Wikipedia, Sock Puppets, and Actual Cannibal Shia LeBeouf

Wikipedia

Most people in school know Wikipedia as the website that you’re never allowed to use as a valid source of information. Why? Because it can be edited by anyone and their brother. While Wikipedia asks that you source your information, that doesn’t mean you actually have to have valid information to publish to the page. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a page on Wikipedia that was headlined with the caption “There may be some issues with the information on this page” or something to that nature.

Unfortunately, despite the possibilities for this to be an excellent resource, Wikipedia suffers a great deal of flack and issues. Due to the fact that anyone can edit the information, they have had frequent issues with people creating multiple accounts to provide false information or to benefit a product/service they might be trying to sell. They call this issue sock puppetry. A person is expected to only edit pages using one account, however, people create multiple accounts to edit the same pages multiple times.

According to Garner (2013) “…it looks like a number of user accounts – perhaps as many as several hundred – may have been paid to write articles on Wikipedia promoting organizations or products, and have been violating numerous site policies and guidelines, including prohibitions against sockpuppetry and undisclosed conflicts of interest. As a result, Wikipedians aiming to protect the projects against non-neutral editing have blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts.”

According to Gardner (2013) “We urge companies to conduct themselves ethically, to be transparent about what they’re doing on Wikipedia, and to adhere to all site policies and practices.”

The problem is that people don’t adhere to these standards. Let’s look back to 2012. There was a song released on the Internet. It was called “Actual Cannibal Shia LeBeouf.” It’s a ridiculously funny song about the actor Shia LeBeouf being a cannibal.

After the song was released, someone went onto Wikipedia and actually edited the page on Cannibalism to state that Shia LeBeouf was actually a cannibal. Wikipedia had the information removed quickly, however, the fact that it could even be posted in the first place is kind of ridiculous. I’m not going to say that I didn’t laugh at it, of course, but if you’re going to have a website that is taken seriously as an information source, you probably shouldn’t let people call other people cannibals on your site.

Cannibal

According to Gardner (2013) “With a half a billion readers, Wikipedia is an important informational resource for people all over the world. Our readers know Wikipedia’s not perfect, but they also know that it has their best interests at heart, and is never trying to sell them a product or propagandize them in any way. Our goal is to provide neutral, reliable information for our readers, and anything that threatens that is a serious problem.”

I agree that Wikipedia has their readers’ best interests at heart. I don’t doubt that for a minute. However, giving any person posting access might not be the best idea. Anyone can go on the site, create an account, and immediately begin editing pages and information. There’s no test you have to pass. No training required. Nothing. So things like this happen:

shiaprofile

So, here’s my question for you: Is it a good or bad thing that Wikipedia allows anyone to edit their site? It’s clearly causing some problems for them in the grand scheme of things. Sure, something silly like the Shia LeBeouf incident isn’t the worst thing that could happen, however, if they’re banning an extensive amount of accounts, it might be time to reconsider giving the world so much power.

References

Gardner, S. (2013, October 21). Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner’s response to paid advocacy editing and sockpuppetry « Wikimedia blog. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from https://blog.wikimedia.org/2013/10/21/sue-gardner-response-paid-advocacy-editing/

 

Massive Open Online Courses facing a massive problem

The Internet provides a wealth of information, resources and for the last few years, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Yes, they are what they sound like. MOOCs are fee-to-enroll online distance learning programs where sometimes people by the hundreds of thousands flock to these courses to learn about subjects such as mobile robotics, water management, bioprinting and Chinese language and culture. While some of these MOOCs can be a bit of a mess and unstructured, others are taught by the Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania.

Are MOOCs a good thing? They can be, but the experience might be an illusion. I do not mean the MOOC itself is the illusion here, but rather one’s classmates. Now I understand that for some people taking the course that may not matter because they are there to learn, not to necessarily worry about the validity or motivation of their classmates. Those people would argue what does it matter? It is free education and the course completion certificates mean less than the paper they would be printed on, so why should their motivation for taking the class concern me.

While it is true that in theory and most practical senses that MOCCs mean nothing, Ho (2015) notes that users might complete a MOCC to push themselves or to build up internal motivation that they could do it. I believe others might complete it for the satisfaction they get after they completes something, which in gaming circles would refer to a “completionist.” A completionist is “a player who attempts to complete every challenge and earn every achievement or trophy” (Dictionary.com, 2015, para. 1). I will come back to this concept a bit later.

The Illusion in the context of a MOOC roster, that I have been alluding to, usually can mean one or both of two things. The first being that of all the people registered for the MOOC only a faction participate and interact with others in the class and the other being a form of cheating. For this post, I will focus on the cheating aspect in MOOC.

Ho, Northcutt and Chuang found a form of cheating they termed “Copying Answers using Multiple Existences Online” (CAMEO) Like similar forms of online strategies like “sockpuppeting,” where comment or add to their own post to seem like more than one person is contributing or commenting, or “self-collusion,” where users can improve their standing from the collection of points  they gain from defeating or harvesting items from other versions of themselves, CAMEO involves users creating more than one identity, enrolling those identities in a MOOC and using one or more identities function as “harvesters” that guess and check answers to test questions, while another user identity functions as the “master” that reap and input the correct answers gained by the attempts by the other identities of the user.

In the research by Ho, Northcutt and Chuang, they found only 1.3 percent out of 1,237 certificates had been obtained using the CAMEO technique. However, they also found that 25 percent of users obtaining 20 or more certificates were using the CAMEO technique.

While completing certificates in bulk using the CAMEO technique might simply be motivated by a completionist mentality, Ho (2015) explains users might be motivated completing it that way to strengthen their college application.

Imagine instead of college applications, users were strengthening job applications in that way. We live in a society where the “C’s get degrees” mentality, which emphasizes the degree or certification of completion over above average competence, is prevalent and employers expect prospective employees to do more and be competent in a variety of areas.  What matters to employers is about what they believe a prospective employee can do for them, as seen in the degree or certificate they have completed or earned, especially if it is completed through institutions like Stanford University or the University of Pennsylvania, seem like one knows what they talking about and have three professional references that can vouch for some of their qualifications and qualities they have much better chance to get hired.

So, the question becomes in an age where open source projects and organizations like Wikipedia along with Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation are trying to vet and keep up with regulating against sockpuppeting by officially banning more than 250 user accounts in October 2013 (Gardner, 2013), can we do anything to effectively regulate against these multi-account user strategies in open source projects, organizations and MOOCs.

 

Open Source Warfare

The ideas behind how Open Source patterns are being applied to areas outside the realms of software, as Clay Shirky discusses, that “…my initial optimism about simple application of Open Source methods to other endeavors turned out to be wildly overoptimistic” (p. 484, 2005). Personally, I find this as an intriguing statement because at that time, a group the world knows as “Anonymous”, a collective of activist and hackers all over the world had existed for at least 2 years using the Open Source pattern to function as an organization. The only problem here was they were not in the public eye by any means as they had yet to really show the level of Open Source operation they would eventually develop. A similar group, formed in 1999 has garnered similar status in its use of this format and currently is effecting citizens around the world is the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Both use the same pattern of operation to great effect and both of them fall into the category of extremist groups, something I am sure Shirky would never have wanted to see as so successful.

Continue reading “Open Source Warfare”

Building Social Perception through Digital Information

wikipedia-researchPaid advocacy has become a largely debated topic in recent years. Paid editing—also known as sock puppetry or black hatting—is when individuals or companies pay writers to create and edit reference material for promotional purposes. This practice is troublesome because it blurs the distinction between editorial content and advertising. A notable example of this dilemma involves, Wikipedia, a collaborative website allowing anyone to contribute and modify reference articles (Shirky, 2005).

In August 2012, one of Wikipedia’s editors removed a page representing an internet security company- CyberSafe– after discovering that the article’s linked citations were relevant to internet security, but did not specifically reference the company (Owens, 2013). After the page was removed, numerous users expressed opposition, constructing arguments that were similar to those on the CyberSafe page. This coincidence raised suspicions in the Wikipedia editor, causing him or her to submit five user accounts for “sock puppetry investigation” (Owens, 2013). The analysis confirmed that they were in fact “sock puppet” accounts and that black hatting was happening far more often than they thought.

t-shirts-on-8bitDecals45Executive director of Wikipedia, Sue Gardner, explains that in addition to violating the website’s core principles of providing unbiased and credible information. She argues that editing-for-pay produces content that is often prejudiced and misleading.  Moreover, Gardner (2013) explains that paid advocacy is a breach of Wikipedia’s editorial policies regarding “neutrality and verifiability” (Gardner, 2013).

After a lengthy investigation, Wikipedia announced that it would block “381 user accounts for paid editing” (Earhart & Barbara, 2015). Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, explained that the decision was made after Wikipedia discovered an embezzling scam involving a network of users with fake accounts. These phony accounts were used to solicit individuals and businesses into paying a Wikipedia editor to create their page and have it protected from negative editing (Dredge, 2015). Hundreds of people were deceived because the “faked accounts” impersonated senior Wikipedia editors and falsely claimed that their practices followed Wikipedia guidelines.

As a result, those who paid for editing services were surprised to discover that their pages were deleted for guideline violations. Wikipedia’s investigation into black hat accounts revealed that “more than 200 individuals and businesses have fallen victim to the fraud” (Owen, 2015) and around 250 pages were deleted (Owen, 2015).

information-wants-to-be-free-10544In response, Wikipedia has asked the public to contact them if someone offers to create of protect a page in exchange for money. Furthermore, Wikipedia emphasizes that “decisions about content. . . are made by the community of volunteer editors – they edit and maintain Wikipedia for free, so everyone can access free, reliable knowledge,” (Owen, 2015).

Deceptive marketing practices permeate several aspects of digital media. Paid advocacy is especially problematic in cases where the members generate content through consumer reviews.  Over the years, the media has started to focus on consumer reviews, exposing stories where companies pay individuals and/or employees to write reviews that enhance reputation. Paid editing is becoming increasingly common in consumer reviews, as expressed in a 2012 Gartner study, estimating that “one in seven recommendations or ratings on social media sites like Facebook would soon be fake” (Streitfeld, 2013).

Untitled (4)For businesses, online reviews carry significant value and greatly influence their current and future success: : “In a 2011 Harvard Business School study, a researcher found that restaurants that increased their ranking on Yelp by one star raised their revenues by 5 to 9 percent” (Streitfeld, 2014). To counteract the negative effects of paid advertising, the FTC has started conducting investigations on companies that pay for product or service reviews and fail to disclose this affiliation with consumers.  For example, the chief executive of US Coachways was exposed for hiring freelance writers and mandating his staff to create fake accounts so they could write positive comments to downplay the negative reviews. After the investigation, US Coachways was fined $75,000 and agreed to stop writing fake reviews (Streitfeld, 2014).

On November 7, 2015, CBC Marketplace News aired a story about a man who was fighting to have his online review removed from TigerDirect.com. The man explains that he wants his review taken down from the website because the company edited his review to make it appear more positive.

In other cases, companies are supportive of banning paid advertising and have started to take action to prevent it. Amazon, the largest online retailer, is using the U.S. legal system to crack down on paid advocacy. An NBC News story explains that Amazon has filed a lawsuit against 1, 114 individuals that were paid to post reviews for products found on their website. The company claims that writing fake reviews “tarnishes their brand,” and damages its reputation as an online retailer. Amazon hopes this lawsuit will serve as a future deterrent and help the company rebuild trust with customers.

Paid advocacy is a growing concern for many people- do you think it will cause users to become distrustful or  skeptical of customer reviews? Does paid advocacy ‘devalue’ online ratings and other informational content? Do you think the FTC will have the resources to effectively monitor fake reviews? Does Amazon have the right idea in taking legal action against those paid to write positive reviews?

fake-reviews-1

References

Dredge, S. (2015, September 6). Wikipedia Founder Backs Site’s Systems After Extortion Scam. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/sep/06/wikipedia-founder-backs-sites-systems-after-extortion-scam

 Earhart, E., & Barbara, J. (2015, August 31). Hundreds of “black hat” English Wikipedia accounts blocked following investigation « Wikimedia blog. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from https://blog.wikimedia.org/2015/08/31/wikipedia-accounts-blocked-paid-advocacy/

 Gardner, S. (2013, October 21). Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner’s Response to Paid Advocacy Editing and Sockpuppetry. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from https://blog.wikimedia.org/2013/10/21/sue-gardner-response-paid-advocacy-editing/

Owen, J. (2015, September 11). Wikipedia Senior Editors Impersonated in Scam which Tricked Hundreds into Paying for Content to Go Online. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/wikipedia-senior-editors-impersonated-in-scam-which-tricked-hundreds-into-paying-for-content-to-go-10496801.html

Owens, S. (2013, October 8). The Battle to Destroy Wikipedia’s Biggest Sockpuppet Army. Retrieved on November 17, 2015, from http://www.dailydot.com/lifestyle/wikipedia-sockpuppet-investigation-largest-network-history-wiki-pr/

Shirky, C. (2005). Epilogue: Open Source Outside the Domain of Software and Source. In Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software (pp. 483-488). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Streitfeld, D. (2012, January 26). For $2 a Star, an Online Retailer Gets 5-Star Product Reviews. Retrieved on November 18, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/27/technology/for-2-a-star-a-retailer-gets-5-star-reviews.html

Streitfeld, D. (2013, September 22). Give Yourself 5 Stars? Online, It Might Cost You. Retrieved on November 18, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/23/technology/give-         yourself-4-stars-online-it-might-cost-you.html?_r=0

Wikipedia is an academic’s worst nightmare

There’s been a lot about Wikipedia this week because it is clearly the most mainstream open source access point. I can’t tell you how many times since high school that teachers have told me to use Wikipedia to gather background on a topic, but never cite it and look for more respectable source to actually gather research from.

Why so much academic disdain for the website that’s often joked about as saving many from failing classes? Open sources allow anyone to go into an article and edit it, add to it, delete from it, and just wreak havoc. To help example my point here, I’m going to break the hearts of all educators and cite a Wikipedia page. Ironically, the page, “Criticism of Wikipedia,” discusses the main arguments to Wikipedia as a solid source of information.

The number one problem is, as I’ve said, the “unreliable content.” A person who is persistent enough and potentially conniving enough can alter the facts of a topic they feel strongly about. This feeds into the second main problem, which is that editors can let politics and ideology bleed into the articles. A radical political supporter can go and change the background of a political rival to make them seem like a shady character.

Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Wikipedia

It also allows for pages to be created that aren’t necessarily noteworthy. Anyone can create a page about an inside joke, for their neighbor Bob who occasionally plays guitar at the local bar, or for themselves, if they consider themselves a particularly proclaimed video game expert.

It isn’t always malicious that debunks Wikipedia’s worth. Pyropus Technology points out that even well intentioned content producers can be problematic to the reliability of Wikipedia. They may not be an expert or very well read on the subject, they may be misinformed or not have an understanding of the full scope of the topic, thus skewing the information. Without the background and credentials on a topic, Pyropus Technology states that the information is devalued. Readers are given no real evidence of the author’s ability to speak on a given topic, so it’s about as worthy as a Facebook status an old high school friend posted.

Retrieved from: http://pyropus.ca/personal/writings/wikipedia.html

I’d like to share some examples of Wikipedia mistakes, posted by pcworld.com:

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Wikipedia page was changed at one point to state that the politician “worships Hitler.”

“Former University of Cincinnati president Nancy Zimpher was listed as a ‘prostitute’ and a ‘witch’ on her Wikipedia page.”

Besides political (of which there are plenty of Wikipedia take-overs in history) and professional targets, celebrities have also been marked by these attacks. At one point, David Beckham’s Wikipedia touted him a “Chinese goalkeeper in the 18th century.”

Retrieved from: http://www.pcworld.com/article/170874/The_15_Biggest_Wikipedia_Blunders.html

Despite the warnings against using Wikipedia as a main source of information, people still use it. Why do people continue to knowingly accept unreliable information? Is it laziness, do people tend to just believe the best in the content producers, or is it an inherent desire to believe whatever we read on the internet?