How Many Vandals?

Exactly 187,529 different organizations have made at least one anonymous Wikipedia edit. That seems like a very large number of editors who wanted to hide their changes — but were they all vandals?

Grad student Virgil Griffith created WikiScanner recently to uncover surreptitious editors. He’s certainly raised awareness of these activities, as reported by Wired and amplified by the NYTimes last Sunday. Some pretty well-known companies and even the CIA are making these edits to Wikipedia entries.

On his site, Griffith identifies three kinds of vandalism and disinformation. “Without naming names, I’ve found three types of common vandalism: (1) Wholesale removal of entire paragraphs of critical information; (2) White-washing — replacing negative/neutral adjectives with positive adjectives that mean something similar; and (3) Adding negative information to a competitor’s page.”

He used publicly available information, starting with Wikipedia’s database dumps between early August 2007 and February 2002. He discovered over 34 million anonymous edits in that time period. Then he identified organizations based on IP addresses, using IP2Location tools.

Why does it matter? Simply put, Wikipedia attracts traffic that’s interested in your organization. Craig Paddock reported that “despite its current use of no-follow tags, Wikipedia’s ability to generate high-quality traffic can be equal to or better than that of most search engines.”

Like any social community, organizations and their marketers should pay attention to this user-generated content and to their online reputations. However, the marketers should not be hiding in plain sight. My hope is that this “revealing” process will drive down anonymous posters. Correct things publicly, and let your customers speak for themselves too.

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