Wikipedians fight possible earthquake aid scam

Radman1 (also known as RaD Man or by his real name, Christian Wirth) last week led a campaign to remove information from Wikipedia about a shadowy organization exploiting the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake to solicit donations.

Who is QuakeAID?

While busy arguing for the inclusion of a donation banner to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami, Wirth came across a newly created article for QuakeAID, the work of Baoutrust. This user was apparently an employee of the Baou Trust, QuakeAID's parent organization. His suspicions aroused, Wirth soon listed QuakeAID, along with other articles by Baoutrust, on Votes for deletion.

As to QuakeAID itself, its internet presence before Wikipedia consisted of little more than a skeletal website with links to buy memberships as a means of giving. Memberships would be set up as a recurring charge handled through a third-party credit card processing service. Some contact information in New York was provided, but efforts to identify QuakeAID as a charity registered in New York or anywhere else have been unsuccessful so far. In addition to the donation link, an online form to apply for relief was subsequently added (keeping in mind that internet access may not be readily available to many of the victims, no information was available as to how many applications had been submitted). Still, the operation showed many signs of being a scam set up to prey on the goodwill of people stirred by the crisis.

The initial response on VfD was overwhelmingly to delete the articles. Baoutrust was eventually blocked for violating the three revert rule over this and removing the VfD notices from the articles.

Baou Trust gets personal

The Baou Trust then used its press release service, known as OfficialWire, to carry an editorial attributed to one Jennifer Monroe, entitled "One man's personal quest against earthquake charity". The editorial savaged Wirth for his "personal war against QuakeAID". It did, however, become one of the first outside "media" publications to spell Wikimedia correctly (a feat also accomplished last week by John Gapper in the Financial Times).

Interestingly, Wirth is known for being an extreme inclusionist in terms of voting to keep articles listed on VfD. This comes partly from having twice defended the article about himself from deletion (his article reports that he is a figure in the computer art scene).

From his background in art, Wirth was able to recognize two more questionable articles by Baoutrust, about the artists Kaith (or Katherina Theohari) and George Dracos, and nominated them for deletion as well. As Dpbsmith put it, "A VfD nomination by him carries extra weight and deserves careful consideration".

Investigations continue

In the meantime, several Wikipedians were busily investigating QuakeAID to determine if it was in fact a fraud. As a result of these efforts, considerable new information was added to the article, converting what was originally a promotional piece substantially into an exposé on the organization.

As the situation developed, upon further reflection Wirth reconsidered and changed his position on the QuakeAID article, saying it had "significantly developed since its inception". A number of other people also changed their votes, and additional comments were running strongly in favor of keeping this article.

OfficialWire had an article created as part of Baoutrust's endeavors as well, which somebody else nominated for deletion. At last check, it appeared that except for the QuakeAID article all of the deletions would proceed, for the fairly common reason that Wikipedia is not a vehicle for advertising and self-promotion.

Note: As a general policy, The Wikipedia Signpost takes no official position on the question of whether particular articles should be deleted. However, and not just out of modesty, we do suggest that just because we mention a subject here, that fact alone would not make the subject newsworthy enough to warrant an encyclopedia article. Otherwise, the meta-implications of having a news publication like this would be enough to make your navel spin.

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In my view this article reveals extreme POV. Use of phrases like "Shadowy Organization" are reminiscent of yellow journalism. If you intend to run a Blog or conventional online newspaper, please do so off Wikipedia space, otherwise please try to conform to NPOV. --Tony Sidaway|Talk 17:52, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I'm open to suggestions for a better adjective than "shadowy". Keep in mind that the lead sentence sort of summarizes the information that is to come later in the article. There's a difficult balance to strike between writing things so that people will find them interesting to read about, and just giving a bland list of facts. --Michael Snow 19:48, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)


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