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What I Learned When a Wikipedia Troll Deleted My Page

The real rules of the game are hidden, political, and bizarre.
What I Learned When a Wikipedia Troll Deleted My Page
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My page was devoured by Wikipedia trolls. 

After having my own page on the site for several months, one Wikipedia editor decided my page should be taken down. The editor happened upon my page and decided I lacked notability. After a voting process that lasted several weeks, with a wide array of comments -- from “she has seven pages of Google results!” to “Supersize my delete vote!” -- my page was taken down. The editors violated every rule in the book (and I know because I read them all), but it didn’t matter. I went 15 rounds in the virtual boxing ring and lost.

Wikipedia is marketed as an online encyclopedia platform governed by reasoned discussion and democratic ideals, but the reality is that special interest and ecommerce rule this cyberworld. Regardless, Wikipedia is increasingly being regarded as an unbiased and valid encyclopedia -- and one with great search engine optimization value. So, I decided to do some research to uncover the real rules of engagement.

I had a long discussion with Wikipedia’s legal counsel. I communicated with the media director. I exchanged long emails with one of the fifteen corporate community directors. They all said the same thing: “We have no control over the content.” Then I started interviewing Wikipedia editors -- the power players -- who told me how the game is really played. If you really want to keep your Wikipedia page from being taken down, follow these rules of engagement. 

1. Hire a Wikipedia editor.

Wikipedia guidelines clearly state that notability does not depend on the way the page is structured, but this could not be farther from the truth. Wikipedia editors take down pages when there are not enough sources or they are not structured correctly. Fortunately, there are hundreds of editors who specialize in Wikipedia content structure. 

“What makes the services of these writers worth paying for, then, is the ability to walk the tricky line of sculpting the content in the favor of your client without going too far and getting busted,” wrote Time magazine contributor Brad Tuttle, regarding this underground editing industry. 

If you are planning on creating a page for yourself or your business, hire an editor to do this for you. Editors spend years learning the Wiki structure, so give yourself the best chance for success. If you try to do it yourself, you’ll be immediately flagged for speedy deletion as a conflict of interest.

2. After you hire a Wikipedia editor, don’t tell anyone. Anyone.

One of the best places to find editors specializing in Wikipedia articles is Upwork. As you search the hundreds of bios, look for someone who will give you an honest estimate of whether your page has a chance to stick. When you are ready to reach out, post the job with a dummy account that does not reveal your real name. Even if you reach out in a private message, any editor can see the job board once it has been posted. This is important because some Wikipedia trolls routinely look for work on Upwork; and, if they don’t get the job, they find the page that another editor wrote and take it down out of spite. 

3. Write good content. 

Nobody wants to read an advertisement -- and your page will get taken down if you try to write one. While you are busy citing independent sources to showcase your notability, make sure that your content is written like an encyclopedia entry -- that is, informative, unbiased, and educational. 

“As you write, reference other Wiki articles by including links to them,” suggested contributor Sarah Hartshorn. “This helps to substantiate your article and it cross-promotes other reference material on Wikipedia.”

Wikipedia editors vary greatly when it comes to writing ability. In fact, only a small percentage of Wikipedia editors I interviewed were actually native English speakers. Make sure to choose one that can write well.

4. Don't post that you have paid someone to write your page. 

Wikipedia insists that editors who are paid to write pages must disclose this fact. This is one of the cardinal rules of Wikipedia: “These Terms of Use prohibit engaging in deceptive activities, including misrepresentation of affiliation, impersonation, and fraud. As part of these obligations, you must disclose your employer, client, and affiliation with respect to any contribution for which you receive, or expect to receive, compensation. You must make that disclosure in at least one of the following ways: a statement on your user page, a statement on the talk page accompanying any paid contributions, or a statement in the edit summary accompanying any paid contributions.”

With that said, Wikipedia trolls punish people for adhering to this guideline. When I pressed a Wikipedia editor on this, she said, “I know the guidelines say you must disclose that you are being paid; but if you do, then other editors come in and take the page down on principle. That’s just the way it works.”

5. Don’t be a “sockpuppet” or a “meatpuppet.” 

If your page gets flagged for a lively debate on whether your page should be taken down, you may be tempted to solicit other professionals to speak on your behalf. As Wikipedia states, deletion discussions are supposed to be governed by reasoned discussion, not votes or “head count.” This rarely happens, however, so you need some people in your camp. 

In my case, I asked a couple of colleagues to respond. They became editors and gave a reasoned discussion on why they felt I deserved a page. They were the only ones who gave reasoned discussion in either direction -- the others basically just voted. But, because they had identified themselves as colleagues, Wikipedia trolls opened up an “investigation” into “meatpuppetry,” meaning I solicited cronies to rally support to my camp. If I were to do it again, I would hire established Wikipedia editors to review and comment on my page. 

Some people try to influence the debate process by creating numerous accounts in their own name. This is “sockpuppetry” and should be avoided at all costs. Wikipedia tracks the IP address on which accounts are created and can tell if you’re posing as more than one person. That will get you banned for life.

6. If you get taken down, don't post for a while. 

If you submit a Wiki entry and it gets deleted and then you make edits to the same entry and continue to resubmit in an effort to get it published, you run the risk of being permanently banned and blacklisted from Wikipedia,” Hartshorn said. 

Instead of repeating the same mistakes, Hartshorn suggested studying other entries and becoming more familiar with guidelines.

Conclusion

Just as in the real world, most people on Wikipedia are good people and have better things to do than take down people’s pages just for the fun of it. Above all, be classy and make sure you don’t become a troll yourself. 

If your Wikipedia page gets taken down, there’s a good possibility that it’s not fair. But that’s the reality of this forum. As Wikipedia contributor Sal Partovi stated, “This article . . . will never be owned or fully controlled by one person, including you.”

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