Wikipedia has banned the Church of Scientology and its members from editing its site after discovering that members of the church were editing articles in order to give the church favorable coverage.
The move is being hailed as "an unprecedented effort to crack down on self-serving edits," and it is the first instance in which Wikipedia has banned a group as large as the Church of Scientology.
The Register reports:
According to evidence turned up by admins in this long-running Wikiland court case, multiple editors have been "openly editing [Scientology-related articles] from Church of Scientology equipment and apparently coordinating their activities." Leaning on the famed WikiScanner, countless news stories have discussed the editing of Scientology articles from Scientology IPs, and some site admins are concerned this is "damaging Wikipedia's reputation for neutrality."
One admin tells The Reg that policing edits from Scientology machines has been particularly difficult because myriad editors sit behind a small number of IPs and, for some reason, the address of each editor is constantly changing. This prevents admins from determining whether a single editor is using multiple Wikipedia accounts to game the system. In Wikiland, such sockpuppeting is not allowed.
The Wikicourt considered banning edits from Scientology IPs only on Scientology-related articles. But this would require admins to "checkuser" editors - i.e. determine their IP - every time an edit is made. And even then they may not know who's who.
The case — the fourth Scientology-related dispute on the site in four years — opened in December 2008 and closed Thursday with the Wikipedia arbitration committee voting unanimously to block IP addresses associated with the Church from editing the site.
"The purpose of Wikipedia is to create a high-quality, free-content encyclopedia in an atmosphere of camaraderie and mutual respect among contributors," part of the decision read. "Use of the encyclopedia to advance personal agendas - such as advocacy or propaganda and philosophical, ideological or religious dispute - or to publish or promote original research is prohibited."
"Editors who access Wikipedia through an organization's IP address and who edit Wikipedia articles which relate to that organization have a presumptive conflict of interest," it continued. "Regardless of these editors' specific relationship to that organization or function within it, the organization itself bears a responsibility for appropriate use of its servers and equipment. If an organization fails to manage that responsibility, Wikipedia may address persistent violations of fundamental site policies through blocks or bans."
Scientology, the committee concluded, is so controversial a subject that it requires special oversight for the site's purposes:
3.0) This longstanding dispute is a struggle between two rival factions: admirers of Scientology and critics of Scientology.
A) Editors from each side have gamed policy to obtain advantage and disputes have spilled over into, for example, articles for deletion, the reliable sources noticeboard, the conflict of interests noticeboard, and sometimes the administrators' noticeboard.
B) Aggravating factors have been (i) the presence of editors openly editing from Church of Scientology equipment and apparently coordinating their activities; and (ii) the apparent presence of notable critics of Scientology, from several Internet organisations, apparently editing under their own names and citing either their own or each other's self-published material.
C) Each side wishes the articles within this topic to reflect their point of view and have resorted to battlefield editing tactics, with edits being abruptly reverted without any attempt to incorporate what is good, to maintain their preferred status quo.
D) The worst casualties have been biographies of living people, where attempts have been repeatedly made to slant the article either towards or against the subject, depending on the point of view of the contributing editor.
E) However, this problem is not limited to biographies and many Scientology articles fail to reflect a neutral point of view and instead are either disparaging or complimentary.