participating

Within three days of my six week presence on Rupert Sheldrake's 'Talk' page, I was outed and harassed by a Wikipedia editor called Vzaak who immediately issued several warnings to me and then exposed personal information about me on the site. This is was only one of many forms of bullying, harassment, and personal attacks.

I took Vzaak's behavior into dispute resolution on day four - causing Vzaak to pull back her attempts to harass me.

Although Vzaak offered me an olive branch (a sign of resolution between editors) and agreed to stop harassing me with my personal information, she continued anyway after I accepted her peace offering.

Continuing Sept 20th, Vzaak initiated a campaign of 'reputation destruction and disruption' against me through the talk pages of other editors throughout Wikipedia. This campaign was used to ban me indefinitely from Wikipedia and harm my identity off Wikipedia, which continues to this day.

Overview: Hunted and hounded

As evidence shows, Vzaak became the ring leader in a co-ordinated effort with other editors to harass and personally attack me further, continually spreading personal information about me and seeking to sanction me off of Wikipedia.

Vzaak's campaign for reputation distortion became apparent to me when I presented my 'Request for a New Consensus' on the 'Talk' page in question on Oct 8th.

Vzaak, IRWolfie, Louie Louie and Roxy the Dog plotted various ways to create a 'sanctionable' event against me, beginning first to sanction me for spreading 'conspiracy theories'. This backfired. A few days later they found found a third way to sanction me for 'sock puppetry', accusing me of operating more than one account on one Wikipedia article.

One user I was accused of being even came back to Wikipedia to clear my name and his. And even though their tools used to verify such accusations determined it was technically unlikely we were the same person - he was sanctioned anywayby Mark Arsten and instigated by Vzaak because he showed up to defend me in the AE hearing as you see here.

Overview: Five attempts to sanction me, one finally works

Just as an admin was set to clear me of sock puppeting charges, and Vzaak tried to stop it - a second AE hearing on me started. This time the charge was 'trolling'. The evidence of me trolling was based on the personal information from eight years ago Vzaak continued to spread around. Not one admin noted that this was a personal attack, or cared. Any personal attack was good enough for them. No evidence of my behaviors in 'Talk' were ever substantiated, indeed my contributions were supported by an equal number of other editors who strongly opposed the banning. Not one admin respected anything they said.

They then made a pillory, with admins and editors hailing my trollish ways, completely oblivious to the traumatizing experience they were delivering. This second hearing was an incredibly organized process that concluded in under 24 hours with less than half of the support of everyone commenting.

Overview: Highly questionable sanction

My banning was challenged by other editors quite powerfully, as found in this AE noticeboard here, other editor talk pages and admins pages involved. More recently, TheCapn instigated an Arbitration Request for a hearing on the issue. His requested was deflected to the lower appeal Arbitration Enforcement to handle the problem.

Overview: Tumbleman ban sets off 'cultural' war momentarily

After I was banned admins and editors jumped in and wrote on my talk page, calling me incompetent, autistic, a troll, an ego maniac, a conspiracy theorist, and a heap of other awkward and libelous associations. If the intention behind this 'mob mind' was not so abusive, the entire affair would be comical, as one editor commented it was like watching Monty Python's 'Blasphemy' sketch.

Shortly thereafter a wiki war began to happen on my own talk page. Admins and activist editors began an argument with supportive editors, with the final attack being an article created about me on Rational Wiki. Craig Weiler blogged about 'The Trial of the Tumbleman' and somehow I unwittingly became involved in a cultural war between skeptic activists and supporters of Rupert Sheldrake's research.

Ironically - the entire experience as the evidence will show was almost step for step with a 'humorous' essay on Wikipedia called 'How to Ban a POV you don't like'. Its meant to be written as a joke, but the irony is its exactly what happened.

Don't take my word for it, please check the evidence

Although my story is going to be covered with my own point of view, what protects you from my unavoidable bias is that Wikipedia records everything. Everything that happened is archived. I present evidence with each claim I make in each link provided. This article you're reading now is the wireframe for everything. Each link provides and overview of the context of what happened to links on Wikipedia that support it in evidence and the chapter for context.

I believe we need to shine some light in these dark little crevices. I believe we need to give this a proper review. This is a factual case study of how harassment and bullying is used to control an article on the worlds most popular site. This is what it looks like. This is how it happens. This is how it will continue to happen.

So hello world, come meet your guardians of knowledge.
© Skeptico
Wikipedia, we have a problem.

Rome Viharo
Dec 21, 2013

This is a work in progress. I am collecting similar stories for further study here and if you have a case or story please advise.
Tim Farley, it's time to be honest about activism on Wikipedia
Email: reportabuse AT wikipediawehaveaproblem DOT com

Read next: The Battle Begins