The Acta Pauli blog and Wikipedia trolls

By accident last night I came across the Acta Pauli blog.  I was hitherto unaware that this group blog existed.  It is, of course, dedicated to the study of the apocryphal Acts of Paul, and their better known extract, the Acts of Paul and Thecla.  The blog contains much useful information on this text, not least that discoveries of portions of it are a continuing process.

It seems that I am not the only one to attempt to contribute to Wikipedia, and to get receive harassment and insults in return.  There is a series of posts in which one of the authors describes his attempts to do so.  One of them is this one

I therefore recommend that scholars like myself not bother to make edits on that platform where any non-specialist can take them down within seconds. Scholars don’t have the time to waste on such games.

It turns out that the “administrator” harassing him was 14 years old (!) at the time:

I’ve learned that Anonymous Dissident, who removed my links from the French and German articles on the Acts of Paul and Thecla, is 12 approximately 14 years old.  Wow, that’s pretty cool Wikipedia!  A 12 approximately 14 year old is able to eliminate a link to this site which is being published by people with PhDs.  Now I’m sure that Anonymous Dissident is very mature for the age of 12 approximately 14, but it does lower the status of Wikipedia considerably when scholars can’t even add a little insignificant link to your so-called encyclopedia.

The author of the blog is considerably more courteous to this impudent schoolboy than I would be.  Indeed the author chose to write a post, highlighting the failures of the article on the Acta Pauli.  His reward was might be expected: a prolonged and insulting jeer about “disaffected whinings”, combined with a statement that the troll proposed to appropriate his comments and use them himself on the article.

Wikipedia is not a safe place for sensible people to participate.  And until the likes of “Anonymous Dissident” are expelled from it, it will continue to be a very dangerous place for contributors.


13 thoughts on “The Acta Pauli blog and Wikipedia trolls

  1. I agree that idiots like this 14-year-old Wikipedia admistrator are a menace, and I think you have put your finger on the main reason why scholars are so often deterred from editing Wikipedia: because it takes too much time to fight your corner when challenged, and the attrition is not worth it.

    Having said that, though, in my more optimistic moments I see Wikipedia as one of the most interesting experiments in popular participation since the reforms of Cleisthenes paved the way for the emergence of the radican Athenian democracy. I suspect that my hero Pericles would have heartily approved of Wikipedia, though he would not have stooped to edit it himself. Herodotus would have loved it. Thucydides would have sniffed at it, as lacking ‘akribeia’. Cleon would have exploited its potential for demagoguery. Plato would have despaired.

    I agree with Robin Lane Fox (in The Classical World), that democracy requires time, commitment and patience from its supporters; and that, with all its faults, the Athenian democracy succeeded in educating the common people of Athens in the realities of administering a state. I suspect that Wikipedia may eventually be regarded as a similar success.

    One obvious remedy to the problem of vandalism on English Wikipedia would be to adopt the German approach, where articles are frozen after they reach a certain level and contributors thereafter have to justify any proposed changes to experienced administrators. I rather like that approach, which I have encountered while proposing minor corrections to some of the articles in the top-down Encyclopedia Iranica. That might work, and would not be incompatible with democracy. After all, even the radical Athenian democracy retained the boule (Council), to filter out absurd motions and to set a realistic agenda for debate in the popular assembly.

    Just a thought …

  2. I’m very much in favour of participation by all. I think the problem is with the system of “administrators”. This needs reform.

  3. Amen, Roger. The great lie of Wikipedia is that it’s somehow open-to-all, democratic, whatever. But it has an official, established hierarchy that favors some over others. Maybe that’s good or maybe that’s bad, but at the very least we should admit it to be the case. We won’t get anywhere under the assumption that we’re talking about something egalitarian.

  4. Agreed. So much of what is said about Wikipedia is untrue. It is closed and unfriendly, and the mass of “policies” conceals the real practical workings of the site. The “policies” themselves are just made up, are often just PR, and are enforced, if at all, by children or other people quite unfit to do so in a manner that is capricious, arbitary, unfair and profoundly lacking in transparency.

    The problem is not the individual trolls and kiddies. It is a structural problem. It is a problem with the whole design of Wikipedia. The idea that anyone can contribute is a good idea. The idea that any schoolboy can become an “administrator” is a profoundly bad one. The two roles require very different attitudes.

    My own feeling is that we need to see this as a safety issue. Wikipedia is an unsafe place for editors. Violence against contributors is routine and “disagreement” is, in reality, resolved by force by one side or the other — i.e. by harassment. Wikipedia is not a safe place in which people can contribute, and are treated with respect and presumed to be acting in good faith. The experience of myself and many, many others is that it is a place into which you venture, placing at risk your reputation and your peace of mind. This is shown, if we did not know otherwise, by the fact that almost no-one uses their own names any more. It’s just too dangerous to do so.

    The sheer number of people who have had bad experiences is very great, even though it is difficult to find material about this using Google. But even so, there are any number who report being attacked by trolls, of finding their attempts to contribute — and Wikipedia is designed to entice participation, to make doing so addictive — met with violence, of dishonest “administrators”, of no rational or sane way to resolve disagreements.

    I am told that the founder-owner of Wikipedia, James Wales, made his money in the porn industry, and where people are treated like meat; and I see the same attitude in Wikipedia.

    It needs to be addressed. The solution is to remove Wales from the equation, get rid of all the “administrators”/trolls/children, and get rid of the system where the REAL system administrators remain unknown. Instead, introduce a fair, sane, and transparent system of governance, run by responsible people who do so under their own names in an accountable manner. I fear that only the government can do this. Little as I like the idea, I suspect that it needs to do so. Wikipedia is a howling success at gathering information, because of its contributors. It is a terrible failure in most other respects.

    It needs official investigation. Wikipedia is too important to the web to be left to trolls.

  5. Seriously,there should be an age limit to who gets to use the internet. A 14 year old being an administrator at wikipedia? What a joke. Does wikipedia not care that its being run by children?

  6. No, it doesn’t care. That is, — because there is no such thing as “Wikipedia”, just specific individual people — the owner, James Wales, and his staff, do not care what happens, so long as no-one sues him.

    That is the root cause of all the problems with Wikipedia. The crowd-sourcing of contributions is the reason that it works. The fact that any troll can become an administrator — and it will always be trolls, because anyone who has something to contribute would rather do so, than spend time on wikilawyering — is the problem.

  7. Roger, thanks for mentioning Acta Pauli. I noticed that we had over 160 hits a few days ago, and I found out that it was because of this post here.

    I started the Acta Pauli hoping that it would be a group blog, and to a degree it is. It has not really caught on among other Acta Pauli scholars, though anyone interested in the subject could join us. I have made available a number of my own writings on the subject, including my Cambridge doctoral dissertation. Thus, I felt justified adding a link to Acta Pauli directly onto the Wikipedia website. But when I put them on the German and French sites, Anonymous Dissident, almost 14 at the time, removed my modest links. His reason was that links to blogs were to be avoided. Therefore, he chose form over substance, and one could hardly expect better from a child. So that it did not matter that a top Acta Pauli scholar with a PhD in the subject was the administrator of the blog, but that it was a blog, and that’s why the link had to come down, the needs of the readers of Wikipedia notwithstanding.

    Since providing my dissertation online, it has been cited now in some publications and peer-reviewed journals. And why not? I think scholars should put more not less of their work on the internet; others who have published their dissertations, for example with WUNT, will force other scholars interested in their subject to go the library and check out the book, or pay a couple hundred bucks for it. Mine is available free for scholarly use.

  8. You probably felt rather isolated, faced with this harassment. It is quite difficult to use Google to find examples of this kind of thing, and I believe that it is widespread.

    So you have done a very great service to us all, in showing up the way in which Wikipedia works against the interests of those who use it, and showing beyond doubt that the culprit in this situation was a child. It was likewise useful to see the arrogant language in which he addressed someone whom, in the ordinary run of life, he would not dare to speak to.

    Those who defend Wikipedia are very fond of such patronising language, and the most extreme claims to reliability are not infrequently made in the most confident language possible. Statements that point out the contrary are frequently met with demands for proof, as a tactic to silence criticism. But here we have hard evidence of just how bad things are.

    Thank you also for the blog. I think many scholars have yet to realise the potential of the web. Material that is offline will be read by handfuls at best. Material online will be consulted by far more, since most of us do a Google search when we first find that we need to know about something. Having your dissertation there can do nothing but good!

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