Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2022-08-01/Opinion

Criminals among us: Mass murderers, sex criminals, Ponzi schemers, insider traders, and business people.


Warning: Readers may find parts of this article disturbing. Specifically, the sections on mass murderers and sexual predators who have ed Wikipedia discuss their crimes, and include descriptions of how Wikipedia was used by them, which range from unrelated ing to being directly connected with the crime in some way. Discretion is advised.

With the support of the staff of The Signpost, our new ors-in-chief, JPxG and EpicPupper have declared a new Signpost policy. We believe that many mass shooters are in part motivated by the prospect of publicity and the chance to spread their views, so we will not name mass shooters who are suspected of ing Wikipedia pages.
I personally agree with the new policy. But it raises questions about other Wikipedia ors who are criminals as well as non-criminal "black hat ors". How should The Signpost and Wikipedia as a whole, deal with these types of ors? The opinion piece explores this question. The opinions I express are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Signpost or of other Wikipedians.Sb
Serial killer using a laptop.
Sus.

Criminals Wikipedia. They include a couple of the mass shooters who have terrorized many Americans recently. They also include others who have committed particularly heinous murders, convicted sex criminals, financial con artists such as insider traders and Ponzi scheme operators. There are also tax-evading billionaires – one awaiting trial, another who has already confessed and is waiting to testify at trial. And then there's those who haven’t officially entered the criminal justice system, such as some of the Russian oligarchs. I’ll call these and similar ors “black hat ors”, just to keep these distinctions clear.

First, though, you should know how I know that criminals Wikipedia. To show that The Signpost does not need to identify criminals by their user names or real world names, I won’t name some of the convicted criminals.

How I know there are criminals among us

The first time I was absolutely convinced that a Wikipedia contributor was a convicted criminal, I felt it was an honor to be able to revert such a well-known ex-con. It wasn’t hard to identify him: his user name was a slight variant of his real world name and he was ing the article about himself. He’d already identified himself as the subject of the article several times. He removed a quote from the then-Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and called the addition of the quote "vandalism". The quote was about how horrible the article subject’s crime was (guilty on 53 counts of insider trading), and how he hurt the reputation of America’s financial journalists. The article's subject had been a financial journalist whose column effectively recommended the purchase or sale of certain stocks. He’d provide this information before publication to his insider trading partners, thus giving a good hint as to whether particular stock prices would rise or fall. When he was arrested for insider trading his defense was that his actions were unethical, but not illegal. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with his defense, setting an important precedent.

A few months later, I ran into another criminal or. A convicted, but not-yet sentenced, Ponzi scheme operator put the most remarkable text in a hand-written confession that he sent to his wife. The confession made its way to the FBI, into the federal indictment, and into the pages of a highly reputable newspaper. In part he described himself as a "financial serial killer" and continued "I hate the fact that I am just another scumbag con artist bilking old people out of their retirement money. I have always hated those guys. How could I become one?" He'd also written an email to his investor-victims saying that all the money was misappropriated and just gone. Of course I quoted part of the note in the article about him.

Then he, or somebody impersonating him, really surprised me: Identifying himself by his real name in the summary, he ed the article, confirming the quote but trying to explain it away by giving his state of mind when he wrote it, claiming he was distraught and had even considered self-harm. Strange, but who else could explain his state of mind at the time? After asking a couple questions on his talk page, I was convinced that the or was the actual Ponzi schemer.

So I've been convinced for a long time that criminals Wikipedia. Financial crimes like this typically cost their victims tens of millions of dollars. But are there more dangerous or serious criminals ing Wikipedia?

You might want to skip this section

This section details mass shooters and murderers who have ed Wikipedia, and includes brief descriptions of their horrific acts. In some cases, this included using Wikipedia during those acts, requiring more description. The subsection after it deals with sexual predators, and their attempts to hide knowledge of their crimes by ing Wikipedia, again, requiring some description of what was being attempted to be hidden.

Mass shooters and other murderers

In early July a mass shooter horrified America killing seven people at a parade near Chicago. A reliable online newspaper published an article naming a Wikipedia or as the shooter - or perhaps the or was a close friend of the shooter. The on-Wiki ing evidence is a bit thin, but it’s enough to convince me unless further evidence comes to light: The or in question made about six s over three days a few years ago, all promoting a rap singer who has now been identified by name in the mainstream press as the suspected shooter. The s are fairly normal promotional s: the standard garage-band-style advertisement that most ors here have seen dozens of times. To the best of my knowledge, this style of advertising always traces back to the band members or the band’s manager.

One reason I might be easy to convince about this mass shooter is that I wrote about a different mass shooter in The Signpost three months ago. This mass shooter fired hundreds of rounds at a school in Washington, D.C. as classes let out on Friday, April 22. Only four people were wounded, though these included a child and a man who spent at least three weeks in the hospital. Police took hours to find the shooter. About 40 minutes after the shooting began, the shooter reportedly was online on a non-Wiki site uploading a video of part of the shooting and discussing the shooting. On Wikipedia he reportedly made three brief, vague s shortly after the shooting to the article on the school, and had also made s on Wikipedia earlier in the week to articles about mass shootings and to the school article. When the police found his hiding place, the shooter reportedly committed suicide. Wikipedia oversighters soon removed most of his s. Since I only learned about this shooting on the day after – a day before The Signpost published – I was not able to fully verify the shooter’s name or user name and I didn’t even include the name of the school in my article. I probably could have named the school, in retrospect, but little or no other meaningful information was lost by not identifying the shooter in The Signpost.

Other mass shooters and murderers who have ed Wikipedia include:

  • A Norwegian mass murderer who killed a total of 77 people – eight in a bomb explosion in Oslo, then sixty-nine by shooting at a summer youth camp – made only four known s on English Wikipedia and none on other language versions. Nonetheless, he claimed during his trial that Wikipedia had been a major influence on him, and, as reported in The Signpost at the time, "[h]is 1,500-page manifesto included a section titled 'Battlefield Wikipedia', in which he encouraged like-minded people to use Wikipedia as a vehicle for spreading their worldview."
  • The shooter at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting apparently ed Wikipedia twelve times with all the s made to articles on mass shootings or murderers. He first killed his mother then killed twenty-six people at the school, including twenty children ages six to seven. (Signpost report)
  • In an anti-Semitic hate crime, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting, an occasional Wikipedia or killed a museum guard and exchanged fire with other guards, before being shot himself. He died of natural causes before his trial. (Signpost report)
  • The “Pentagon shooter", who was an "occasionally active" Wikipedia or, wounded two guards at the Pentagon and was then shot dead. (Signpost report)
  • A tech investor killed his former wife’s new husband and is serving a life sentence. As a Wikipedia or, he apparently made four s over four years, each time falsely inserting his name as one of the co-founders of a software firm. When he was arrested several major news outlets reported that he was the co-founder of the firm, apparently following the lead of Wikipedia's article about the company. (Signpost report)

Convicted and accused sexual offenders

  • Jeffrey Epstein, the most infamous sexual criminal of the 21st century, made dozens of s on Wikipedia through paid ors over the course of several years. Though Wikipedia ors added information to his article on his sex crime conviction in 2008 and similar later material, much of this content was then deleted, weakened, or pushed down to the bottom of the article. One or who apparently represented Epstein wrote, "I have been asked by Jeffrey Epstein to describe his biography in a professional and accurate way, that does not involve any scandals or disreputable content. As a living person, this is his right." (Signpost report)
  • Ghislaine Maxwell, who aided Epstein in his crimes, was sentenced in June to 20 years in prison for sex trafficking and related crimes. She also appears to have made a few s, including a photo of herself which originally listed the source and author of the photo as "Ghislaine Maxwell". (Signpost report)
  • Peter Nygard appears to have been accused of as many or more sexual offenses than Epstein, but has not been convicted. He is now sitting in an Ontario prison, awaiting trial in Toronto. After that trial, he will likely go on trial in Montreal next. At the conclusion of that trial he will be extradited to New York for a federal trial there. After that, civil trials may await him, even though his lawyer has said that he is broke and likely to die in jail. (Signpost report)

Corporations and other businesses

We should remember that there are also white-collar criminals, and that corporations and their owners and managers can also commit crimes. The Wall Street Journal's article How the 1% Scrubs Its Image Online gives several examples of criminal or black-hat ing on Wikipedia. Please remember that this behavior can be very different than that shown by the murderers and sex criminals discussed above.

  • Theranos was a fraudulent blood testing firm that eventually dissolved without delivering on the promises that it had made to its customers and investors. Its CEO Elizabeth Holmes, who was once considered a multi-billionaire, was convicted of fraud in 2022. Holmes's former partner and the company's former COO Sunny Balwani was also convicted in a separate trial on similar charges. They are scheduled to be sentenced this Fall. The Wall Street Journal reported that the firm used the paid ing firm Status Labs, formerly Wiki-PR, to related articles on Wikipedia. Though Status Labs has not been accused of criminal acts, it acts as a black hat or and was indefinitely banned from ing well before The Wall Street Journal article was published. (Signpost report)
  • Zach Avery is another Ponzi schemer who ed Wikipedia. Rather than himself, he hired a paid or to make the article about him look like he was something of a Hollywood star. But he was literally a bad actor. He was also a bit player in the Ponzi world where he "only" stole $231 million in a fake film financing fraud. The paid or described his methods to The Signpost last year.
  • Wirecard was a bank and payment processor once worth about €10 billion, until it was discovered that they were missing €2 billion. More precisely, they had €2 billion cash on their books that never existed: It had been created out of thin air. Wirecard was once known as Germany's most successful fintech company. Now it is known as Germany's biggest financial fraud since the end of World War II. The Wall Street Journal reported that "Some [Wirecard employees] joked internally that these [press] releases were Wirecard’s real product." They likely never made a profit in any year that they were in business. Wirecard employees with creative names like User:Wirecard and User:Wirecard AG peddled their PR on Wikipedia as well. (Signpost report)

There are many more examples

Because of the subject matter, this article has been difficult to write. I apologize if you have found it difficult to read. I'll just say that there are many more examples. We've got a problem with criminals and black hat ors writing on Wikipedia. The question now is what to do about it?

Perhaps the first thing we should realize is that mass shootings and the like are symptoms of a fundamentally sick society. All the major social media platforms have similar problems. There may be little that we can do on our own, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore the problem, only that we should calmly work with others and not expect quick solutions. Obsessing about the problem may actually add to the problem.

There are many different types of criminal and black-hat ors. Inevitably we will need different ways of dealing with them. It appears that the most serious type – mass shooters and murderers – have been dealt with fairly quickly by admins and by the WikiMedia Foundation.

Ordinary ors can help by privately reporting suspect ors to the WMF's Trust and Safety team at ca@wikimedia.org, or, in case of emergency, emergency@wikimedia.org. Except in emergencies, you could also contact ArbCom at arbcom-en@wikimedia.org. In certain cases they may be able to act more quickly.

Behaviors that might arouse your suspicion include the things that many ors would usually report anyway: threats or indications of violent behaviour. Other indications might be bragging about assault-style weapons, or an intense interest in mass shooting articles. I trust Trust and Safety and ArbCom to speedily do everything possible in these cases.

The Signpost's new policy of not identifying mass shooters can't hurt and may help.

Other situations are not so clear cut. I suggest that The Signpost continue to vigorously report about ors who have been credibly accused of crimes by very reliable sources such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Like writers of Wikipedia articles, we should not have to wait for a conviction to report on possibly criminal acts, or even an indictment. It can take years before a criminal is actually convicted. All that is needed is a credible report in a very reliable source.

A major advance would be to simply have a reasonable discussion about criminal ors. Perhaps we could even come up with a policy or guideline to deal with the problem. A first step could be a blanket ban on any criminal or their representatives ing any article about themselves or the crime. By blanket ban, I mean that should they their page even once, they would receive an immediate, indefinite ban.

Finally we need to let criminals know via the mainstream press, that Wikipedia will not tolerate their ing anymore.

Editor's note: At risk of orial hypocrisy, I'll disclose that I read an academic paper to verify a source on an article the other day and didn't pay for it, and accidentally ran a red light a few months ago, although I have not committed mass murder and have no plans to.J