Wikipedia Editing Could Be Made More Restrictive Due to Vandalism

By jap24 at 7:56 pm on January 30, 2009 | 4 Comments

According to this article, the English version of Wikipedia may be implementing a system called “flagged revisions” to the editing software, which would require that edits would have to be approved (“flagged”) by a “trusted” user (see the Wikipedia page on flagged revisions here). Edits that have not yet been approved could be viewed by users on request, but the default version of a page would exclude any changes that have not yet been approved. Trusted users’ edits are automatically approved. There could be long wait times for edits to be approved; this system has already been implemented in the German Wikipedia version, and edits there have taken as long as three weeks to be approved.

This change was proposed to combat vandalism. As it is now, a user could maliciously and instantaneously change the content of any article in an arbitrary way. For example, the article announcing the proposed change noted an instance of vandalism where a Wikipedia user vandalized Senator Ted Kennedy’s article to say that he had died after President Obama’s inauguration. According to Wikipedia’s page on Vandalism, the current method of dealing with vandalism is to delete the changes, and possibly take action against the user who posted the changes. A user believed to have vandalized an article could be given a warning, or blocked from making any further edits by an administrator. This current policy still allows the flawed article to be seen (and possibly taken as fact). The flagged revision system would mean that malicious edits might never be seen at all.

Another way to discourage vandalism might be to impose more draconian penalties on users thought to be maliciously altering articles, such as banning both the user and the computer from accessing Wikipedia in the future. This would be too harsh, since foolish edits could possibly be innocent mistakes, and there could be more than one person using a given computer. Another alternative would be to only allow users who are already considered trustworthy to make edits. This would be too restrictive, and does not allow for as broad a community of editors as Wikipedia has currently. The only methods that seem to allow for a reasonable amount of freedom for users are the current reactive system, and the flagged revision proposal.

With the proposed system, Wikipedia is trying to ensure the correctness of the content of its articles. Vandalism could potentially hurt users by spreading false information. This is especially troublesome for people such as this author, who generally trusts Wikipedia to be accurate. Vandalism also harms Wikipedia’s reputation for accuracy, perhaps deterring potential users from using the website at all.

The flagged revision idea does seem to be a good way to prevent vandalism, assuming there is a reasonable system for selecting which users are considered “trusted.” However, it also reduces the freedom of the Wikipedia users to make edits. Also, since all changes are subject to the perceptions of the trusted users, it is possible for those trusted users to exercise censorship against other users. In addition, the proposed system would place a very large burden on the trusted users to inspect others edits so that they can be added to the article within a reasonable amount of time. It would limit the ability of Wikipedia’s editors to modify articles to keep up with current events, something that has been a useful feature. Despite the flaws of the current more permissive system, it might be better for Wikipedia to leave it as it is.

Filed under: Availability,Current Events,Integrity4 Comments »


  • 1
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    Comment by cxlt

    January 30, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

    While good points are brought up in this post, I hesitate to call this a security problem – rather, it’s a social issue.

    In fact, having been on WP NPP for a while and wallowed about in WP bureaucracy and politics (RFA gaming is always a fun topic) for quite some time, most of Wikipedia’s problems at this point are social in nature.

    From my experience on NPP, the biggest problems that we face on WP is not necessarily bald-faced vandalism or plagiarism – those are pretty easy to detect, revert, and admonish. Rather, the biggest problems result from well-intentioned people who simply don’t understand the intricacies of such rules as WP:N, WP:COI, or WP:CSD because Wikipedia makes itself so inviting by default.

    I’m not sure if the solution in this case is technology or security – rather, it is design and communication. Time to call in the TC majors?

  • 2
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    Comment by Father_Of_1000000

    January 31, 2009 @ 4:57 am

    We can improve the verification (approval) system a little bit. Since the main problem with the verification is that trusted users may not verify often/fast enough for new information to be post.

    One way to encourage verification is to have a ranking system, that basically allows users to advance up the ladder as he/she verifies more content. Fame is the incentive here. To prevent people from blindly verify/approve contents, we can have negative points for every wrong approval.

    We also should keep track of the number of correct and incorrect information the user has posted. Having enough correct ones and no wrong ones (maybe 1 or 2 is fine if it’s not intentional. It’s not too difficult to tell if it’s intentional) can advance the user to be a trusted user.

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    Comment by Voos Baratos

    January 31, 2009 @ 11:12 am

    Wikipedia is great but the vandalism is often a problem. I remember that scandal the appeared on the news when they tracked the ip’s of the computers that changed specific articles, the direct competitors were changing the pages of their competition to give them less than favorable reputation.

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    Comment by Lisa P

    February 6, 2009 @ 4:36 pm

    As one of the highest ranked website, it has to keep the information up-to-date and reliable. I’m agree with Father_Of_1000000. Instead of just having group of trusted people to approve changes, it’s better to have rank for each user in the topic that the user post. Thus, the higher a user’s rank in a specific topic, the more trusted that user is in that field.

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