|John Doe #1
preliminary evidence points
to Calgary, Alberta, Canada
|2005-09-28: started article on Brandt (current version)
2005-10-12: responds to Brandt's complaint that he was not notified:
"We tend not to do that."
2005-10-15: "I apologize for what I wrote about you as a source."
2005-10-15: "Most of our editors edit anonymously, for reasons of
2005-10-16: "...stop editing this article...don't delete valid references or
St.Petersburg, FL, USA
|2005-10-17: "...an impossible and absurd
2005-10-17: "Do not remove them again."
|2005-10-26: starts a new Wikipedia article on Brandt to
replace deleted |
article; this new article is quickly deleted
2005-10-29: a story about deletion is posted by Lenssen on his pro-
Google blog, and broadcasted by Google News
2005-10-29: note to Jimmy Wales: "...would like a comment regarding
deletion of the article on Google-watcher Daniel Brandt."
2005-11-06: hypes the story again on his pro-Google blog
Hialeah, FL, USA
|2005-10-29: undeletes the deleted article |
2005-11-01: referring to "Brandt and his fellow trolls," he comments
that "resistance is in fact futile."
|John Doe #3||2005-10-30 — 2005-11-05: dozens of edits, many of which
are hostile |
to Brandt, with many incompetent edits and additions, and
2005-11-02: "Brandt has no say in the matter whatever."
2005-11-17: "Please no more of this privacy nonsence [sic]."
|John Doe #4||2005-11-04: suggests that everyone "point and laugh" at
Brandt's open |
letter to Jimbo
2005-11-05: blocks Brandt for 7 days due to an alleged "legal threat"
aka Broken S
Wellington, FL, USA
|2005-11-04: blocks Brandt for 24 hours |
2005-11-07: "If he acts up he'll just get blocked again."
|John Doe #6
Bristol, United Kingdom
|2005-11-04: "It's reassuring to know that the subject of
an article has |
been unable to successfully be the final arbiter of its
Bronx, New York, NY, USA
|2005-11-04: referring to Brandt: "Poor baby."
2005-11-04: "Frankly, you're deluding yourself if you think any court will
care in the slightest. Nevertheless, that sounds like a legal
threat. I'd be careful if you want to avoid being banned."
|John Doe #8
New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
|2005-11-04: "Perhaps we should find a picture of Daniel
Brandt with |
some babes to put on our page about him."
New Shorham, RI, USA
|2005-11-04: "He can cry about this until the cows come
2005-11-07: aborted the vote for deletion, normally a 7-day process,
after only one day
2005-11-08: deletes the open letter to Jimmy Wales on Brandt's user
page, knowing it won't be restored because he's blocked
2005-11-08: "...you truely [sic] are just a whiny has-been that never
was in the first place..."
|John Doe #9
Twin Cities area, MN, USA
|2005-11-04: "You're right, it isn't a privacy problem.
But he is very |
2005-11-04: "And in any case we have different inclusion standards."
St.Louis Park, MN, USA
|2005-11-03: "Oh for goodness sakes, stop with the empty
threats and |
stop violating WP:NLT."
2005-11-07: "Him not wanting an article here about himself is no reason
to delete this."
|Jeffrey O. Gustafson
Brooklyn, NY, USA
|2005-11-08: blocks Brandt indefinitely, primarily as a
reaction to this |
page you are now reading
2005-11-11: deletes a highly-relevant quotation from the Florida
Supreme Court about invasion-of-privacy, which appeared
on Brandt's User_Talk page, on the grounds that it is an
"anonymous legal threat"
Victoria, BC, Canada
|2005-11-09: "...batshit insanity is not a criteria for deletion."|
|2005-11-06: added true but objectionable facts from many
years ago, |
which is a violation of Florida's invasion-of-privacy statute
|2005-11-10: "Ironically enough, I think this whole affair
qualified him for |
his own article."
Anaheim, CA, USA
|2005-11-11: "Nutcases like Brandt aren't the norm."|
If anyone can help us identify any of the above John Doe administrators or editors,
please send an email to wikiwatch at earthlink.net. Even without a real name, an IP
address or email address can be helpful. Thank you. — Public Information Research, Inc.
What is the point of this page?
by Daniel Brandt, November 9, 2005
There is a problem with the structure of Wikipedia. The basic problem is that no one, neither the Trustees of Wikimedia Foundation, nor the volunteers who are connected with Wikipedia, consider themselves responsible for the content. If you don't believe me, then carefully read Wikipedia's disclaimer.
At the same time that no one claims responsibility, there are two unique characteristics of Wikipedia that can be very damaging to a person, corporation, or group. The first is that anyone can edit an article, and there is no guarantee that any article you read has not been edited maliciously, and remains uncorrected in that state, at the precise time that you access that article.
The second unique characteristic is that Wikipedia articles, and in some cases even the free-for-all "talk" discussions behind the articles, rank very highly in the major search engines. This means that Wikipedia's potential for inflicting damage is amplified by several orders of magnitude.
As someone who has been jostling with Wikipedia administrators for several weeks, I am very interested in whom I should sue if I wanted to sue. This assumes, of course, that I've decided I've been clearly libeled by Wikipedia's article on me, and/or the discussion page attached to it. At the moment, this is an intellectual interest of mine, and I am not currently claiming that I have been libeled. This could change very quickly. I maintain that I qualify as a "private person," which means that I do not have to show that the article about me is maliciously untrue. The bar for private persons is lower for a finding of libel, as compared to public persons. I also believe that if I ever succeed in a libel case, the fact that the article on me ranks very well in the big search engines will convince the jury to award damages.
Why did I put up the information about administrators on this page? Simply because if I ever decide that I have cause to sue, I'm not sure who should be sued. The first step, it seems to me, would be to seek a subpoena for log information from Wikimedia Foundation. Administrators and editors who are involved, but who cannot otherwise be identified, could be traced through their IP addresses in the Wikipedia logs. If a court decides that a subpoena for these addresses is in order, then it would also support a subpoena for more information from the Internet service providers behind those IP addresses.
If there is a clear case of libel, I don't believe a court would decide that no one is responsible. If Wikimedia Foundation, and the specific editors and administrators who either inserted the libelous information, or failed to delete it, are all not responsible for the libel, then that would make the libel something akin to an act of God. The Wikimedia process doesn't quite qualify as God, as far as I can tell, although it apparently sees itself as approaching that status someday soon.
Wikipedia does not even comes close to qualifying as a service provider under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. For one thing, this is not a copyright issue. For another, Wikipedia develops its own information, and its editors put their own spin on the information, and choose which sources to cite, and delete information they feel is inappropriate. By way of contrast, Google, for example, merely makes a faithful cache copy of whatever they find elsewhere, and passes along this copy or ranks it alongside similar material. The two situations are entirely different. No one associated with Wikipedia should assume that the law protects them the same way it protects Google. And no one should assume that the EFF will come running to Wikipedia's defense in a libel case.
I think a probable outcome in court would place most of the blame on Wikimedia Foundation itself. The very structure of Wikipedia is geared toward maximum anonymity and minimum accountability. The Foundation is facilitating and implicitly encouraging situations such as the one in which I find myself. I think the case against the Foundation would be stronger than the case against individual administrators and/or editors, based on the fact that the potential for libel is ingrained within the Wikipedia process.
But I really don't know. What I do know is that the editors and administrators feel that they are untouchable, and the Wikimedia Foundation also feels that it is untouchable because it has a disclaimer. This is not a satisfactory situation for Wikipedia in the long run. If push comes to shove, it will not prevail in a court of law.
I'm hopeful that this controversy over the article on me will help clarify the need for improvements in Wikipedia's structure. There needs to be a greater degree of accountability in the structure, even at the expense of everyone's freedom to anonymously edit anything forever.
The privacy issues interest me even more than the libel issue. Unfortunately, the laws on privacy are less clear, and discussions on privacy will not be as focused. In Florida, where Wikipedia is located, there is an invasion of privacy statute that might apply in this case, even assuming that everything in the article is true. At issue would be the public disclosure of truthful private information that a reasonable person would find objectionable. Would a reasonable person find Wikipedia's mention of facts about my 1960s activism objectionable? Not at the moment, hopefully, and yet it wouldn't take much for this situation to change. Another act of terrorism on U.S. soil, followed by a stronger version of the U.S. Patriot Act, and "reasonable" people might feel that I should, once again, be watched by the FBI, CIA, and local police the way I was in the 1960s. Does Wikipedia consider issues such as this? Of course not — information wants to be free, and nothing must stand in its way.
A greater degree of accountability in the Wikipedia structure, as discussed above, would also be the very first step toward resolving the privacy problem. For me, the two issues stem from a common problem, and both share the same first step toward a solution.
An encyclopedia? Or a roulette wheel?
On November 9, 2005, a childish prankster edited the Wikipedia article on Norway's prime minister. The IP address of the perpetrator came from a regional network in southern Norway that services a large number of schools. The most serious of the several changes is seen here in the last sentence, taken from MSN's cache copy:
It took Wikipedia 22.5 hours to detect and correct this prank. Meanwhile, an unknown number of surfers downloaded and saved the page. It ranks number one in MSN, Google, and Yahoo for a search on the prime minister's name.
The problem with Wikipedia is that this sort of occurrence is built into the system. Vandalism is commonplace. The major variable is the length of time between the crime and its detection. If you click on a Wikipedia entry, are you looking at a vandalized article, or a corrected article? No one knows, and no one is responsible when a vandal remains undetected.
Now then, how would you, if you were a Google critic, like to have your very own article in Wikipedia? Keep in mind that the teenagers who think Wikipedia is cool tend to be the same teenagers who think Google is cool. What are the chances that the article on you will get sabotaged? When it is, how quickly will it get corrected? Place your bets.