Patrice Riemens on Mon, 18 Jan 2010 14:56:55 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Wikiwars: exposing astroturf and rogue editors on WKP

bwo CIS-India, original at:

Wiki's worth, on a different turf

An Indian duo?a programmer and a mathematician?have developed a tool to
expose anonymous writers and cleanse Wikipedia of rogue editors

Bangalore-based Kiran Jonnalagadda, a Web programming guru, and Hans
Varghese Mathews, a mathematician, are the new entrants to the emerging
field of Wikipedia research. The duo is credited with building Wiki
Analysis, a tool that helps researchers understand the growing phenomenon
of astroturfing, the practice of faking grass-roots support on Wikipedia
and other websites. Wikipedia is the first Google result for most searches
and this has made it a popular destination for those trying to manipulate
public opinion on the Internet. Corporations, governments and even pop
artists have been caught astroturfing in the past.

Jonnalagadda and Mathews are among 34 researchers from 17 countries
attending a two-day conference in Bangalore, WikiWars, which is concluding
today. WikiWars is taking a fresh look at many different aspects of the
world?s biggest encyclopaedia, the sixth most popular website on the

The first generation of astroturfing on Wikipedia has been, thus far,
largely unsophisticated, with little attention paid to covering up digital
evidence. Remember the campaign Avril Lavigne?s fans launched last year
that turned her music video Girlfriend into the most viewed clip on
YouTube? Wal-Mart Stores Inc. contracted its public relations firm Edelman
to maintain a fake website called ?Working Families for Wal-Mart?. They
pretended to be ordinary citizens who opposed the views of the firm?s
labour union.

It is well known that platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, with opaque
management procedures, are susceptible to astroturf campaigns. Supporters
of open licensing and peer production have always held that Wikipedia and
other community-managed platforms are protected thanks to their
transparency in policies and practices. But as far as Wikipedia
researchers are concerned, the jury is still out.

Microsoft tried to pay technology blogger Rick Jelliffe to work on
Wikipedia connected to OOXML (Office Open XML) during the ISO
(International Organization for Standardization) approval process in an
attempt to influence the global vote. OOXML was the new file format for MS
Office documents that urgently needed approval to check the growing
popularity of Open Office. A user called ?Ril_editor?, active between
September 2007 and May 2008, who claimed to be working out of Reliance
Industries Ltd?s chief Mukesh Ambani?s offices, tried to expunge pages
connected to negative publicity about Reliance. Scientologists were
blocked by Wikipedia?s arbitration committee when they were found trying
to systematically undermine Wikipedia?s NPOV (neutral point of view)
policy. NPOV is Wikipedia?s particular spin on non-partisanship, providing
equal space to all opinions. However, some Wikipedia researchers such as
Geert Lovink, head of the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, and
co-organizer of the WikiWars conference, believes that the dominance of
English and textual citation requirements has meant that NPOV is never
translated into practice.

An American team based out of the Santa Fe Institute, US, has developed
WikiScanner, a public database of IP addresses that helps reveal the
organizations behind anonymous edits on Wikipedia. WikiScanner has been
used to expose the US Central Intelligence Agency?s manipulation of pages.
WikiScanner doesn?t yet work for edits by authenticated users. The
WikiScanner team has also developed another tool called Potential Sock
Puppetry, which exposes those who use multiple user accounts from the same
IP address. However, both tools could be circumvented by purchasing
multiple data cards or getting people to work from public access points
such as coffee shops and cyber cafés.

It is this gap the Indian duo?s tool tries to plug. The first version of
their Wiki Analysis tool clusters users into potential lobbies based on
the pages they edit within a date range. The tool?s next version will
cluster users into lobbies based on the words they consistently add and
delete across pages. Says Jonnalagadda, ?Wikipedia is now close to a
decade old and has many articles that have existed since its earliest days
and have been edited by thousands of individuals.? It is now the primary
encyclopaedic destination for Internet users, and that makes it a ripe
target for astroturfing. At no point in the history of human civilization
have so many collaborated over so long to produce one canonical document
on any article of human knowledge.

?Wikipedia users rarely bother to check how a page was edited, but that
information is all there, available to anyone who cares to look. We?re
building the tools to help make sense of it,? Jonnalagadda says. Once Wiki
Analysis is ready, you will be able to check if, for example, the editors
of the climate change page on Wikipedia are more interested in ecology or

Original article on Livemint

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