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Like this article? We recommend Threats to Wikipedia

Threats to Wikipedia

Wikipedia’s popularity and high visibility attracts troublemakers, including vandals.16 Wikipedia defines vandalism as “any addition, removal, or change of content made in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of Wikipedia.”17 Wikipedia’s vandalism page lists about 20 different categories of vandalism and says that “[c]ommon types of vandalism are the addition of obscenities or crude humor, page blanking, and the insertion of nonsense into articles.”18

Vandals are motivated by a variety of factors, including just simply seeking attention.19 Wikipedia’s combination of heavy traffic and free editability provides an easy outlet to satisfy that goal.

Wiki-vandalism is not currently pervasive or generally successful. A 2007 study indicated that between 3-6 percent of edits were vandalism, and the median time for correcting those errors was 14 minutes.20

However, even a low rate of vandalism may create a significant workload for Wikipedia. The 2007 study also indicated that human Wikipedia editors, as opposed to anti-vandal robots, made 100 percent of the corrections,21 which reinforces the fact that Wikipedia editors remain the principal defenders of the site’s editorial integrity.22 Given the high volume of total edits being made constantly, even a 3 percent vandalism rate still requires a lot of anti-vandalism labor hours.23 This time is diverted from other productive tasks,24 and this effort is borne by a fairly small corps of dedicated editors.25

In addition to vandals, Wikipedia attracts spammers seeking to reach Wikipedia’s large audience for their commercial benefit.26 Quantifying spamming activity at Wikipedia is difficult, in part because “wikispam” lacks a single well-accepted definition. Nevertheless, wikispam is unquestionably a serious concern for Wikipedia. For example, in 2006, Wikipedia’s legal counsel described spamming activity as “overwhelming” and “out of hand,” and encouraged users to “shoot on sight” if they see spammers.27

Wikipedia explicitly recognizes two types of wikispam:28

  • Advertisements masquerading as articles.29 For example, a French periodical showed that pharmaceutical companies manipulate Wikipedia pages to neutralize adverse commentary about their drugs and to implicitly encourage unapproved uses.30
  • External link spamming. Initially, link spamming was a product of Google’s PageRank search results algorithm, which treats every web link as a vote but gives extra weight to votes from more popular sites.31 Wikipedia, as a very popular site, has a high PageRank.32 Accordingly, marketers inserted links into Wikipedia pages principally to increase the linked site’s PageRank in the Google index and concomitantly increase search referrals from Google. In 2007, Wikipedia responded by adopting Google’s nofollow tag,33 which instructs Google not to count the links as votes.34

Wikipedia’s adoption of the nofollow tag discourages link-spamming but does not eliminate it. First, third parties may freely republish Wikipedia entries verbatim,35 and some prominent sites such as Answers.com36 do so. Unless republishers independently implement the nofollow tag on their websites, marketers can still get PageRank benefit by inserting links into Wikipedia pages when the entries appear on these third-party websites. Second, because Wikipedia has so much traffic, marketers can get a high volume of commercially valuable referrals solely from readers following a Wikipedia link directly. As a result, external link spamming still plagues Wikipedia.37

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