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Wikipedia AI Stats The Internet

34 'Highly Toxic Users' Wrote 9% of the Personal Attacks On Wikipedia (bleepingcomputer.com) 174

Researchers used machine learning to analyze every single comment left on Wikipedia in 2015. An anonymous reader shares their results: 34 "highly toxic users" were responsible for 9% of all the personal attacks in the comments on Wikipedia, according to a research team from Alphabet's Jigsaw and the Wikimedia Foundation. They concluded that "significant progress could be made by moderating a relatively small number of frequent attackers." But at the same time, in Wikipedia's comments "less than half of attacks come from users with little prior participation; and perhaps surprisingly, approximately 30% of attacks come from registered users with over a 100 contributions. These results suggest the problems associated with personal attacks do not have an easy solution... the majority of personal attacks on Wikipedia are not the result of a few malicious users, nor primarily the consequence of allowing anonymous contributions."

The researchers "developed a machine learning algorithm that was able to identify and distinguish different forms of online abuse and personal attacks," reports Bleeping Computer, adding that the team "hopes that Wikipedia uses their study to build a comments monitoring dashboard that could track down hotspots of abusive personal attacks and help moderators ban or block toxic users." The paper describes it as a method "that combines crowdsourcing and machine learning to analyze personal attacks at scale."

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34 'Highly Toxic Users' Wrote 9% of the Personal Attacks On Wikipedia

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  • In further news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 13, 2017 @07:35AM (#53855437)

    In further news, it was discovered that all 34 of the "toxic users" were Administrators or Wikipedia employees.

    • The rest were J.V.M. in various accounts.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The entrenched fiefdoms are 100000%+ more harmful than the random drive-by. The drive-by will be deleted while the entrenched (college professors with beards, etc.) will be considered ***absolute truth***.

    • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @08:49AM (#53855775) Homepage

      The entrenched fiefdoms are 100000%+ more harmful than the random drive-by. The drive-by will be deleted while the entrenched (college professors with beards, etc.) will be considered ***absolute truth***.

      The entrenched fiefdoms, pages where one user (or a small cabal of users) believe that they own the article and will dispute and revert every change to their perfect prose are indeed a problem in Wikipedia-- their motto should be "the encyclopedia everybody can edit, except don't bother trying with these articles." But in my experience it's rarely college professors-- it's dedicated amateurs who have simply decided that they are the world's expert in this field.

      Many of them actually are quite knowledgable-- there are some pretty good articles there. But sometimes these are by people who just don't have a good grasp on writing for clarity and sticking to the topic.

      Most of the college professors I know are at best amused by wikipedia, and in general disdain it.

      • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @09:01AM (#53855839)

        Wikipedia is really pretty amazing. Of course, we all know that; but, it's worth reflecting that, on a public platform, that most people can edit to a degree- it's not more chaos than it is. Maybe I've just not been to the right (or wrong) pages, but there is way less graffiti than one would have expected.

        If you had told me in the 80's that something like Wikipedia would exist and be as good as it is, I would have laughed in your face and called you a pee-pee face. (I was a kid in the 80's).

        • by gnick ( 1211984 )

          I agree - Having access to that bulk of human knowledge in your pocket is incredible. Wikipedia isn't perfect and it's easy to nit-pick if one is so inclined, but that doesn't stop it from being amazing. I run into almost no graffiti - A far cry from here. I'd be genuinely curious about the percentage of unique users vs troll posts on /. . My guess would be just a few dedicated bad eggs.

        • I keep hearing about how Wikipedia is so "toxic", but that really doesn't impact the vast majority of people who simply use it as a resource. Personally, I've only made minor corrections and edits to mostly technical articles, and haven't run into any issues.

          I absolutely don't doubt that there are problems with "fiefdoms", as you see this all the time in places you wouldn't expect (local school board politics, overzealous home owners association, etc) where people somehow need to lord their "authority" ove

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do you mean that tab on the articles where all the aspies spend hours bickering about whether sentence 4 of paragraph 32 should have an oxford comma? Because if the people there in charge of distributing the personal abuse are overworked I could probably volunteer one or two hours a week.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I've long thought that Wikipedia should have a discussion tab devoted to general comments on a given entry unrelated to the editorial critiques the "Talk" tab is designed for.

      I occasionally have questions about pages I've read, and Talk isn't a great (or even technically allowed) place to put them. It would also allow knowledgeable editors to see where some aspect of the topic could be clarified.

      • I suspect the reason why this doesn't exist is that not enough people have an interest in moderating such a mechanism. As a result, if such a thing was in place, it would be as bad or worse than IMDB-forums and Yahoo Answers combined.
        • Ironic, as bad moderation (article edits) are what we're discussing and Wiki has no problem securing people for.

          • Nah. Article edits aren't moderation. Moderators are moderation. It's their job to step in when editors disagree about the state of an article. And if moderators get out of line, you can alert other moderators to get a second opinion. And if they inappropriately side with a moderator who is out of line, you can appeal to administration. It's certainly not perfect, but it's a decently thought out system (And if someone is able to come up with improvements, it's possible to get them put into effect). My point
        • by swb ( 14022 )

          It would only be a problem for a really small subset of topics, just like it's really only a problem for a small subset of IMDB titles. If you look at almost anything that's not a popular current movie/show, there's like zero reason to moderate an IMDB title.

          Would some Wikipedia discussion pages get obnoxious? Sure, but the edit wars already are and they could either block miscellaneous question sections or just roll them off.

          • I agree that it'd only be a problem for a small subset of topics/articles. But a small subset of 5.3 million articles is still a heck of a lot of articles. Since Wikimedia is a nonprofit organization, I suspect they feel such a feature would be beyond the scope of their project.

            That said, if you have a general question on a topic, you can often get it addressed by formatting comments as "I feel like the article should explain {insert question here}, but I'm unable to find an appropriate source. Could some

            • by swb ( 14022 )

              IMHO, the problem really seems to be for shows within their peak bubble of popularity (give or take a couple of years).

              Once you get out of that bubble, it's tolerable to non-existent in terms of junk postings and occasionally vital for interesting trivia or availability of cult or old movies.

  • How many (Score:2, Interesting)

    were in regard to overly territorial Wikipedia moderators?
    • Re:How many (Score:5, Informative)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@@@world3...net> on Monday February 13, 2017 @07:58AM (#53855539) Homepage Journal

      The best way to upset them is by being a rule-lawyer. The ultimate troll is to make an argument based on an ambiguity in Wikipedia law, which then causes the other lawyers to turn on each other.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The best way to troll Wikipedia is to insert [citation needed] next to all the most obvious parts of the article.

        I was going to do this to the Wikipedia article about "the sky", next to the part where it says "the sky is blue", but there are already 4 separate citations for that particular fact. There is a weakness in the following sentence, however - "At night, the sky appears to be a mostly dark surface".

        There is no citation for this so-called "fact" - until I have read a newpaper article or academic pape

        • The best way to troll Wikipedia is to insert [citation needed] next to all the most obvious parts of the article.

          I was going to do this to the Wikipedia article about "the sky", next to the part where it says "the sky is blue", but there are already 4 separate citations for that particular fact. There is a weakness in the following sentence, however - "At night, the sky appears to be a mostly dark surface". There is no citation for this so-called "fact" - until I have read a newpaper article or academic paper confirming that the sky is dark, I will go on believing the opposite. Because that's Wikipedia law.

          Here you go. Add these to the article:
          At night, the sky appears to be a mostly dark surface.[1][2][3][4]
          [1] Harrison, E. R. "The dark night-sky riddle: a" paradox" that resisted solution." Science 226, (1984): 941-946.
          [2] Jaki, Stanley L., and H. L. Armstrong. "The paradox of Olbers' paradox." American Journal of Physics, 40.9 (1972): 1354-1355.
          [3] Harrison, E. R. "Olbers' paradox." Nature 204, (1964): 271-272.
          [4] Wesson, Paul S., K. Valle, and R. Stabell. "The extragalactic background light and a definitiv

      • Re:How many (Score:5, Informative)

        by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <mashiki&gmail,com> on Monday February 13, 2017 @09:34AM (#53856027) Homepage

        The best way to upset them is by being a rule-lawyer. The ultimate troll is to make an argument based on an ambiguity in Wikipedia law, which then causes the other lawyers to turn on each other.

        Might have been true a decade ago, but it's not now. Not only are editors(along with power editors) fully broken, but so is the administration to the point where they'll allow power editors unrestrained abuse as long as they're promoting what the administration allows. And they'll allow that until it reaches the point where people complain and threaten to withhold donations, then shitcan or temp ban the power editor who will then use a meat puppet to continue their work. The best examples I can think of off the top of my head are Ryulong [reddit.com] Gamaliel [reddit.com] and Mark Bernstein [reddit.com].

        • Those are not common occurrences. It is so rare that when they happen, the drama is great enough to overflow to other sites, like Slashdot and reddit. And there's a difference between meat puppetry where you actually recruit people, and the type where you just have other editors who happen to agree with the edits in question and restoring them. Getting to a level where people are threatening to withhold donations are either from people who donate so little that no one cares, or it's so rare that it has only
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Damn Mashiki, you manage to find conspiracy theories everywhere.

          By the way, did you hear that the Pizzagate guys are fighting with the Flat Earth guys now? Apparently Flat Earth is a conspiracy to divert attention from Pizzagate. I wish I was making this shit up, but it's happening on Twitter right now. The best part is that the Flat Earth people are offended at even being mentioned in the same breath as something as silly and unsupported by facts as Pizzagate.

          • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
            oh fer fuck sake pizzagate needs to die soon otherwise it's going to hang around forever like that "sandy hook was a hoax" and "jews did WTC" shit.
          • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

            A persons actions are conspiracy theories? Explains a lot of reasons for you posting the way you do. Shitty people doing shitty things, because they have the "approval" of those above them isn't a conspiracy theory. Just a FYI. It just means there's a lot of shitty people in control of the organization, and they operate it more as a vendetta systems then a business.

            Nah I don't pay attention to pizzagate, though I find that rather funny. But did you hear that there's been over 1300 people arrested in t

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        The ultimate troll is to make an argument based on an ambiguity in Wikipedia law, which then causes the other lawyers to turn on each other.

        Yep. When it first appeared, Wikipedia did seem like an awesome new thing. But the humans running it are the same ones running everything else and, by not anticipating the problems of self-governance in advance and coming up only with the ad-hoc rules, which are written, interpreted, and applied by the same people, Wikipedia became (much) worse, than it could've been...

      • There's rules against that :-)

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        It's a good rule.

  • by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @08:03AM (#53855577) Homepage

    With 9 comments here already, I see the problem being blamed on:
    - Freedom of speech
    - Admins
    - Muslims
    - Liberals

    No surprise that they're all ACs.

    I'm sure it would be very upsetting for the ACs if /. started tracking IPs, but I suspect that a disproportionate number of "Trolls" come from the same IPs.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      I'm sure it would be very upsetting for the ACs if /. started tracking IPs, but I suspect that a disproportionate number of "Trolls" come from the same IPs.

      I'd prefer that /. only allowed posts from signed-in users and still allow AC posting. That would allow more reliable stifling of trolls while still protecting people who make good faith but controversial posts. Some groups here have been known to follow and down-mod/attack a person who has made statements they disagree with.

    • Slashdot does track IPs. They just keep it to themselves. Sometimes people have brought up the idea of transforming ACs to a hash of the commenter's IP. But there's resistance to that. Personally, I'm fine with the existence of ACs. I just wish the level of moderation hiding the troll ACs would go back to the way it was a decade or so ago.
    • With 9 comments here already, I see the problem being blamed on:
      - Freedom of speech
      - Admins
      - Muslims
      - Liberals

      No surprise that they're all ACs.

      I'm sure it would be very upsetting for the ACs if /. started tracking IPs, but I suspect that a disproportionate number of "Trolls" come from the same IPs.

      The original intention of posting AC was to protect a user from reprisals who posted a comment that contained insider information pertinent to the subject, but would be embarrassing or even illegal to an employer, a government or other organizations. Now it more likely to shield trolls from being responsible for their comments, even in the vaguest of virtual sense, than it original intention.

      Tracking IP's tell us nothing about an AC, but does allow law enforcement to backtrack to a location. It is entirely

  • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @08:07AM (#53855595)

    On behalf of myself and my 33 sock-accounts.

    Sorry.

  • by cerberusss ( 660701 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @08:20AM (#53855641) Homepage Journal

    I wonder how these guys would behave in real life. What kind of mind do you have, when you're one of the most productive in the area of spewing hate, anger and vitriol.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )
      They'll be that meek, lives in grandma's basement, bookish skinny kid.
      • Re:Real life (Score:4, Insightful)

        by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @10:20AM (#53856343)

        Actually the few that have ended up revealed were all fourty-something massively overweight living-in-mother's-basement types.

        Something about a complete and utter lack of success or achievement leads some people to resent success and achievement in others, especially women, and thus hound them online with a great deal of trolling. For some reason, making successful people feel bad makes them feel less bad.

        99% of trolling is extreme insecurity.

        • Re:Real life (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Verdatum ( 1257828 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @11:31AM (#53856969)
          I don't think that many of them are literally the mother's-basement types. At most, these sort of editors would be the type that would have parents helping out with rent. Or they get to keep their dead relative's place or their parents house after mom and dad skipped off to a retirement condo in Arizona. They usually have a job, but it's a job they either actively hate, or a job from which they get no personal satisfaction.

          Another common category I've found is the crazy old-guy. They'll be mid-60s or so, and is loaded up with conspiracy theories. Most are harmless and just bad at understanding what a reliable source is, but a handful edit like a whirlwind and bite the head off of anyone who disputes or reverts their edits.

          • Well none if the revealed trolls I have seen were wikipedia editors, twitter trolls mostly. Its entirely possible that wiki attracts a different subspecies. Cave trolls versus bridge trolls anybody ?

            • Yes, I think they're two rather different breeds of trolls. Twitter is a free-for-all where you can find a trending target, and start attacking people you disagree with, or just don't like. Wikipedia is a place where everyone is trying to make articles the way they believe they should look. The personal attacks come as a result of disagreements or misunderstanding of the content guidelines or disputes over the merits of a source. Personal attacks are mostly on the order of "you're an idiot for including all
          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            Another common category I've found is the crazy old-guy. They'll be mid-60s or so, and is loaded up with conspiracy theories. Most are harmless and just bad at understanding what a reliable source is, but a handful edit like a whirlwind and bite the head off of anyone who disputes or reverts their edits.

            Donald J. Trump edits Wikipedia?!

            It all makes sense now.

    • I wonder how these guys would behave in real life. What kind of mind do you have, when you're one of the most productive in the area of spewing hate, anger and vitriol.

      Well, sometimes they have a sense of humour. A few years ago someone replaced the picture of the new elected pope [wbrz.com] with a character from Star Wars [nocookie.net]...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They get appointed as the White House Press Secretary.

    • Had one for a teacher during my studies. A really frustrated eccentric individual with enormous ego; would take his frustrations out on students. Supposedly, a very dysfunctional family. His father was a professor, the guy had a master's degree, and failed getting his PhD twice, both times failing his PhD thesis defense - his own father being the one failing him.

    • I wonder how these guys would behave in real life. What kind of mind do you have, when you're one of the most productive in the area of spewing hate, anger and vitriol.

      TFA mentioned that a tenth of the attacks came from the most active users (activity level 20+) so I would guess Wiki has become bit of an obsession for them and they believe they have some sort of right to always be right and any disagreement is taken personally. While they may need to get a life Wiki may have become their life.

    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      I wonder how these guys would behave in real life.

      Multiple personalities were not invented with the internet. People manage it easily from a young age.
      How many are arseholes at work, but nice guys socially?
      Kids well behaved at school, but argue at home (or Sometimes vice versa).
      Even mafia enforcers (old school or RIAA lawyers) can be kind and loyal to family and friends.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm not really sure this is a problem for Wikipedia, but the ABC guys seem to think so. But take a look at their methodology. "Crowdsourced" "Machine Learning" via proprietary website, after we removed "common comments" which they assume to be bots. I'm sure anyone using the same data set would be hard pressed to recreate their results. They are very fuzzy despite all the algorithmic pruning.

    We use this data to train a machine learning classifier, experimenting with features and labeling methods

    Isn't thi

  • Leave Toxicity to the chemistry and use real words to describe what you want to accuse people of. Terms like toxic behaviour and hate speech are cool, because there is no clear definition, which means you can redefine them each time you use them. If somebody refutes a claim, you tell them, that the word was used in another context than what he refuted.

    • Hmm, I kind of dessagrre about hat speech not beeing defined, unless merriam-webster is spreading false and/or innacurate information. https://www.merriam-webster.co... [merriam-webster.com], as to toxic behavior, I might be inclinded to sgree with you
  • by jbmartin6 ( 1232050 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @09:28AM (#53855999)
    This news supports the frequent observation that the Internet and associated communications platforms give a very disproportionate voice to a very small minority of jackasses who seem to have nothing better to do.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@@@world3...net> on Monday February 13, 2017 @10:12AM (#53856285) Homepage Journal

      Yes, and that's a huge problem. As we have seen recently, it makes fringe political movements seem more popular than they are, giving them undue credibility. Look at how Spicer is surprised that far right shock jocks are less mainstream than he thought.

      • I was under the impression that Spicer was aware of this and he was just doing his job to relay Donald's beliefs, no? Quick google search turned up nothing, got a link?
      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @12:04PM (#53857273)
        It's not just fringe political movements. Need I point out that the over-representation of the left online and in the media during the last election gave everyone the sense that Hillary had it in the bag. Their toxic attacks on anyone who openly supported Trump drove his supporters into hiding so they wouldn't admit to pollsters (or even their friends) that they were voting for Trump, leading to the polls also making it appear that Hillary had it in the bag. A lot of people on the left were probably complacent because of this and didn't bother to vote. And Trump ended up winning.

        (And before anyone brings up that Clinton won the popular vote, she only won if you disenfranchise anyone who didn't vote for Trump or Clinton. If you include the votes for all the third party candidates, conservative candidates won 49.9% of the popular vote vs 49.2% for liberal candidates. Liberals were the majority online, but they were the minority among those who voted. So for better or for worse, Trump is probably the correct winner for this election. And no I didn't vote for Trump.)
      • This is actually true. Look at YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, you name it. What do you see? A lot of loud extremists that stir up a lot of noise. Do they represent the majority of people? Not by a long shot.

        In the end, you will notice that it's always the same faces, always the same people, always the same channels that you hear absolutely outlandish demands from. It's fringe groups that get disproportional amounts of air time, not only on social media but now even on established media networks, where 99% of the

  • ... Wikadors [urbandictionary.com]

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @01:05PM (#53857901) Homepage Journal

    It shows that a small group of people can make a difference.

    • by ( 4621901 )

      It shows that a small group of people can make a difference

      Until one of them farts in the elevator. Then that's not making an inspiration difference, but making it really stinky.

  • Keeps diluting the elitism of the internet.

  • I wonder if this isn't true on more general forums.. especially political forums like TheHill. Some posters have over 100000 posts and those generally are the obnoxious ones.

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