My Wikipedia hall of mirrors

Reporting on Wikipedia leads to a Wikipedia page on the reporter. I need some sock puppets, fast!

Topics: wikipedia, Robert Clark Young, Biography,

My Wikipedia hall of mirrorsAndrew Leonard (Credit: Wikimedia/Mia Nakano)

Productivity has been low this morning for reasons of pure self-indulgence. In an unexpected piece of fallout from my investigation of the strange affair of Robert Clark Young, the rogue Wikipedia editor, Wikipedia has decided — for the moment — that I am worthy of my own Wikipedia page. For someone who has been writing about “the Internet” for online publications since 1994, this feels like a signal achievement.

It also feels a little like Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral, except it’s my birth that is being celebrated (or eventually, perhaps, mourned), and not my passing. It’s a strange experience. People I do not know, disguised by their Wikipedia pseudonyms, are constructing a textual version of my identity. Hey! I’m a writer — isn’t that my job?! Shouldn’t I be at least involved?

Nope. Not on on Wikipedia. If there’s one thing I learned while writing about Young, it’s that editing one’s own page is considered a severe violation of conflict-of-interest rules. But now I understand why so many writers can’t resist breaking those rules. It’s crazy making, watching total strangers pick and choose through my online detritus. The temptation to rally my own army of sock puppets and send them forth to bravely edit is difficult to resist.

I’ve been categorized: (American magazine journalists, American technology writers, Critics of Wikipedia!). I’ve been summarized: (“Andrew Leonard (born 1962) is an American journalist who writes for about science fiction and internet culture, among other topics.”). I’ve got “selected works” and “references” — some of which seem to be chosen at random. I mean, I love that 16-year-old piece on Xena and fan fiction, but I’m not sure I would place it in my top ten of all time. (How about “Mutiny on the Net,” or the chapters on Finland and Bill Joy from my never-finished Free Software Project?) Laura Miller’s elegy to my father is included on my Wikipedia page, so why not my own? For six years I wrote a blog for Salon on globalization and economics called How The World Works. But from my bio, you’d never know it ever existed. Sob.

(Ha ha. See what I did there? Who needs sock puppets to do your dirty work? Strictly speaking, articles by the subject of a Wikipedia page are not considered appropriate sources for information about that person, but what about articles about the construction of a particular Wikipedia page? Huh? Huh?! I think it is perfectly appropriate that my deconstruction of the construction of my Wiki identity be included as a reference. I mean, isn’t my personal involvement in the ongoing evolution of Wikipedia the primary reason why I made it into Wikipedia in the first place?)

Watching your own Wikipedia page get written, I have discovered, creates a strong urge to re-read Jorge Luis Borges.

I also can’t accept that a full 10 percent of my bio is devoted to my skill at cooking oily scallion pancakes. It is true, among certain circles, especially my children, that this feat is my main claim to fame, or as Wikipedia puts it, notability. So I suspect that someone who actually knows me has jumped into the editing fray. Tut tut! I’m afraid that my profound respect for Wikipedia editorial principles requires me to demand that this section be excised. Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion! Plus, people are already asking me why I’ve never cooked them scallion pancakes. Ill will is spreading through my community!

So, real work has ground to a halt here. I can’t stop clicking, checking the edit history to see what details are being massaged. But I’m a little disappointed. Where are the fireworks? Where’s the drama? The edit-wars? The dire revenge-editing? Why haven’t I yet been marked for deletion? Surely I have enough enemies out there sharpening their knives, seething at the bad press I have recently showered on Wikipedia.

Although, I must confess, in a vain and no doubt fruitless attempt to forestall the inevitable backlash, that I fundamentally support Wikipedia’s mission. I love you, really, I do. More now, than ever.

UPDATE: Since the publication of this piece, my Wikipedia page has been substantially updated and revised. Information provided here was incorporated, including a lengthy quote about from the story that made the whole “hall of mirrors” metaphor a literal reality. That quote was later removed however, as was a paragraph accusing me of failing to apologize for goading on the Reddit lynch mob during the Boston bombing tragedy. The story is now also illustrated by the photo that illustrates this article, which of course, includes a snapshot of an earlier version of the page. Dizzy yet?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>