Wikipedia imitates Pynchon

by Henry on August 7, 2006

Two very interesting articles in the Economist this week on disinformation and the Internet From the first:

Russia’s interests are once again being promoted by information sources that look plausible, at least until you look closely at their antecedents. Take, for example, the International Council for Democratic Institutions and State Sovereignty (ICDISS), a grand-sounding outfit that says it works on “result-oriented nation-building for new and emerging states”. … the ICDISS … has no address and no telephone number. Although its website, and an entry on a write-it-yourself encyclopedia, Wikipedia, claim that it was founded in 1999, there is no trace of its activities, or of its supposed staff members, in news databases or the internet before January this year. Since then, it seems to be solely involved in promoting Transdniestria. …One plausible conclusion is that the Kremlin is engaged in a new push to support Transdniestria and three similar statelets.

The second goes into more detail about this mysterious organization, which claims to run conferences involving well known diplomats and academics, but only appears to exist in references from web pages.

The Wikipedia entry’s history shows that some unkind person has tried to change it, to say that the ICDISS is based not in Washington, DC but in the Transdniestrian capital, Tiraspol, and is made up not of 60 diplomats and specialists, but four officers of the ministry of state security there.

Since the publication of the article, the relevant Wikipedia entry has been put under consideration for deletion; the Economist journalist who wrote the expose (or, if you want to be careful, someone who appears to be the Economist journal who wrote the expose), is engaged in a debate on the Talk page with a veteran Wikipedia contributor (who appears to have been highly active on the Transdniestria page) who claims to have been at one of their conferences. Curiouser and curiouser.

{ 16 comments }

1

blatherskite 08.07.06 at 3:38 pm

Oddly enough, just today William Gibson (yes that William Gibson ) posted about a more prosaic issue with his Wikipedia entry on his blog.

“Transdniestria” almost sounds like a Gibson coinage as well as a possible Pynchon one.

2

John Quiggin 08.07.06 at 3:59 pm

This is happening more frequently I think, and, as with spam, there’s an arms race between Wikipedia and the scammers. I was recently reading an anti-environmentalist blog that pointed to Wikipidia as the source for claims about a fuel additive called Dipetane (invented in Ireland in 1985). The link turned out to be a user page, and had therefore escaped the instant deletion that a real article on this topic would have suffered.

3

John Quiggin 08.07.06 at 4:06 pm

A slight correction. The user in question has been active since March 2006. Even in Wikipedia, that doesn’t count as being a veteran. This definitely looks like a disinformation exercise.

4

Ken C. 08.07.06 at 6:09 pm

Poking around wikipedia, I came across the articles about Phyllis Coey and her son John Alan Coey, the “famous Christian anti-communist soldier”, linking to an article about the “pro-American patriotic organization known as the Liberty Lobby”. The article about the Liberty Lobby, however, seems to think it is something more like an anti-semitic neo-Nazi organization. I guess if only a very small group cares about a topic, their wikipedia entries on that topic can stick around awhile, whatever the entries say.

5

Tyrone Slothrop 08.07.06 at 7:27 pm

The Pynchonians who’ve been around on the interwebs for a year or several are a little more credible than the newly-minted vintages.

6

roger 08.07.06 at 7:31 pm

Sounds more like Borges’ Urqbar to me.

7

Another Duncan 08.07.06 at 7:32 pm

It’s not just Russia. There is an letter doing the rounds from a “Dr. Mounir Herzallah” alleging that Hizbollah deliberately build schools and hospitals on weapons dumps, then gloat about the propaganda value when the IDF bombs them. This letter has been taken a gospel by quite a few right-wing blogs.

8

KCinDC 08.08.06 at 7:56 am

I thought you were going to mention Stephen Colbert urging people to edit elephant-related Wikipedia entries to say the number of elephants had tripled in the past six months.

9

Maria 08.08.06 at 8:19 am

The Transdiestria example is a case in point for Russia’s ‘neighbourhood policy’ being captured by its Russian mafia interests. If Russia wants to play with the big boys and girls in the Council of Europe, for example, they need to cut this out.

10

Maria 08.08.06 at 8:21 am

Roger, I think it’s ‘Uqbar’.

11

Maria 08.08.06 at 8:27 am

And Uqbar wasn’t the rump ‘state’ whose role in life is to make an existing state (Moldova) fail.

And Moldova is real, too. Even to people who don’t watch Dynasty. (or was it Falcon Crest?)

12

dthurston 08.08.06 at 9:51 am

ken c.: Please take appropriate action when you find such entries. In the case of the Coeys I think proposing it for deletion (which takes very little effort on your part) is appropriate.

13

roger 08.08.06 at 1:57 pm

Maria, you’re right. There are of course disputes as to why Uqbar existed. However, Tlön, it is speculated, existed not to simply dispute the reality of Moldava, but of the entire world – introducing irreality into encyclopedias with the hope that it would infect the referents themselves.

14

bi 08.08.06 at 10:50 pm

OK, deleting articles about fictitious entities is the easy part. But what about actual entities which shady characters keep trying to inject misinformation about?

15

alex 08.09.06 at 1:34 am

“And Uqbar wasn’t the rump ‘state’ whose role in life is to make an existing state (Moldova) fail.”

The point of Transdniestria is to make Moldova fail? Thats news to me.

Must have been really bad at it for the last 16 years.

16

edwardlucas 08.09.06 at 5:07 am

I am torn between respect for Wikipedia’s self-correcting properties, and irritation at the scope it offers for disinformation.

I take the point about my careless use of “veteran”.

Anyone who knows anything about the ICDISS or has ideas for more leads is welcome to email me at edwardlucas(a)economist.com

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