Trash Talk in the Edit Field: The Vandalism Wars

For real sports fan trolling, center court is Wikipedia. 

Sporting events in the 21st century are played both on and off the field.

As highly paid athletes compete for fame and glory on televised fields and courts the world-over, an alternate set of teams compete in the shadows.  

Fighting it out across cyberspace, on social media platforms, are the fans who mainly exercise their fingers.

The victorious show no mercy to the vanquished. They make memes mocking fumbles and celebrating touchdowns. What’s the point of your team winning if you can’t rub it into the face of those crushed and humiliated in defeat?

A surprising venue for this testosterone-driven trashing of players, umpires, and coaches: geeky Wikipedia.  

Wikipedia, trusted as an authoritative source by most of the 1.6 billion people who use it monthly, has become a rather likely spot for good old hooliganism. Appearing at the top of page 1 in search results for many terms, yet editable by anyone, it is a most appealing target for vandalism: People will see what you scrawl.

However, there is a lesser-known, but more significant, consequence of vandalizing a Wikipedia page.

Vandals change Google.

Here’s a story.

Recently, the Patriots were crushing arch-rival NY Jets, and fans were looking for cyber blood.

And it was then that Patriots fan Pvega789 made his move. He logged onto the Jets’ Wikipedia page, and changed the lead sentence of the page to read: 

“The New York Jets are a professional American football team based in the New York metropolitan area and owned by Tom Brady and the Patriots’ Defense.”

(Get it? “Owned?”)

Unknowingly, editor Pvega789 was also altering Page 1 of Google search results.

The Knowledge Panel that appears on the top right of Page 1 for a search usually takes its text directly from the opening sentence/s of a Wikipedia Page.


As Pvega789 saved his edit, Google updated the Knowledge Panel for the Jets virtually instantaneously, quoting the first sentence from Wikipedia verbatim.

 

 

 

As if that weren’t humiliating enough for the Jets, another anonymous editor went in 15 minutes later and corrected what he (or she) described as a “typo.” Now both the entry and Knowledge Panel read:

“The New York Jets are a semi-professional American football team”

Within a minute the vandalism was all reverted by an administrator, who also added protection to the page to temporarily prevent further vandalism. The Knowledge Panel returned to normal. 

 

When the vandal has a sense of humor and the damage is reversed quickly, we can all have a chuckle about it. Like this edit made to a page about a martial arts event.

 

 

But what if it’s defamatory, mean, or intentionally malicious?

Vandalism can then have serious consequences, and stain reputations. 

Sport isn’t the only arena where Wikipedia vandalism takes place. There are many other examples, to which we will not link here for obvious reasons.

 

  • An ex-student unhappy about their old school
  • A customer unimpressed with how a brand treated them
  • A former employee disgruntled with their prior workplace 

Any of these types of people can go onto Wikipedia with an ax to grind and run the page, at least temporarily, into the ground — and have that reflected in search, if it’s a well-known brand.

If it’s on a dormant page with minimal interest, vandalism can just sit there. Going months, if not years until someone notices it. 

 

How does Wikipedia defend itself against vandals?

Protecting its integrity relies on it being able to identify vandalism quickly. 

There are Wikipedia Bots designed with the sole purpose of detecting vandalism and reverting the edits. 

There is also a page with a list of recent changes which editors can monitor to see what’s been happening recently.

Frequently vandalized pages can be protected to prevent unauthorized edits. 

But this isn’t, as we have seen above, fail-safe. Who has time to monitor a Wikipedia page? Other than the aforementioned sports trolls, probably nobody.

However, there are great tools available to notify you when changes have been made to pages you track.  

We will leave the final word to Abraham Lincoln, whose page on Wikipedia is one of the most vandalized of all time. In his Gettysburg Address he said:

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here but know that the problem with a Wikipedia page is that you can’t always depend on its accuracy.”

 

Knowledge is Power: Wikipedia Fact Sheet

The 5th most visited website in the world has changed the way we seek out information, and the way we think about knowledge as a collaborative effort. If you are a CEO with a Wikipedia page, that page will  likely be the second result on a Google search for your name.

Here’s a 2019 look at Wikipedia:

Five Things PR Professionals Need to Know about Digital Reputation Management

While you’re busy creating a carefully crafted image of your client or company, the majority of your stakeholders will form an opinion based on information available online, often drawing quick conclusions solely based on the top results of a Google search. This means that no matter how many news stories you earn or blog posts you write, they will be rendered ineffective unless they appear prominently as part of your client’s online presence. By including digital reputation management efforts in your PR plan, you’ll be able to better build, monitor, defend, and restore your client’s reputation online.

To get started, here are five things you need to know:

  1. Take ownership of your own content

The first rule of digital reputation management is to take ownership of your online reputation. Your owned channels and relevant content should be the first thing that appears in a Google search; if they are not, you have some work to do. Start by making sure you have claimed all relevant social media and online profiles available, and use them to share content you want your key stakeholders to see.  

  1. Prepare for a PR crisis

If you plan ahead, you can prevent – or at least mitigate –  the impact of a PR crisis on your digital reputation. Review your online content to evaluate how it references or addresses topics that might become the source of a PR nightmare. Then play the role of a reporter to unearth unflattering search results that appear when using various combinations of keywords and the name of your client. Don’t forget to search by using nicknames, alternate spellings, and different  versions of names and titles. Finally, contextualize your results and formulate a plan for how to address the possibility of a looming crisis.

  1. Monitor and manage Wikipedia pages

Wikipedia is often a prominent  search result and considered by many to be a useful source of information about your company or client, so make sure that the information is accurate and not unfavorable. While Wikipedia  strongly discourages editing articles related to you, it is perfectly acceptable to closely monitor page changes so that you can submit content for inclusion within articles. You can also notify editors of inaccuracies or vandalism.  To catch any potentially malicious or erroneous edits, track your Wikipedia pages using the free Five Blocks WikiAlerts tool.

  1. Pave the way to your content

Most PR practitioners focus on pushing content through various channels with the hope that stakeholders will come across the right content in the right place, at the right time. Your target audience, however, is busy pulling information by using specific keywords that may or may not lead them to your client. To better control the pathway to content you want them to see, use a tool such as the  Google Search Console to identify keywords that do (or do not) direct traffic to your target website.

  1. Leverage search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing tactics

Ranking your desired content prominently in search is important if you want it seen by anyone looking for information online. For content to appear on top, focus on making it both relevant and engaging. If the search is for an individual, ensure the content answers the questions searchers are most likely to have about that person. You might also include video or other types of content the searcher may not have been expecting. Content that is not good enough will lead readers to “bounce” by quickly clicking the browser back button. Content that attracts bounces won’t rank as high as pages with engaging and interesting content.

At Five Blocks, we frequently partner with PR professionals to help their clients achieve a fair digital representation of themselves and their work with the help of data, proprietary technology, and over a decade of expertise.

If you’re looking to implement a digital reputation management program, or need help managing your digital reputation, contact us for a free assessment of your current situation.