Sunday, June 01, 2008

J'Accuse or jacuzzi?

Received two posts last night that I rejected for a particular reason. One had alternate ways of contacting the person so a slight modification on the comment could be published afterward. The other didn't provide a way to solve that problem so I rejected the post--not because it was a rude snark (although it was) but because it used my name. At this blog call me Durova. I reserve the right to reject rude snarks too; this time it just wasn't the deciding factor.

So to reply to the snark, the reason why my (ahem) investigative instincts went off regarding Mantanmoreland in September 2007 and not sooner is because...

...drum roll... was September 2007 when I first paid any attention to l'affair Mantanmoreland. The matter already had plenty of eyes on it; I had been busy with other things that were in need of help.

And, heck, California is a pleasant place to live; I'm not a slave to Wikipedia and I'm especially not a slave to snarky people who insinuate that a nonprofit charity's volunteers are incompetent or corrupt unless we drop everything else at the snap of an imperious pair of fingers. I enjoy lavender bath salts; I make my own. Herbal soaps, too. Nice people sometimes get them from me as gifts.

What caught my attention was in late July 2007 when an absurd conspiracy theory about Wikipedia's editor SlimVirgin got published in a little citizen-journalism venue. It claimed that she was a spy for MI5 because, among other things, Wikipedia's Operation Entebbe article wasn't open for editing.

That's known as page protection, bub. We do it to stop edit wars. Wikipedia articles get full protected at the behest of MI5 just about as often as penguins go diving for orchids. The edit war had ended so I unprotected the article, then posted a comment at the silly conspiracy theory blowing holes through that and several other really gaping and obvious lapses in the fellow's research.

To the conspiracy theorists: MI5 did haul me out of the jacuzzi for questioning, much to the chagrin of my FBI boss, until I bribed the MI5 operatives with lemon balm body lotion.

Like any true conspiracy theorist, rather than abandon the ridiculous fantasy the fellow simply plugged some but not all of its most obvious holes and republished. And then--truth being much stranger than fiction--the thing made it all the way to the front page of Slashdot.

SlimVirgin wasn't exactly my favorite Wikipedian; she and I had disagreed vigorously on several policy and process debates. But this Slashdotting was too much. So I set aside our differences and stood up for her. And in the aftermath I looked into the Mantanmoreland thing; she was heavily involved in that also and the same set of people who had been claiming that she was a spy were also claiming that Mantanmoreland was Gary Weiss. That didn't do wonders for their credibility.

So to the gentleman who sneered at my investigative skills for suspecting that Mantanmoreland was a sockpuppeteer in September 2007 and not sooner, a little basic research into my Wikipedia posts regarding this matter would have shown that September 2007 was just about as soon as I started to look into to the case. Taking the low road slowed things down; both SlimVirgin and Mantanmoreland had been targeted by malware. It was strong distaste for those methods that led me to deprioritize the Mantanmoreland sockpuppet suspicions for several months. A lot of people tug at my sleeve regarding Wikipedia matters. Those who tug politely get what they want.

And for the record, every Wikipedian I encountered who supported Mantanmoreland (other than Mantanmoreland himself) appears to me to have been a sincere volunteer acting in good conscience. Mantanmoreland had superb people skills and was very talented at garnering sympathy--not that it would have taken particularly much skill to distract attention from one's own behavior when e-mail attachments arrive with embedded scripts and conspiracy theories make the front page of Slashdot. In the end I developed at least as much distaste for Mantanmoreland as for his critics, because Mantanmoreland joined a list that had been created to deal with cyberstalking and he exploited it. He joined it under two different names and agreed with himself. He called upon our good faith when he didn't deserve it, and what I find obnoxious is that he played me at a venue where I had come to protect my family. Which is lower, that or malware? For some reason I don't entirely understand, not many of the list's participants resent him for the deception and that's why I say he has superb people skills.


B.C. Folloah said...

The MI5 theory is probably untrue, but it isn't "absurd." Pierre Salinger probably heard it from Edwin Bollier, the person suspected of "supplying" the suitcase that the Lockerbie bomb was placed in. Salinger may have been gullible to believe Bollier, and Bollier may even have been gullible too, for that matter. But if Salinger believed it, and Salinger was her employer at the time, then it's hardly "absurd." And regardless, it's a HUGE leap from "someone on Wikipedia may have once worked for MI5" to "Wikipedia articles are currently being controlled by MI5," is it not?

A lot of the apparent obsession with this issue would probably go away if certain people would just be honest about it for once, look at the facts, and stop accusing people who hold contrary views of being "idiots" and "wack-jobs." It's perfectly plausible to say that Salinger was simply being paranoid, and that Bollier was either exaggerating or lying. So why not give that a shot?

Lise Broer said...

It wouldn't be surprising at all if "someone on Wikipedia may have once worked for MI5". The improbability is that anyone actively in the intelligence community who intended to influence areas related to their conflict of interest would maintain a high profile as a prolific and controversial Wikipedia administrator. It's an idea that doesn't pass the sniff test, even on the most basic level.

Seth Finkelstein said...

At the height of the "MI5" silliness, I wanted to do a column making the point that the weird intelligence-agency theories were so appealing because the Wikipedia administration works in reality like people's FANTASIES about intelligence agencies - that is, shadowy "cabals", backstabbing byzantine alliances, political backchannels, secretive figures with unknown agendas, and it's all played out in terms of the manipulation of information.

But WhateverHerNameIs said she didn't want (my paraphrase) any fuel added to the fires, so I respected her wishes.

Someday, maybe I'll get another chance at the topic, but the sequel of Durova == FBI doesn't seem to have inspired anywhere near the same level of craziness.

I can only hope real intelligence agents are editing Wikipedia on intelligence agency related pages. They're likely the saniest editors of those topics!

Moulton said...

" was September 2007 when I first paid any attention to l'affair Mantanmoreland."

Same here, Durova. I first commented on that case on the Media Ethics blog back in mid-September of last year.

B.C. Folloah said...

The number of people who have seriously attempted to suggest that you-know-who is actively working for an intelligence agency right now is extremely small - I could try to come up with an exact number, but it would be somewhere between 2 and 5.

The issue is, and has always been, one of conflation. The MI5 story is almost entirely speculation and conjecture, whereas the identification of you-know-who with you-know-which WP user account is based on actual evidence. But people on Wikipedia constantly use the former to dismiss the latter, and all that does is challenge people to come up with more evidence. That, to me, is part and parcel of the whole "making things worse" concept.