Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Managing site content and wiki vandals

Wikis are great tools for collaboration that allow basically any website visitor to add or to update site content. However, there is a challenge that is common among wiki administrators: the wiki vandal. Wiki vandals visit open wiki sites and maliciously delete or change content (e.g., adding obscene content, falsifying facts) on wiki pages. Here's a little note to the wanna-be wiki vandals: most wikis offer tools to wiki administrators that can easily control the vandalism on the site. A key feature of wikis is the ability to view the history of a page and to revert content. It is generally very easy to restore the deleted content of a wiki page or to remove the vandalism. Such bad behavior is not generally successful in active wikis. Through page watch features, writers and wiki administrators are notified as updates are made on the site. When problems are experienced, a wiki administrator can restrict who can actually update the content of a wiki site on some wiki hosting services. I feel that it's really sad when a wiki administrator must take this step --- because it limits the collaborative features available on the site. Some wiki administrators restrict content additions and updates to community members only. If a community member misbehaves, that community member can be warned (by the wiki administrator or site moderator team through the wiki messaging features) and banned from the site, if necessary.

I have dealt with wiki vandalism several times during the last few months. Today a wiki was added to one of the directories on Everything Wiki, but it lacked content related to the topic and it had some questionable content. I suspected (and confirmed with the community member) that the site had been recently vandalized --- the wiki's admin team is currently working to correct the problem and to implement measures to prevent future vandalism. Earlier in the summer, one individual on a wiki of mine tried to delete a single page -- every day for almost a week-- and posted a comment on the site about his frustration in being unable to successfully delete the content, noting that it seemed to just magically re-appear. That individual finally gave up and went away...probably to vandalize another wiki site. In the last two weeks, a wiki site of mine was attacked by a wiki vandal. The vandal joined as a community member and then decided to attack the site. The vandal added a fictitious page about a virus being on the site and its deletion of the site content. Then the vandal starting editing every page and deleting all the content. Through page watch features, I was notified about the changes to the pages and started my investigation while the vandalism was in progress. I banned the individual from the site and then restored all the content. It was a very frustrating experience. So, unfortunately, restricting edits to community members does not always solve the problems experienced with wiki vandals.

In celebration of today's anniversary of the launch of MSNBC in 1996, I found a video with information and an MSNBC interview describing the Wikipedia Scanner tool. This tool is designed to trace updates to Wikipedia pages. Using publicly available information, the tool is able to identify some interesting facts about who is updating Wikipedia pages. It has identified numerous sinister updates to Wikipedia pages made among corporate competitors.
Who's Hacking Wikipedia

As posted on YouTube by CSPANJUNKIEdotORG
You may recall the resignation of the campaign manager for a Georgia gubernatorial candidate in April 2006 after being accused of changing an opponent’s Wikipedia biography. Wiki vandals -- a continuing challenge that must be managed in open wikis.

Today, I hope that your wiki site stays free of the wiki vandals of the Web!

Image credit: Concurring Opinions blog

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