by E. A. Barbour
As any regular watcher of Wikipedia can attest, the coverage of corporations on Wikipedia is spotty, and is often blatantly hostile–or blatantly positive. One of my favorites is still the Kirby Company. When I first looked at it in 2010, it was the ugliest hit-piece I’d ever seen on en-wiki, almost nothing about the company but a long list of legal problems and rape-prone salesmen. Then, in late 2011, some mysterious person tripled the article’s length, with material that looked like a company press packet. Things like this happen on a near-continuous basis; a company rep or other paid editor writes a glowing company biography and posts it on en-WP, a left-wing agitator erases it and posts a long rant about the firm’s legal problems, then another company rep shows up and changes it all again. Back and forth, they quietly pass the salami. If the WMF weren’t so profoundly pathetic, they could sell tickets to this idiocy, and call it “entertainment”.
One of the most blatant, yet unrecognized, battlegrounds for POV editing involves the giant copyright troll and theme-park operator, known as The Walt Disney Company. Disney is quite dependent for much of its billions in annual revenue on old cartoon characters, most created prior to 1970. Disney was the primary instigator of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, written as a favor to the Happiest Place on Earth by Congressman Sonny Bono, shortly before his head tried to penetrate a tree. The CTEA is often called the “Mickey Mouse Act”, because it immediately extended the copyrights on early Mickey Mouse cartoons–which otherwise would have lapsed into the public domain in only a few years. Since Wikipedia fanboys tend to be free-culture extremists, one would think that Wikipedia’s coverage of Disney would be uncomplimentary. But nooooo……
Congress is not the only place where extravagant Disney-love occurs. As Cla68 said in December 2011: “If anyone here has ever tried to add information that could be perceived as negative to any of the SeaWorld, Disney, or other theme park-related articles in Wikipedia, you might agree with me that those articles appear to be watched very closely and controlled by a small group of dedicated editors. I suspect those editors are working for marketing firms representing the US theme park industry.” Admittedly, Disney has a very large and dedicated fan following, since they made “beloved” cartoons for decades, and nothing generates obsessed fans quite like nostalgic juvenilia. Yet some of the diffs found in the histories of Disney-related articles might, just might, be slightly more than merely “fans” venting.
Look through the edit history of the Disneyland article. It is one of Wikipedia’s oldest, created in November 2001 by Sean “The Epopt” Barrett. In the edit history, one can find a few odd characters who could just be fans, like Disneywizard. (He’s also wildly in love with Knott’s Berry Farm.) You find Disneyadventurernicholas, whose edit patterns are strangely similar to Disneywizard. A pattern you often see in popular articles is visible here, with an account or IP address making a series of minor edits (usually 2 to 10 of them) over a short period and then disappearing completely. The work pattern of an ADHD Asperger’s sufferer? And of course, the usual commonplace vandalism, and crazed patrollers quickly reverting it using Huggle or Twinkle, and not checking their work to see if they accidentally reverted valid edits.
You also find something that is probably a sock farm. In this case, the usernames follow a pattern: either a single word based on a Star Wars character, or two words. Some of them have been blocked as sockpuppets, some not. Thus:
Jedi94 is everywhere in the Disney areas of Wikipedia. The edit history for the Magic Kingdom looks much the same–with the same names. Plus, there’s a very strange vandalism patroller named Dwtootles there, who has a very sparse and irregular editing pattern–and almost exclusively on Disney-related articles.
Go back a few years, and you’ll see some edits, and even some patrolling, by one SpikeJones. Interestingly, his contribs are full of “manicuring” edits and addition of obscure facts to articles on Disney properties, to theme parks in general, and to Las Vegas casinos. And, strangely, to articles on very obscure companies like BurnLounge. Is he a fan of BurnLounge, Disney and The Excalibur resort? Or is he a paid editor?
Unlike, say, the Kirby Company, the articles for Disney and the Vegas casinos rarely contain any embarrassing legal revelations or other “bad news”. The nasties, such as people being killed on rides, are quietly and neatly shunted off into Incidents at Disney parks. Give the lunatic, semi-random nature of Wikipedia’s internal operations, and the regular defamation of people in Wikipedia articles, it’s remarkable that Disney receives such magically favorable treatment. Especially considering Disney’s well-known copyright activities, and the notorious hatred of copyright among Wikipedians. Isn’t it?
That’s the perverse nature of editing Wikipedia. It is impossible to tell if an account is merely a crazed fan, or someone being paid to edit and control the articles in question. Wikipedia makes “plausible deniability” an easy achievement. Perhaps too easy.
Photo credit: glynbarritt / Flickr