Open Proxies and Edit Wars on Wikipedia

There was an interesting article earlier this week concerning IP blocking by Wikipedia, a wildly popular online encyclopedia tool. Wikipedia’s “Arbitration Committee” of experienced volunteer editors voted to block changes from all IP addresses owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates.

Is this censorship or good enforcement? Read on, and you decide.

After a lengthy internal review, the website decided that the ban was an appropriate response to the “edit wars” concerning Scientology entries. Officially, the site promotes itself as an encyclopedia with a “neutral point of view” and discourages those who edit “in order to promote their own interests” . Wikipedia also frowns on those who use the encyclopedia to advance personal agendas and ideological or religious disputes.

Multiple editors have been “openly editing [ONLY Scientology-related articles] from Church of Scientology equipment and apparently coordinating their activities,” according to evidence collected by Wiki admins. On, one Wiki admin explains that policing edits from Scientology machines has been time-consuming and challenging because multiple myriad editors hide behind a small number of IP addresses and, the IP address of each editor is constantly changing. This prevents admins from determining whether a single editor is using multiple Wikipedia accounts to abuse the system. This is known as sockpuppeting, and it is not allowed on Wikipedia. “Wikifiddlers” often hide their identity behind open proxies to foil Wiki admins.

“Our alternatives are to block them entirely, or checkuser every ‘pro-Scientology’ editor on this topic. I find the latter unacceptable,” wrote one ArbComer. “It is quite broad, but it seems that they’re funneling a lot of editing traffic through a few IPs, which make socks impossible to track.”  Most of these editors in question only edit Scientology-related articles. In Wiki talk, they are “single purpose accounts,” and these IP address may be banned as a preventative measure.

Because the multiple editors behind a small number of IP addressing, sockpuppeting, as well as advancing  religious agenda, the Arbitration Committee ruled that Scientology IPs are “to be blocked as if they were open proxies.”

To learn more about anonymous editing to Wikipedia, check out WikiScanner and the soon to be released WikiScanner2. These tools created by Virgil Griffith use a publicly searchable database that links millions of anonymous Wikipedia edits to the organizations where those edits apparently originated. WikiScanner cross-references edits with data on the owners of the associated block of IP addresses. Griffith exposed how insiders at the Central Intelligence Agency and other companies were surreptitiously deleting or changing information that was unflattering to the organization.