Content manipulation

Blogs track attempts to manipulate articles

Blogs and online media pursued two different story angles last week involving efforts to manipulate Wikipedia articles by someone with a personal interest in the topic. One apparently involved an article created by its own subject, while the other focused on floating rumors about media personalities.

Rumors allegedly traced to former Fox employee

The rumormongering involved the article on Megyn Kelly, a Fox News correspondent in Washington, D.C., who frequently reports on legal matters. Her work has included coverage of Supreme Court nominations and the long-running media furor over criminal charges against Duke lacrosse players. Formerly known as Megyn Kendall, she recently went back to using her maiden name on air (and her Wikipedia article was soon moved to reflect the change).

As reported by Radar online, this change followed Kelly's recent divorce. Hinting at the reasons behind this, in December an unregistered Wikipedia editor had added (and, a few hours later, removed) an insinuation that she had a relationship with Fox anchor Brit Hume. According to Radar, the IP address was allegedly matched to the computer of a former Fox spokesman. A current spokesperson denied the rumor. The incident was also picked up by the political blog Wonkette which described it as a rumor "that is so poorly sourced, so speculative, and so hilarious that we wish we’d make [sic] it up first." [1]

Building a nonexistent reputation

Meanwhile another Gawker Media property, Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag, devoted some attention to a series of posts about San Francisco entrepreneur Auren Hoffman's work on Wikipedia. As he subsequently admitted to VentureBeat, Hoffman (editing as User:Mlkhamilton) created an article about himself and also edited other articles related to his business interests. Valleywag attributed the choice of identity to two of Hoffman's personal heroes, Martin Luther King and Alexander Hamilton. The article was subsequently deleted by Naconkantari as "A7", a reference to the speedy deletion criterion for "unremarkable people, groups, companies and web content."

While the creation of "vanity pages" is relatively common, one of the issues addressed by the conflict of interest policy, it had additional relevance because of the nature of Hoffman's business. Hoffman is a founder of Rapleaf, a site for rating people's reputations that proclaims, "your Rapleaf profile will reveal you for the honest person that you are." He is also known for his personal networking efforts, and someone, apparently a personal friend, described Hoffman's San Francisco loft as being decorated with pictures of Republican politicians. An unregistered editor, which VentureBeat identified as being Hoffman again, later removed this information. Valleywag said the incident made Hoffman look "shifty", "hypocritical", and "stupid".

As a follow-up, Valleywag contributor Paul Boutin then offered his own instructions on getting into Wikipedia as part of the blog's "Silicon Valley Users Guide" feature. He suggested getting a friend to start the article, and establishing some kind of track record before actually editing it yourself. Boutin noted how his own entry had been created by an unregistered user, and insinuated that it had been created not by himself, but by fellow journalist Cyrus Farivar. Farivar already admitted creating his own entry two years ago, having mentioned this when he wrote about the effort to expose the greenlighting hoax (see archived story).

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