The Wikipedia Scandal Continues

Nick Carr reports on the latest twist in the Wikipedia phony credentials scandal:

Head Wikipedian Jimmy Wales, having previously defended the Wikipedian administrator Ryan Jordan, who faked an elaborate online identity – “Essjay” – as a distinguished religion scholar, has this morning asked his beleaguered colleague to resign, saying that his “past support of EssJay in this matter was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on.”

Seth Finkelstein highlights the core of Jimbo’s belated reaction:

It doesn’t matter that Essjay lied to the New Yorker reporter about his credentials, making Wikipedia look good to the media – a matter Wales has known about for weeks. No mention of the dishonesty of using degree falsification to endorse Wikipedia in a letter to a professor. That’s lying to those outside The Family.

But he used his false credentials in content disputes. That’s serious! It’s an IN-WORLD offense! It’s inside The Family.

It all started with a Wikipedia official lying to the New Yorker:

Essjay was recommended to Ms. Schiff as a source by a member of Wikipedia’s management team because of his respected position within the Wikipedia community. He was willing to describe his work as a Wikipedia administrator but would not identify himself other than by confirming the biographical details that appeared on his user page. At the time of publication, neither we nor Wikipedia knew Essjay’s real name. Essjay’s entire Wikipedia life was conducted with only a user name; anonymity is common for Wikipedia admin-istrators and contributors, and he says that he feared personal retribution from those he had ruled against online. Essjay now says that his real name is Ryan Jordan, that he is twenty-four and holds no advanced degrees, and that he has never taught. He was recently hired by Wikia—a for-profit company affiliated with Wikipedia—as a “community manager”; he continues to hold his Wikipedia positions. He did not answer a message we sent to him; Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikia and of Wikipedia, said of Essjay’s invented persona, “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it.”

Wikipedia fans claim Ryan Jordan is an exception and most of the paid staff and volunteer editors are honest. My experience in Wikipedia editing, including the inevitable content disputes, administrative blocks, and arbitration requests leads me to believe that Ryan Jordans are more the rule than the exception in Wikipedia land. It’s a project that’s built on unpaid, anonymous labor, and the only thing they can possibly be getting out of it is emotional payback (read: a fantasy life.)

Jordan, like countless other Wikipedians, created a persona for himself that represented what he wished himself to be, and he stomped through Wikipedia pretending it was real for so long he became deluded enough to believe it.

Someday I’ll write about what goes on behind the scenes at Wikipedia, and it won’t be pretty.

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