Anti-Pagan Wikipedia Editor Outed by Salon.com

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 22, 2013 — 59 Comments

In November of 2012 an alert went out within the Pagan community that someone had been systematically flagging articles for deletion relating to Pagan authors, events, and notable figures on the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia. That someone, a Wikipedia editor who went by “Qworty,” seemed to have a personal grudge against Jeff Rosenbaum, co-founder of the Starwood festival, who had created many of these Pagan-themed pages under the moniker of “Rosencomet.”

Jeff Rosenbaum

Jeff Rosenbaum

“Excruciatingly non-notable band that abysmally fails WP:BAND. Article was created by a notorious wikispammer whose arbcom revealed these atrocities [1]. The guy has his own company, the Association for Consciousness Exploration, which hosts the Starwood Festival, and for the past six years he’s been creating and defending promotional articles about everyone who’s ever been associated with the festival. Incredibly, this article about Trance Mission has been tagged for lack of references for nearly five years now. That’s the way the guy operates–writes a bunch of completely unsourced articles about all of his friends, the articles somehow survive here for years, and then if anybody touches an article of “his,” he goes berserk per WP:OWN. It’s time to stand up for the integrity of Wikipedia and finally remove this WP:ADVERT. He likes to WP:CANVASS like mad, so the closing admin should watch out for meat puppets. Qworty (talk) 11:24, 12 November 2012 (UTC)”

If this disagreement over Rosenbaum’s years-old conduct as a Wikipedia editor had remained in its proper place, we wouldn’t be having this discussion today. However, Qworty’s ire was not reserved for Rosenbaum personally, and he seemed incapable of civil discussion when it came to modern Paganism.

She’s a witch, LOL. Fails WP:AUTHORWP:BK, and WP:GNG. Article was created by an arbcommed wikispammer who has written dozens of articles about people who’ve attended a “witch festival” that he hosts.Qworty (talk) 22:31, 12 November 2012 (UTC)

His commentary on the Stregheria article (from 2007) was particularly unhinged.

“As it stands, the article sounds like it’s talking about the Kiwanis Club. This is not an article about the Kiwanis Club. This is an article about mentally ill, delusional people who are worshiping Satan and their dead Roman or Neapolitan ancestors. We’ve got real cutting-edge science and sociology going on here–not. These people are greatly disturbed–they are not pursuing any kind of rational path. There should be an NPOV way of getting across the idea that these folks are a whacked-out, highly marginalized minority with extremely dubious beliefs. There should be a polite way of saying this. If Wikipedia can offer a Holocaust Denial article that lets everybody know a certain group is seriously looped, then certainly it can do so about a pack of aging, overweight, chanting devil worshippers belly-dancing around the redwood trees.

Ultimately, enough Wikipedia-savvy Pagans (and non-hostile editors) were able to keep most of the flagged articles from deletion by improving them within the existing Wikipedia structure, and participating in the “talk” pages. It seemed that this issue would simply fade away, just a momentary issue involving a biased and isolated troll abusing Wikipedia’s collaborative nature. However, it now seems that we were just one target in an epic and ongoing “revenge-edit” campaign by Qworty, who was outed this week by Salon.com and Wikipediocracy as writer Robert Clark Young.

Robert Clark Young

Robert Clark Young

“In my experience, mysteries rarely wrap themselves up so neatly. But solving the question of Qworty’s true identity doesn’t end this story. In his confession, Qworty claimed that “All of my edits have been in accordance with Wikipedia policy.” This is hard to square with many of his edits to the pages of other writers and, in particular, his strenuous efforts to hide his own identity when editing his own page. Qworty has also been at the center of scores of disputes over the years. He has even come to the angry attention of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on at least three separate occasions. As far back as 2010, Wales told Qworty that “You have been warned many times in the past about civility violations and so I know you know better.”

Qworty has destructively edited the pages of other writers. He has made numerous edits to his own page while obsessively hiding his true identity. And yet there have never been any significant consequences for his actions. For those of us who love Wikipedia, the ramifications of the Qworty saga are not comforting: If Qworty has been allowed to run free for so long — sabotaging the “truth” however he sees fit, writing his own postmodern novel — how many others are also creating spiteful havoc under the hood, where no one is watching?”

According to Wikipediocracy Young/Qworty had over 13,000 edits to the collaborative encyclopedia, many of them done to pursue revenge against someone, or to protect his own page. In addition, he amassed a small army of sock-puppets to aid him in his work. For those suspicious of Wikipedia’s process, and worried about how fair and balanced entries at the site are, the story of Qworty can only be troubling.

“The reason I am doing this,” said Andreas Kolbe, one of the Wikipedocracy members who shared his research with me, “is that I want the public to know just what goes on under the surface of Wikipedia and how the site plays dice with people’s reputations by allowing anonymous editing of biographies of living persons. As someone who joined the project with a fair amount of enthusiasm for its mission more than seven years ago, I have found the realities of how Wikipedia is written irresponsible and deeply disturbing, and given the site’s status as a top-10 website, I believe the public needs to understand just what is going on in Wikipedia day after day.”

Qworty has been permanently banned from Wikipedia, but it took an un-ignorable pattern of extreme behavior for it to happen, and nothing came from his transparently obvious anti-Pagan opinions expressed repeatedly on Pagan pages he was flagging for deletion. Wikipediocracy says this “demonstrates the cost of allowing anybody to edit Wikipedia biographies anonymously,” will any changes to Wikipedia policy be made to make editors more transparently accountable? Wikipedia is now cleaning up its mess, and its founder says that the failure to ban Qworty earlier shows “serious deficiencies in our systems.” So, can we hope that one of the most-visited sites on the Internet, one that millions of people (including me) default turn to for basic information, will take these issues to heart and fix them? Here’s hoping.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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