Last week, Breitbart Tech reported on the suspension of a long-term editor at Wikipedia. The site’s arbitration committee accused him of harassment, but failed to produce any evidence of these potentially criminal charges, or give the editor a chance to challenge them.
In an exclusive interview with Breitbart Tech, the editor claimed there was an “ideological power-grab” underway at Wikipedia, with charges of harassment used to remove politically inconvenient editors. But is this really the case? Doesn’t Wikipedia take all claims of harassment seriously, regardless of politics?
The experience of Åsk “Dabitch” Wäppling, the editor of Adland, one of the web’s oldest and most influential advertising blogs, would suggest otherwise. She says that a Wikipedia editor has been ‘doxing’ her (revealing her personal information, including her home address) on the site for years, but that Wikipedia has yet to take serious action against them.
Wappling’s blog, Adland, is unpopular amongst Wikipedia’s social justice-oriented editors. The site’s no-nonsense coverage of GamerGate did not win it friends among opponents of the gamers’ anti-censorship movement, with one notoriously anti-GamerGate editor proposing that Adland’s Wikipedia page be deleted. Progressive-leaning editors continue to target the page, removing sections that praise the blog or highlight its influence.
It’s a curious coincidence that a Wikipedia editor banned for alleged harassment, and a blog editor who says her complaints of on-site harassment at Wikipedia have been ignored are both on the wrong side of Wikipedia’s notoriously progressive anti-GamerGate editors. It will fuel concerns that claims of harassment on Wikipedia are little more than a political weapon.
Read our full interview with Adland’s Åsk Wäppling below.
AB: You’ve alleged that a Wikipedia editor has ‘doxed’ you – that is, spread personal, private information about you on the internet. Who was the editor? What did they do?
ADW: I don’t know the editors real name, and I don’t think mentioning his handle here is constructive. His MO is to delete any and all reliable sources from a targeted Wikipedia page, until it’s barely a stub, and then suggest it for deletion.
The editor engaged in original research* in order to disprove my job title, and found a idle sole proprietorship I started more than twenty years ago to make his point. He linked a database page showing this, thereby linking my home address and personal ID number, on several English Wikipedia pages. Anyone on the planet that hits up Adland on the Wikipedia could now find this information just a click away.
* you can not engage in original research on wikipedia, it’s against the rules.
AB: How long have you had trouble with Wikipedia editors?
ADW: With this particular editor, he seems to have taken an interest in 2011. It coincided with some dramatic events in my personal life, when I began to have issues with a stalker. For a while, I suspected that this editor might actually be that person, which was very worrying. As someone who has an ongoing threat, I have to be very careful on the web. For over 3 years now, I won’t have tweet-conversations from my personal twitter account in public. I killed my Instagram and the Facebook I was using. I’ve had to remove phone numbers and locations from every app I have, including Linkedin. I can not announce that I will be lecturing, attending an event, or holding a workshop somewhere in advance, which hurts my business. I hide from cameras at every event I attend, which is becoming increasingly difficult. I literally duck, it’s like a slapstick comedy, but I can’t be tagged in twenty social media photos willy-nilly. When people are used to sharing phone numbers, emails and locations quite openly, making plans for drinks on public twitter etc, this does cut me off from all kinds of professional networking and friends in general.
AB: A number of editors seem to have some sort of vendetta against you. Why are they so obsessed?
ADW: I really have no idea. What’s really fascinating is that this particular editor has edited the Wikipedia in at least 4 languages, attempting to remove the Adland page from all of them. He succeeded removing the Swedish Wikipedia page on Adland years ago, and has concentrated his efforts on other languages since. At least he’s multilingual.\
I do know that Adland‘s Wikipedia page got a lot of negative attention due to a few articles I wrote about Gamergate in 2014.
AB: Have you complained to anyone at Wikipedia? If so, have they been helpful?
ADW: As soon as I was made aware that my home address and national ID/birth date number was linked from several pages on the English Wikipedia I logged into an Wikipedia IRC chat help channel to ask for help and what policies [Wikipedia] had regarding such information. This was in 2011. An editor in the chat explained that since the information existed on a web page, it could be linked, but he added a “noindex” tag to the pages so that Google would not follow the links and spider the information.
Some years later this tag was removed, but I found out much later. I’ve emailed Wikipedia’s legal department last year, but gotten no response. I’ve now brought this up twice to Wikipedia “Biographies of living persons Noticeboard”, and twice other editors have removed the link citing that is against the rules. This editor actually reverted the edits, and reinstating the links. He also spent some time defending his decision saying that “she doesn’t live at that address” and suggested that I get my identity protected in Sweden. This is the equivalent of the U.S Witness Protection program, and makes any interaction with government entities such as schools, hospitals, taxes etc extremely difficult – and it’s not easily granted. His mentioning of where I do or do not live didn’t exactly calm my concerns either, this makes it look like he is actually stalking me.
AB: You’ve been editing adland since the 1990s. Have you ever encountered such hostility before?
ADW: Yes, I’ve received death threats for years, and thousands of “You stupid bitch” emails, comments and text messages. That comes with the territory. In 2008 we wrote about some Red Cross ads that upset a group of expat Chinese so much that they threatened both me and the Red Cross. My servers were under DDoS attacks, and so were the Red Cross’s servers, they “Google-bombed” my URL to appear on the search term ‘prostitute’ and created hundreds of escort-pages with my image and phone number. My phone rang through the nights and the text messages I received were disturbing, sometimes with NSFW images.
Having access to server logs, I could follow traffic back and found forums where this group of people were discussing what to do to me. One of the more fun ideas was to arrange a demonstration in the city I was in. Then I saw that someone had photographed me in my apartment as I leaned out the window, calling my cat, and shared it to the forum. That’s when I filed a police report. Suddenly it wasn’t just random angry people on the internet, but people who went to where I lived and scouted it out. I have offspring and my first concern was the safety of my child. I may be able to look over my shoulder and be street-savvy, with children it’s another ballgame.
AB: On a similar note, in your view, how have the social dynamics of the internet itself changed since then? Web culture certainly seems a lot more bitter and partisan than it used to be.
ADW: We call it “microwave mentality” at Adland, there is a tendency to not read – or write – objectively any more. We might have had partisan newspapers in the past, but there was at least a few ground rules of reporting facts and letting both parties in a story make a statement. When blogs became popular, well known publications and internet startups like Huffington Post went all out in bringing the bloggers in under their brand.
This not only served to dilute well known publication names like Forbes, but also bled the blogging attitude into actual reporting. It’s from a person’s personal point of view, non-objective, quick, and often poorly researched by just a quick glance of their own twitter-feed. Very myopic. Web culture has suffered for years under the weight of troll farms that will immediately bombard comment sections with well worn phrases about music/film piracy, Wikileaks, copyright, gun control and other partisan triggers, to the point that regular people are repeating the same messages that they’ve now learned to parrot. It’s propaganda 3.0, and it’s been going on for well over ten years.
It does seem to have become much worse in just the past two or three years. If we logged on to twitter in 2007 it was as if we were visiting our digital local pub, to say hi and chat with friends and strangers alike. Checking twitter now is like watching a cage-fight to the death between partisan hashtags, and god help anyone who quips a joke. The people I most admired and enjoyed reading back in 2007 seldom speak any more.
AB: There’s a political element to this, isn’t there? Many of the people coming after you seem to have a very particular set of “progressive” political opinions. Is this accurate?
ADW: Right now that seems to be the case, yes. A few years ago it was the opposite. I am very opinionated about ads, our craft and our responsibility to both clients and the consumers and always have been, so there will always be someone who disagrees on any given point I make, and that’s fine. This isn’t your usual disagreement though, this is venomous rhetoric, hateful comments and piles of bizarre emails sent to our contact address threatening my job. (You guys realize I’m the CEO, right?) I’ve left several online communities where different viewpoints and opinions used to be the reason for their enlightening discussions, because suddenly you can no longer disagree without the tar and feathers being brought out.
AB: The household names of the internet – Wikipedia, Twitter, Reddit – are becoming increasingly politicised. From an advertising perspective, what do you think this means for the sites? Will the loss of credibility be fatal, or will their market penetration protect them?
ADW: I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a fan of the Wikipedia idea. A hive mind can be controlled to march in any direction, we’re not the idealized altruistic humans we’d like to believe that we are. It’s a naive idea that simply can not work, but the early days of the internet was naive enough to have unprotected ports and a wide-eyed belief in the future where we all shared information and our unencrypted wifi. We know better by now, no?
Reddit used to have everything and then some, a bastion of free speech even if it was barely legal, but it works on the same system. Humans are moderators, all it really takes is one Machiavellian schemer to infiltrate and seed ideas and soon everyone is marching to the same tune. Reddit has also become the only input young ad creatives seem to ever look at, which means these creatives are so busy copying the latest meme they have forgotten how to create them.
I think exhaustion will be what ultimately drops these monoliths’ control of the conversation and information. People are increasingly fed up with following the herd. With Twitter it seemed that when the big crowds rolled in, it turned into a giant online mob.
AB: Adland is almost twenty years old now. How have you kept it going for so long?
ADW: They say women from Kiruna are the most stubborn people in the world, so that has a lot to do with it. It has changed from a pay-to-view site in the early 2000’s, to donations now, we adapt to how the web is always evolving. It helps that we’re all quite passionate about our business – we’re not “cynical haters” as some seem to believe, we’re idealists. I and the other writers at Adland want advertising to be better, to do better. We believe it can be better.
AB: What draws you to ads in particular?
ADW: I’m an advertising creative. I’m an art director, writer, creative technologist, programmer and designer who has worked full time and full-time freelance for as long as Adland‘s been around, who comes from a family of computer engineers. Advertising is hacking people.
AB: Tell us about your name!
ADW: A very long time ago I played a lot of networked fps games in game-cafés and at LAN-parties, and my name had an 8 char limit. “Dabitch” fit. It is in fact a real family name, so when I wrote about advertising I used this name to protect my identity, I’ve been bylined writing opinion pieces in several trade magazines under this name. Since I’m quite opinionated – and when I play games I’m that nasty camper that shoots you in the head – it’s a suitable moniker. As Bette Davis said; “When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.” Well, I’m Dabitch.