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The Ugly Side Of Wikipedia’s Gigantic Re-Creational Publishing Scheme

Wikipedia has lost thousands of editors due to a culture of deletionism, anti-expertism, bloated bureaucracy, horrible abuses of power, and its slightly condescending founder (They all work for free because “it’s awesome!”). Or maybe all those unpaid imps realized that it is just a gigantic re-creational publishing sham and snowball scheme. Better to publish your own stuff, and in the real world. The Future of Wikipedia could be: paid services, openness, and accountability- the precise opposite of what it first intended. 

BEIJING – When an editor named 'Moonriddengirl' came across the ‘East-West Dichotomy’ as a work and article, she engaged, like so many stressed editors in those days, in defaming Your author (then a grad student at Peking University and Tokyo University), prompting a deletion, a block, and, when Your author protested, a ban. Verdict: Non-notable. He took the beating, and moved on.

But wait what happened then:

After the pesky author was out of the way, the editor made it her personal mission to “re-create” The East-West Dichotomy herself, explaining away her plagiarism with simply ‘painting’ over it: “If a canvas is painted over and somebody puts a new picture there, it isn't a copy of the original even if the subject is the same.”

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A gigantic re-creational publishing house, relocating attributions

It’s not like the East-West Dichotomy could not be clearly identified as Your author’s work (8 of 10 top research results link to the original East-West Dichotomy). The copyright was always his, and is now with China’s Foreign Language Press. It’s about how nasty a Wikipedia editor can become in abusing her admin powers, snatching ideas from others, blocking their accounts, removing their traces, posing as new expert, and guarding her spoils like a ballyragging harpy. I never look at Wikipedia articles the same way again.

For years I thought nothing of it; after all, as the original what should I care what Wikipedia says? But then, after a deal with Google, Wikipedia is now visited by millions of people each day (it shows up in almost all research results at the near top). Every day I am painfully reminded how they snatched the East-West Dichotomy. Thus, I thought I should bring this striking case to attention to serve as a reminder to other people out there to protect better the fruits of their own work and research. [There are some good websites like Wikipediocracy, that offer information].

In his naivety about Wikipedia, Your author tried to locate Ms Maggie Dennis, Moonriddengirl's real name, at her university department. It turns out that she has no such credentials outside of Wikipedia. I then tried to find similar accounts of plagiarism and found shocking tales about Wikipedia’s general hatred for elites, its anti-expertism, editor revenge, and rampant cronyism (yes, they gang up on you).

Once anonymity is gone, they are accountable

You may know this longer than I do; there was this 2007 case of Ryan Jordan, alias Essjay, then a 24-years old college drop-out, who posed as an expert on religion and made 20,000 Wikipedia edits. He pales against Moonriddengirl who joined that same year and has since then altered, according to this source, over 100,000 entries, which clearly makes her a recognizable public figure. The question remains: How can people have so much ‘expertise’?

Well, the answer is they don’t, they copy ideas; in the case of Essjay, from sources such as ‘Catholicism for Dummies’. Within the Wikipedia community, however, the amount of articles created and re-created, and the number of edits, is an artificial currency; it’s a bit like pseudo-academia: publish or perish.

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Wikipedia is a publishing snowball scheme

One would be correct, I believe, to think of Wikipedia as partly a gigantic publishing snowball scheme that re-creates knowledge found in other people’s works (incl. textbooks, news and media) –namely by inviting an army of anonymous (often semi-educated) volunteers to “re-create” what they just read elsewhere in their own words, and transfer it into Jimmy Wales' Wikipedia.

Intellectually, copying the work of others by simply rephrasing content is very demeaning work, so, naturally, some editors want to break free and express their own ideas, views, and idiosyncrasies. That’s when they mistake themselves as writers or experts while in reality, giving Wikipedia's own principles, they are cheap, faceless, exploitable, and expandable minions.

Hence the hatred for the true creator of things, the writers and experts (in the real world) who -famous or not- have something that most Wikipedia editors wouldn't be allowed to take credit for even if they had written and signed it: substance. They are condemned to attribute their (anonymous) writing to somebody else's work; the only freedom for them lies in choosing to whom: "To whom shall I attribute?" -this is power! And like all power, it is addictive.

The fabricants of content

Moonriddengirl has spent seven years as unpaid ‘fabricant of content’ and has been promoted, it seems, to an admin. Maybe she is now close enough to power to change things. She arguably knows a lot about the nature of Wikipedia as summarized in her views about its copyright law: “it is legal to read an encyclopedia article or other work, reformulate the concepts in your own words, and submit it to Wikipedia, so long as you do not follow the source too closely.” This explains many editors' quantitative outputs and why they can turn expert over night, say, on the East-West Dichotomy, or any topic they type into Google. What about moral standards? Well, Ms Dennis continues: “However, it would still be unethical (but not illegal) to do so without citing the original as a reference.”

Wikipedia has a cure for plagiarism

It seems like a perfect cure for plagiarism: rewrite an article over and over again, better: re-create it, and we shall witness how the theft gradually disappears: “There is no plagiarism in this article now, (…) I rewrote it from scratch,” the editor admits to her bold revisionism. She, indeed, did a great job in rewriting the entire thing; the original is archived here. Referring to her new rip-off she goes on: “This is not your work nor based on your work in any way, and these are not your ideas.” Oh now she sounds like a real jerk.

Thorsten Pattberg is the Author of the East-West Dichotomy.

Image credit: Arjoe/Shutterstock.com

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