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Portrait of a Wikipedian: Ted Frank

By Eric Barbour

Here we examine a major scandal and Arbcom case, and a major embarrassment for Wikipedia, which transpired in August-September 2007. It is almost forgotten today. The principal is a well-known conservative attorney, and the apparent “victim” was filmmaker Michael Moore. The real victim was the truth.

Background

[Editor’s note: the numbers in brackets are links to individual edits on article or discussion pages at Wikipedia, what are called by Wikipediots “diffs.” The practice of citing “diffs” is integral to WikiLawyering, one of the more exciting and fulfilling aspects of the Wikipedia Experience.]

Essentially, Wikipedia was being edited by Ted Frank, notorious tort-reform activist and right-wing attorney, with the assistance of his conservative “Team America” Wiki-Friends, most notably MONGO plus minor conservative WP figures Crockspot and Noroton. At first he edited under his real name, then later under  THF, starting in June 2006. A popular subject: tort reform. By March 2007 he was patrolling vandalism using Twinkle, thus ingratiating himself with the insider crowd. See his talk page for examples. Mr. Frank proved to be a very successful “Wiki-lawyer”. There are many cases of Frank editing Wikipedia to slant its coverage to the right and in a pro-Israel direction. Examples: [1] [2] [3] [4]

.

Frank’s POV pushing brought him into frequent conflict with one of Wikipedia’s most liberal characters, David Shankbone. [5] [6] Because both Frank and Shankbone were well-regarded by Wikipedia’s mandarins, the situation simply worsened.

Frank was a frequent litigator on behalf of large drug companies, so he was mentioned in Michael Moore’s 2007 health-care documentary  ”Sicko’‘.  As a result, Frank began to  edit Moore-related Wikipedia articles to make Moore look bad. [7] The dispute escalated during August 2007. [8]

Moore and the operators of his website,  michaelmoore.com, noticed all this, and ran a story on the front page about Frank’s abuse of process at Wikipedia. Because they connected Frank’s real identity to his Wikipedia account, a stupid dispute erupted over whether Moore’s website should be banned from Wikipedia for “outing a Wikipedian”, thus making it a “BADSITE”, therefore “evil” beyond description. Frank and his cohorts proceeded to try to delete all links to michaelmoore.com from Wikipedia articles, of which there were many. Others followed them and reverted the deletions, and much argument ensued.

The result was an arbitration that was extremely messy, ugly, and long. The primary pages for the dispute have been “blanked as a courtesy” by the redoubtable Ira “Newyorkbrad” Matetsky, for unknown reasons. [9][10][11][12] Once again, Wikipedia attempts to censor its embarrassing history. Shankbone himself was allowed to  delete information from the Arbcom pages.

Essentially, and in typical fashion, Arbcom chickened out:

1) As one of the principal parties has discontinued his participation on Wikipedia, the case is dismissed with no further action being taken, with the understanding that the matter may be reconsidered if said party should return to active editing.

Frank pretended to quit Wikipedia on 3 September — a “retirement” that lasted all of five days.

It is long-rumored that the Arbcom clerk at the time, Frank Bednarz, came into dispute with Shankbone over the case. Threats on the life of Mr. Bednarz were supposedly made by persons unknown. Allegedly, the Russian mob were invoked, possibly because of Shankbone’s connection to gay-porn producer Michael Lucas. In December 2008, when Bednarz ran for Arbcom, Shankbone used his personal blog to attack Bednarz.

Despite the damaging Arbcom case, Ted continued to edit Wikipedia, and continued to have disputes with left-wing Wikifools. There are innumerable complaints in AN/I about THF’s manipulation. [13][14]. He spent a great deal of time venerating notorious right-wing billionaire Charles G. Koch in 2010, via the wiki article.

Frank appears to have finally had enough of editing Wikipedia. Except for a few minor edits, his last major edit session was in August 2011, after months of decline.

Ted’s BLP

Ted Frank was already “notable” enough to have his own BLP when the THF/Moore battle occurred. After the battle, other Wikipedia maniacs started to expand his bio, in the apparent (and common) need to “attack” their foes with long Wiki-rants. It started as a tiny stub, after the Arbcom case it had grown to 10k bytes. During the ensuing four years, it grew to about 19k bytes.

Then, on 22 August 2011, notorious Wiki-lunatic Dr.Blofeld started to edit it. Over the next week, he expanded it to about 50k bytes, all of it complementary in tone. Why a Welsh Wiki-obsessive gnome, who normally uses bots to generate junk articles, would show such obsessive interest in the biography of a right-wing American lawyer is a mystery. Paid editing is suspected. Blofeld aggressively defended some of his actions on the talkpage, claiming that he could not find evidence of Frank’s vetting of Sarah Palin in the 2008 Presidential campaign, using Google–a claim that can easily be disproved today.

Further information:
*Wikipedia Review discussion threads: [15] [16]

 

Photo credit: Original work by E. A. Barbour, modified from an original found on numerous websites.

3 comments to Portrait of a Wikipedian: Ted Frank

  • James Salsman

    The post linked to on Shankbone’s blog isn’t attacking anyone, it’s supporting CHL.

    • eric barbour

      I read it as an attack on Wikipedia Review, and by extension, anyone who participated there. “So if anyone does not care for the Wikipedia Review, it is me. Cool Hand Luke is different; as Lar put it, he is “wheat in chaff” on that site. He is one of the few reasonable people, and I also do not find his participation there to be problematic. But others disagree:” sounds like “damning with faint praise” to me.

      Something extremely slimy happened during the THF case, and unfortunately, we cannot get an exact picture of what happened. Because things were deleted. Plus:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrators%27_noticeboard/IncidentArchive326#User:Cool_Hand_Luke_is_harassing_me

      Now you can tell me something, Mr. Salsman. Why are these trolls allowed to run the sixth-most-popular website in the world? How does any of this crap write an “encyclopedia”?

      • James Salsman

        Well, Mr. Barbour, I’m not convinced that Wikipedia’s few thousand drama addicts, including ArbCom, “run” much of anything. I see ArbCom as sort of clique-masters for the shrinking cadre of editors who think trying to maintain a single long-term registered account is a good idea. And I don’t have much respect for the intellectual capacity of those people after all these years. Aaron Swartz is as right today as he was in 2006: Most of the work is done by logged out users and short time registered users, i.e., throwaway “sockpuppets,” as even you and your fellow travelers who can’t seem to get a word out about the site without raging over the politics, still refer pejoratively to short term accounts.

        As for your second question, it’s an encyclopedia because people, for whatever reason, continue to contribute current and accurate summaries of general knowledge subjects and references organized by topic. As much as you flame people such as myself who point it out, you still can’t find a single reputable study which indicates anything other than that Wikipedia’s quality and coverage continues to improve by any qualitative or quantitative measure. I keep a very close eye on these things, and in aggregate it’s improving as well as it ever was. Sure, you can find hundreds of counter-examples, but not anything approaching any statistically valid reason for serious concern.

        But it’s so much more than an encyclopedia. So many people devote sizable segments of their life to content that gets hardly more than a dozen views a week, but where else can a graph like this get out in front of roughly 4.5 million page views in the four months leading up to the U.S. presidential elections with an investment of maybe a dozen hours and no money? If you can get over your white-hot rage, find an ISP that allocates dynamic IP addresses over multiple Class A address ranges (or get a friend who has one let you use PHProxy on their machine), and just enjoy the world’s largest free megaphone, I think your blood pressure would probably go way down.