By Eric Barbour
“Civility”. It’s one of Wikipedia’s favorite words, and one of their favorite pretexts for keeping various people from editing Wikipedia (the “encyclopedia that anyone can edit”). Yet there is a well-known journalist who, despite having written scores of feature articles for outlets such as Slate, Ars Technica, and Wired, does not have a biography on Wikipedia — apparently because he made Wikipedians look bad. They bent the meanings of the words “civility” and “notability” into pretzels, specifically to be rid of him.
Almost forgotten today, a partly-unintentional hoax covered by Farivar made the Wikipedians look very silly indeed. Among the most snookered: the ever-annoying Philip “Snowspinner” Sandifer, a former Wikipedia administrator and frequent commenter on Arbitration Committee cases. Farivar only needed to discuss one small hoax article, plus a bio of himself, to start the wrecking ball swinging.
We reproduce here the August 2005 edition of the Wikipedia Signpost:
A story in Slate relating the story of an internet hoax led to an attempt to have a Wikipedia article about the journalist who wrote the story deleted, after he indicated that he had started the article in question himself.
First, the hoax
The story, published 1 August, was called “Green-Collar Crime: How I stopped an Internet sex hoax“. Farivar explained how a message board at the Something Awful website had created a rumor about “greenlighting”, which supposedly referred to a practice of wearing green shirts with the collar up in order to arrange anonymous trysts. Farivar said the hoax was being organized at http://www.wookiefetish.com, and that he and others had been working to expose it as a hoax at places like Metafilter and on Wikipedia itself.
Wikipedia did in fact have an article on greenlighting, created 5 July by Jlassoff (T–C–L). Within a day it had been nominated for deletion by Bmicomp (T–C–L), with Cfarivar (T–C–L) himself following immediately behind to identify it as a hoax. The vote to delete the article was overwhelming, as the perpetrators of the hoax made surprisingly little effort to prevent this. However, the article has since been recreated to relate the story of the hoax itself.
Next, the vanity
In the course of his story, Farivar mentioned the Wikipedia article about himself, saying, “Yes, I added an entry on myself to Wikipedia. Why haven’t you?” His parenthetical statement prompted Delfuego (T–C–L) to nominate this article for deletion as well.
Farivar’s article was originally created on 30 January 2005 by the IP address 184.108.40.206 (T–C–L). Back in April, Refdoc (T–C–L) attempted to have it speedily deleted as a vanity page, but Kappa (T–C–L) intervened and submitted it to Votes for deletion instead, where the decision was to keep the article. However, with the fact that this was originally a vanity page now confirmed by the Slate article, the issue was revisited.
In contrast with the vote regarding Greenlighting, the VfD listing for Farivar actually attracted more controversy and saw a far greater influx of new users and IP addresses attempting to vote. Initial comments strongly supported deletion, until Snowspinner interjected to declare that “the subject was notable, regardless of whether it was originally a vanity page, and that if the article was deleted he would undelete it unless forced to stop by the Arbitration Committee or Jimbo Wales.”
This led GregNorc (T–C–L) to complain to Wales, but Wales agreed that Snowspinner was correct and said, “Even if VfD _did_ produce a consensus that this article should be deleted, then VfD is broken and should be ignored”. Afterwards, the trend of comments shifted to include many more editors who favored keeping the article. In the end, while a majority still favored deletion, it did not reach the 2/3 level normally considered the minimum to justify deleting an article, so it was kept.
But that’s not all, folks!
Farivar’s biography was repeatedly recreated and deleted thereafter. For about 20 months, the wonderful Wikipedians could not agree whether it should be kept or deleted. Sandifer repeatedly stuck his nose into the issue and roiled the waters.
- First nomination, 14 April 2005
- Second nomination, 1 August 2005
- Third nomination, 26 June 2006
- Fourth nomination, 31 January 2007, which was finally closed as “delete”.
On 7 February, after it was deleted, Sandifer recreated it again, claiming it was on “Jimbo’s orders” (which cannot be verified). This led to a long squabble on the Deletion Review noticeboard, whereupon it was again deleted. Note the aggressive opposition put up by Andrew “Starblind (T–C–L)” Lenahan and Fran “Krimpet (T–C–L)” Rogers, longtime Wikipedia insiders who objected strongly to the article for “lack of notability”. The others took their cues from Krimpet and Starblind, and it was gone.
And there’s even more!
As described in a January 2007 Signpost article:
As a follow-up, Valleywag contributor Paul Boutin then offered his own instructions on getting into Wikipedia as part of the blog’s “Silicon Valley Users Guide” feature. He suggested getting a friend to start the article, and establishing some kind of track record before actually editing it yourself. Boutin noted how his own entry had been created by an unregistered user, and insinuated that it had been created not by himself, but by fellow journalist Cyrus Farivar. Farivar already admitted creating his own entry two years ago, having mentioned this when he wrote about the effort to expose the greenlighting hoax.
Even more bizarrely, in May 2007 the term “greenlighting” was redirected to “Toothing (T–H–L)”, a totally unrelated Internet hoax. This was originally done because Sandifer, in his great wisdom, merged the “greenlighting” material into this article in February 2007. It was later removed, rightfully because it is unrelated; yet the redirect remains.
Farivar was occasionally mentioned in AFD discussions for other writers and journalists as an example of “non-notability”. This one from 2005 contains the offhand comment: “Self-authored comparisons to Van Gogh notwithstanding, in other words, a non-notable person distinguished mainly by his desire to promote himself on the internet. Kind of a Cyrus Farivar without the publication record. rodii 22:46, 15 December 2005 (UTC)”
And the cherry on top
Farivar has written so many features, his writings are repeatedly used in Wikipedia articles as references. A search for his name in Wikipedia article space reveals about 40 citations as of 2015, plus several mentions within article texts. Googling his name gives more than 60,000 hits. Yet he is still “not permitted” to have a biography. Petty revenge cannot be discounted as a reason. When Rogers requested adminship in April 2007, she mentioned the Farivar article deletion as “proof” that she could keep cool in an argument. The absurd irony is that Sandifer, who was later forced out of Wikipedia because “the community finds his actions distasteful”, may have been right about the Farivar biography after all. Yet it remains deleted, and unmentionable.