Web: Notes on a Vandal


Wikipedia was revolutionary in two ways. Firstly, it proved that individuals co-operating to achieve accuracy in the supply of knowledge was actually possible. Secondly, it made doing college assignments easy. But, as any Arts student led by Wikipedia to write an essay about Plato’s tenure as a Hawaiian weatherman for a Greek Philosophy project will tell you, it is anything but fool proof.

The strange thing about Wikipedia is that it is a free and open encyclopaedia. Literally anyone can create and remove information. It is the equivalent of having a white board on a public street.

Yet somehow, it works extremely well. As an Economics student, this is a serious downer. I have been taught for years that individuals act in a self-interested way, are uncooperative and are just horrible in general.

If Wikipedia can work so efficiently, I may have to rethink my career choice. So I take up the challenge to bring it down with vandalism – a no-holds-barred attack on the truth in other words. That’ll show that Jimmy Wales character.

Sadly, all pages to do with Christianity are “semi-protected”, meaning only long-established users can edit them. Such a shame too, I had so many wonderfully nasty things to say about the Pope and Sarah Palin.

I do expand Mary Harney’s full name to Mary Percival Wulfric Brian Harney. This lasts two hours before I’m reported for vandalism. What, me? Never!

I remove Old Spice guy’s entire intro and replaced it with “Look at my page, now back at your page, now back to mine”. Deleted in a few seconds, I can’t help but imagine him constantly at the laptop monitoring his bio. While on a horse, obviously.

Not all responses are so frightfully quick. It was several hours until someone realised that Barack Obama was not a former UCDSU Welfare Officer, and that Joseph Stalin was never involved with Ents. This aside, it struck me as weird how quickly people respond and repair the damage you’ve done.

Each of my acts of vandalism was spotted by one Wiki administrator (see unemployed geek); who has contributed over 160,000 edits in his lifetime. And there are literally hundreds of these self-described ‘Wikipolice’, who take the time to monitor articles, promote accuracy and prevent vandalism. I can only hope they don’t backtrace me. But now my enemy has a face, or at least a username.

Spurred on by this, I decide to make it interesting. I challenge a friend to a game of my recent invention: Forrest Gump. The rules are simple – insert yourself into as many historical situations as possible before they block your account (three strikes of vandalism and you’re out).

Sadly, I can’t see it becoming the next Google Whacking. So it begins. I become an early member of the Marx brothers; she holds the record for most Twinkies fit in a human mouth. I’m the screenwriter for Citizen Kane; she is the female backing vocalist on the ‘Ding Dong Song’.

Not only does she thoroughly school me on imagination, but also my account is first to be blocked, after a pathetic 20 minutes. My crusade against Wikipedia has failed. This is what the internet calls a win for truth, but it’s an epic fail for me.