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The definition of a “Digerati”

by E. A. Barbour

The “digital culture” world that reached a peak during the dotcom boom of the late 1990s was an atrocity. The unhinged propagandizing and glorification of “being digital” became an embarrassment. It also resulted in the creation of endless reams of stupid jargon, not least of which was the ugly portmanteau word “digerati”, supposed to refer to people who “live their lives digitally”, meaning basically those who flop around on the Internet, smearing their massive egos into every nook and cranny in the online landscape. Usage of this word has declined in recent years, but the people it was applied to continue to spew comical “transhumanist” and “Singularity” propaganda everywhere today.

Not surprisingly, the “digerati” quickly discovered that Wikipedia was amenable to ego-smearing, if one used a few simple tricks — tag-teaming with friends, sockpuppetry, and lying about it later. The Jimbo Way of manipulation became the SOP of Wikipedia by 2005, thanks partly to BLP [Biographies of Living Persons in Wikipedia jargon — ed. ] abuse of this type. (Don’t forget that Jimbo repeatedly tried to make himself the Sole Flounder of Wikipedia…)

To begin, consider the case of Metafilter. It is a moderately-popular group blog, which has existed since 1999. I say “moderately”, because despite being one of the earliest group blogs on the Net, it never achieved the massive popularity of competitors such as Reddit, Digg, and Fark. For the first few years of its existence, Metafilter was a quiet little nerdy corner of the web, run by its founder. In 2004, responding to increasing traffic and interest, the founder started to hire co-moderators and give them administrative powers.


Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West, librarian/blogger and believed to be the first Metafilter co-moderator, shares her name with a moderately famous novelist.  Jessamyn West the Metafilter admin has unquestionably edited her own BLP, openly and repeatedly. Many of the references are links to her own writings. Also, her longtime Metafilter friend/confidant  Dhartung has also spent a lot of time editing her WP BLP.

Her BLP was tagged for deletion THREE TIMES, unsuccessfully. Judging from the AFD [Articles for Deletion in Wikipedia jargon — ed.] in April 2005, before the creation of two biographies, one for the Metafilter admin and one for the novelist, there was a single article (Jessamyn West), purely about the Metafilter admin and not the novelist. There was a VFD before the AFD that was merged into the AFD, and thus made to disappear. It appears that the Metafilter admin may have created the original article, and said nothing about the novelist. A disambig and two articles were created—right in the middle of that 2005 AFD, and very quietly. Original edit history appears to have been lost in the process. There is some evidence that the AFD was sockpuppeted — by someone, Dpbsmith’s protestations that she wasn’t directly involved notwithstanding.

Note this. “It started out as a substub about the blogger.” Note this. Note this.

The last attempt to delete West’s biography, in March 2008, is here. Note that Dhartung meat-puppeted the argument to help keep the article. Isn’t it nice to have digital friends?

This situation is very skanky, unquestionably involves multiple violations of NPOV, COI, off-wiki canvassing, etc. [Here’s a general guide to Wikipedia acronyms — ed.] All ignored and forgotten, to date.

And West was not the only Metafilter insider to enjoy happy-fun-time on Wikipedia. Metafilter was started by former Pyra Labs developer  Matt Haughey, who wrote the original code himself. Note that Haughey’s BLP was created by an IP address that did only two things, on 16 June 2004: create this, and create the BLP for Haughey’s fellow Pyra Labs employee, the rather non-notable Meg Hourihan. Note that Haughey’s BLP was edited by both Jessamyn West and Dhartung.

Note that one Rickscully, who voted to keep in the 2008 attempt to delete Jessamyn’s BLP, also edited the Haughey BLP. Mr. Scully lives in Tunbridge, Vermont, and Ms. West lives only a few miles away in Randolph, Vermont. It’s nice to have digital friends. (They unquestionably know each other in real life. Of course.)

And if you want proof that heeling your own BLP can have positive consequences, consider this. In June 2011, despite having previously violated a number of Wikipedia rules, Ms. West  joined the Wikimedia Foundation’s Advisory Board. It’s nice to have digital friends.

Do you see any evidence that Metafilter was blacklisted for “canvassing” or BLP abuse? I don’t. And do you think this is the only case of “digerati” manipulating Wikipedia for their own self-aggrandizement? Nope, sorry, there are many more. Perhaps, if you go to Metafilter and ask Madame West why she is a WMF advisor and not banned from Wikipedia, I might tell you some more stories like this.

(Be prepared to find yourself instantly banned from Metafilter “for eternity”. They are even more intolerant of Metafilter criticism than Wikipedia is of Wikipedia criticism. Web 2.0 seems to be fond of banning people in general.)


Photo credits: Wikimedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

5 comments to The definition of a “Digerati”