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.

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  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Demonstrates the importance of multiple, independent sources, doesn’t it?

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    This is a systemic problem at wikipedia. Lets not forget the whole fiasco with Rauan Kenzhekhanuly being named as the first ever “Wikipedian of the Year”, only for him to be quickly exposed as a paid propagandist for one of the earth’s most repressive dictatorships (http://wikipediocracy.com/2013/01/02/jimmy-wales-kazakhstan-tony-blair-and-wikipedia-a-timeline/).

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000292465613 Amy Ferguson-Monnin

      The link you shared does not take you to the article. I got the following message.

      Not Found

      Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        The link has been fixed. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Lupakalia

      “This is a systemic problem at Wikipedia”
      I agree. Over the years I’ve found Wikipedia to be extremely US-centric, ignorant of much in the rest of the world and, especially in anything related to the middle east, fertile crescent and monotheism, articles by and large promote only an orthodox narrative supporting powerful vested interests and expunge anything else.

  • http://twitter.com/happydog1960 Mark

    You know, the saddest thing about Robert Clark Young aka Qworty is not just that he’s an obviously sick individual. It’s the fact that he wanted to be known for being a writer, and wasted his talent doing this. If he had spent as much time actually writing as he did waging vendettas by rewriting Wikipedia, he might actually be a good writer. Instead he is going down in history as a nutjob, and his name and alias will be synonymous with “narcissistic crank.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Randell-Cinnamon/100000210167666 Randell Cinnamon

      Fortunately, he is a disgrace to the writing profession and a profound bigot.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pup-McKeenan/100001065596182 Pup McKeenan

      bet he writes a best seller about how he manipulated wikipedia for years and got away with it.

    • NoBodE

      He will probably use this as the basis for a book about how he was persecuted while doing “god,s” work.

      • http://www.facebook.com/helen.riding Helen Riding

        According to his user page before it was blanked, he identified as a humanist.

  • bbdrvr

    This sort of thing happens all the time. There’s one guy high up in the Boy Scouts leadership who systematically deletes pages related to smaller scouting-type groups.

  • John Stitely

    The Twin Cities Pagan community tried to put several articles regards the pagan movement here about 3 years ago. Wikipedia was resistant and hostile and wanted documentation that is simply not available for a modern living movement. (I.e. they rejected newspapaer articles as reference seeking scholarly tombs, Since there is exactly one such study of this community in particular that was deemed to be a basis for rejection. We are a new movement and as such the acceptable resources should reflect avaiability. It would be fair foro commentary on the limits of the evidence but rejection was extreme.

    This bias problem is not new. it is also not the result of one individual.

    • http://www.facebook.com/rune.believer Rune Believer

      By outing/banning this guy, they have a convenient patsy for the past problems, and they have created a nice little smoke screen to cover the fact that NO REAL CHANGES HAVE BEEN MADE. Their talk of making changes for the future is another smoke screen. Have they made any attempt to give a time frame for how long will it take to implement those changes? How long will folks have to wait before they realize that those changes are not only not taking place, but they are also NOT going to be taking place because it means that SOMEONE AT WIKI WILL HAVE TO TAKE ON THE ONEROUS OF RESPONSIBILITY for seeing those changes through to implementation and beyond!

  • JasonMankey

    Moments like this are when I wish we had our “WikiPagan” page. There are many in the Pagan Community who don’t fit the criteria for inclusion on Wikipedia, but have contributed to Modern Paganism none the else.

    • NT

      Perhaps it’s time the community put together a Pagan Wiki? Wiccapedia?

      • http://www.facebook.com/charles.claymore Charles Claymore

        http://www.thelemapedia.org/index.php/Main_Page

        You’ll likely get a fair chance with these guys.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pup-McKeenan/100001065596182 Pup McKeenan

        Love it Wiccapedia!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=685041384 Fanny Fae

        Wiccapedia would never work because not all Pagans are Wiccan, and Wikipedia would most likely sue for infringement and win..

        • Micheal

          Actually Wikipedia’s pretty chill about people dedicating Wikipedia clones to specific subjects. Wikia and Wookiepedia have survived and thrived for years as Wikipedia clones. I’d love to see a dedicated pagan wiki if there isn’t one already, although I bet there already is.

        • http://www.facebook.com/rune.believer Rune Believer

          I’m not going to say a Wiccapedia page wouldn’t work, but I am glad you pointed out that not all Pagans are Wiccans. I call myself Heathen, but many see Pagan and Heathen as being synonymous. I do not.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I concur.

            It needs a name, though. That could be a good, long argument in itself. Let alone what would be appropriate to include on it.

    • Northern_Light_27

      I’m somewhat astonished, as technology-embracing as Pagans generally are, that we don’t already have a wiki. There are a plethora of mini-wikis, even some relatively lesser-known fictional works have them. It would certainly make all of those “what is…” online conversations with non-Pagans easier, to be able to have something written for a general audience that’s more accurate than Wikipedia.

    • Terence Clark

      There have been a few, one of which, Paganwiki, I was an admin for. That project fizzled due to lack of editors and appears to be a mirror for pagan books on Amazon today. They end up as poor clones of articles on pagans on Wikipedia itself or suffer from thorough lack of participation, or both. I’m all for it, but this would be at least the third attempt I’ve seen at such a resource.

      Granted, the wikia page may yet come to be a usable resource. Right now it’s desperately in need of editors and content.

      http://pagan.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

    • http://twitter.com/SableAradia Sable Aradia

      Good idea.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ravyn.blood Ravyn Blood

    Haters, fear mongerers and evil people wont scare us away.. We are happy and content, we do no harm to anyone. We spread love and peace. We care for people. We help broken hearts heal and help all of Earth’s creatures. People who hate on us just hate themselves. The sickness lies within the hater. The cure lies within the truth and the truth is only found inside of love and light.

    Blessed Be )O(

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pup-McKeenan/100001065596182 Pup McKeenan

      Blessed be )O( She who is all and in each of us as we are in all of her will give evil doers three times what they dish out. Triple Karma repay.

  • http://www.walkofthefallen.com Labrys

    I wish Mr. Young could tell me how I’ve been worshipping something (Satan) that I don’t even believe in….honestly, how DOES one do that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pup-McKeenan/100001065596182 Pup McKeenan

      you know these false Xtians always say if you don’t grovel to Jebus you worship satan. too bad they don’t understand their own savior’s one rule. Love everyone.

      • http://www.walkofthefallen.com Labrys

        Ah yes, the “If you aren’t with us, you are against us” argument. Silly me; I must be recalling that bit of Bible where Jesus said something like the opposite….that if people were not AGAINST him, they were with him. Obviously, I am not cherry picking their book correctly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patti.winters1 Patti Winters

    It’s a shame that Qworty is letting hate eat away at him like a cancer. Karma will come full circle and kick his ass when he least expects. It’s too bad he can’t use his talent for the good of all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pup-McKeenan/100001065596182 Pup McKeenan

    this is why I don’t use wikipedia. unreliable as any one can edit anything without being identified or reprimanded for hate or bigotry.

    • Deborah Bender

      I use Wikipedia frequently, but cite it rarely. Wikipedia is a convenient place to get an overview of a subject I know little about, or to find minute details of something that isn’t common knowledge. Once I have an overview, I know what search terms to use to get more information.

      There are topics that don’t get edited much on the basis of personal opinion; for example, the model years of a product, or statistics and weather of a town, or the scientific name and growing habits of a plant.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        Wikipedia tends to be a very good source for technical information, at least in my experience. For some strange reason, the information on Hinduism in wikipedia also is usually pretty good, but anything related to either Buddhism or Paganism, on the other hand, is by default extremely dodgy (again, that is just my opinion).

        The simple truth is that one always has to have one’s critical thinking cap on, whether you are reading peer reviewed scholarly journals, or watching some show about Ancient Aliens on the “History” Channel.

        • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

          Come on! Clearly the most logical explanation for everything in the ancient world is that aliens are responsible!

        • Northern_Light_27

          I agree that some of the Paganism entries could be better. But unless it has changed a lot (which is certainly possible), the Satanism ones, particularly the Theistic Satanism one, were actually pretty good. It has similarly been a while since I read it, but as far as I recall the Thelema one wasn’t bad either. I think it’s all down to who’s editing the pages.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

            It is definitely down to who edits the pages! I will check out some wikipedia pages on Satanism and Thelema, now that you have recommended them!

      • aought

        Wikipedia is my first go to, with the understanding it’s far from perfect. But, the best entries link their sources and it really saves time not having to go completely through the research process from scratch.

        • cernowain greenman

          Whenever I read Wikipedia, I always take a peek at the “Talk” page. That gives me an idea on what is controversial about the topic at hand.

  • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

    I love how his very clear anti-pagan bigotry is not even worthy of a mention in the Salon article.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      To be fair, he caused a lot of mischief, affecting thousands of entries. I don’t blame Salon.com for not honing in on this.

      • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

        I mean I don’t personally expect it to be about us. But I wouldn’t mind a sentence or so, you know “in addition to personal vendetta’s he targeted various communities including neo-pagans with hostile edits”.

        If he had done so to a different religious group it most likely would have been mentioned. Hopefully in the future it will be worth it to mention us as well, we just lack the visibility now.

      • Deborah Bender

        The expression is “homing in”. Think of homing pigeons. Hone means to sharpen with a whetstone, which works almost as well as a metaphor, but honing doesn’t involve getting closer and closer to a central spot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rapture.hoax2011 Roy Linford Adams

    13 Winters was deleted from Wikipedia after already winning a spot there. Within a month after an already long debate that won my band a spot on the site, someone flagged us for deletion right before a holiday so no one saw it happened and countered the measure before we were deleted. We didn’t even know about it until it was too late. And being listed as a Pagan band makes me wonder if this guy had anything to do with it because some of the arguments for deletion appeard to come from someone who seemed to have a grudge against us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jimmycouch Jim Couch

    Does anyone have an address so we can look him up when we’re in the area? :D
    Maybe a few surprise visits would adjust his thinking some :D

  • Royal Hopper

    I have always had questions about ..these “citizen media outlets” ..no impartial editors, no fact checkers, no differentiating between editorials and articles, no compulsion to correct mistakes and at the same time no respect for other writers legitimate work …..

  • Oriana

    I would like to see an article for Ted Andrews return. He was deleted on the day of his death and no additions to his article were accepted. Could it be that he was deleted by the hands of this person, too?

  • http://www.facebook.com/rpaxton Robert Paxton

    You know, I’m in a little different place with this — being one of many, many people who had to do some cleanup after Qworty messed with those Pagan entries last November.

    The articles he singled out — yes, disrespectfully in some cases — were indeed thinly sourced and light on facts. A whole lot of people came together in a hurry and did good work to bolster them, to everyone’s benefit. Only one article of “ours” that he flagged for deletion was in fact deleted, and every article he touched was left better off for the Pagan community’s efforts to defend them.

    From where I stand, that’s not too bad of an outcome.

  • kenofken

    Adversity always makes us stronger, but this was not the right way to do scholarship. Scholarship thrives on tough, even pointed constructive criticism, but this was nothing of the kind. It was one power-hungry little prick with a long history of acting in bad faith and a system which apparently facilitates that. I don’t know much about the Wikipedia process, but it appears that there is no burden of accountability or transparency for “editors” like this guy. It’s unfathomable to me that a system aspiring to unbiased non-fiction work would allow people to publish or censor anonymously or under false identities.

    Worse still, these people apparently have no burden of scholarship of their own to meet when they want to delete someone else’s work. If someone is making a case that a piece of work is truly so deficient that it should be taken down, they should have to articulate, in some depth, what those shortcomings are, with citations of their own. Writing a serious good faith critique of someone else’s work takes almost as much work as the original, and it should. The fact that this clown did 13,000 edits indicates that virtually none of them had any substance or made any real contributions to research. I doubt whether the longest-lived Nobel-level researchers ever do that many re-writes.

    It’s great that so many of you were able to step up and beef up the articles in question, but we’re left with this big question mark over the process. Is the article I pull up on a subject the product of the best evidence and reasoned debate or does it just reflect who gained some ground in the culture war that week?

    • Adam Jenkins

      I had a few run-ins with Qworty on Wikipedia over the years, and his treatment of Pagan entries was terrible. So I agree with all of the sentiments here.

      But in regard to the process, while it was unlikely to be expressed this way by someone with an anti-Pagan vendetta, the core reason Wikipedia has a need for sourcing is to protect the subjects. An unsourced biography about someone can’t be verified, so it is open to people inserting very negative and potentially libellous material. Thus the burden has to be placed on the person adding the content – they need to prove through the use of reliable sources that what they are adding is correct, and that they aren’t putting too much emphasis on it at the expense of a proper accounting of the person’s life.

      Within a deletion discussion the question as to whether or not there are reliable sources to back up the claims in the article are raised, and this places the burden once more on the people who wish to retain the article, rather than those who wish to delete it. So in that sense it is unbalanced, but if viewed as a whole, the need to show that individual biographies can be sourced is a good thing. It will result in the loss of some articles about subjects that we know deserve one, but it is a trade off that is worth making given the nature of Wikipedia.

      That said, Qworty certainly wasn’t deleting articles to protect the subjects – he was doing it for far less appropriate reasons, and I agree that there are far better ways of improving the articles than having them come under attack, whatever the final outcome may have been.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-L-Wilber/769392619 James L. Wilber

    This in no way condones the actions of this individual, but please note, he never really succeeded did he? Before everyone starts yelling fire, please note Wikipedia is as of now quite resilient and self-correcting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rune.believer Rune Believer

    This would be why I have NEVER taken anything on Wiki as gospel, and I have no sympathy for people burned by the site. If you want the best information and product output, DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH!

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Wiki is a good starting point for research. It has the ability to give a broad overview of a subject along with citing plenty of other sources to look up.

      It is the source checking that is the important part.

  • http://entdinglichung.wordpress.com Entdinglichung

    similar thing happened around five years ago on German-language Wikipedia where a group of far-right people (centered around a right-wing student fraternity and its paper) created a zoo of at least 688 sock puppets to troll, to create conflicts, to provoke other users especially in articles on the topics “New Right/Nouvelle Droite”, German history and racism (e.g. by trying to push the opinion that “Neger”, the German equivalent of “Negro” is an objective term for describing people of African origin, etc.) which stopped many good people from writing articles

  • http://www.facebook.com/Acupuncture.herbs.Karen.Vaughan Karen Vaughan

    I had a similar problem with a gang of Big Pharm Wikipedia editors who regularly undid herbal medicine articles or sections I wrote with good research sources (some of which were from other countries which somehow offended them.) They must have been on salary and I couldn’t keep up with them. The main guy who undid my shingles section on natural cures removed his personal employment so you couldn’t see his pharmaceutical company affiliation. And they then followed me around undoing all kinds of work I had done upgrading herbal medicine articles.

  • wellington wadsworth

    He looks like a women.

  • BryonMorrigan

    I spend entirely too much time fighting against Christo-Fascists on Wikipedia. The page on “Christian Terrorism” is one that I guard like a hawk…

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

      My general opinion of humanity is already dangerously low. Any time I get involved with any kind of wikipedia editing conflicts it drives me to despair.

  • Verity

    Wikipedia is my first go-to place for a lot of subjects, but I tell everyone I know to use it as a jumping off point, not an original source – it was never meant to be. I go there first to find sources that I might not find on a Google search.

    I’ve done minor editing and participated in Talk pages for years – mainly in European history – and run into a lot of sock puppets and editing wars. I’ve used the editing histories to see exactly what was edited and why. There was an extremely long discussion of the correct spelling of Katherine or Aragon’s name. When events like the finding of Richard III’s remains happen, edits and arguments can became passionate; I remember a discussion on whether Richard killed his nephews or not where a US Supreme Court opinion was brought into the discussion – and promptly (and rightly) slapped down as US-centrism. When Larry Hagman died, repeated changes were made to his page declaring that he got his liver transplant at the expense of other patients’ lives because one editor had lost a brother due to not receiving a transplant in time. While editors appreciated her issue, it was her issue and not provable fact. Wikipedia was not the forum for that particular debate.

    And there there are people with too much time on their hands who insert phrases like “I love my mommy” into random articles for no reason whatsoever.

    Yes, this happens all the time. Wikipedia’s very nature prevents catching all of the jerks and sock puppets. Quorty used his knowledge of the system to play his game. Most of the jerks aren’t as smart. But since Wikipedia’s actual staff is so small, it is down to volunteer editors to correct most of the abuse. The more Pagans volunteer time as editors, the less abuse will slip by and the more article integrity will continue.