RationalWiki parodist owns up to creating Conservapedia “hit list” article

Last Friday Ken Layne of the Wonkette political satire blog broke a story about an article on Andrew Schlafly’s Conservapedia wiki called “Senate Democrats from States with Republican Governors”, which was interpreted by Ken and others as a “helpful list of Senate Democrats to assassinate, so Republican governors can appoint GOP replacements”. Although Conservapedia quickly withdrew the article claiming it was created by a vandal or parodist, the story had legs, and when I published an article speculating that Conservapedia’s subsequent outage was connected to the article, it was picked up by PZ Myers and others, and, through referrals, has become by far the most popular article this blog has ever had, with over 4,000 page impressions to date.

And now, as the fuss dies down, a certain longtime RationalWiki user, Stile4aly, has come clean. A regular RationalWiki user since May, 2007, Stile4aly is unrepentant. “I’m glad it lasted as long as it did as it clearly exposed CP’s willingness to accept implied threats against liberals.” But in the same sentence he describes it as “pretty subtle parody”. This sounds like trying to have it both ways.

It does not reflect well on RationalWiki that the site owners turn a blind eye to this. Many of Conservapedia’s articles, particularly those on homosexuality, atheism, and Barack Obama, genuinely reflect Schlafly’s fringe views (including his obsessive belief that Obama is secretly a Muslim), but if there are people going in and deliberately inserting the most outrageous material they can, Schlafly and his adminstrators like TK can always say, with some justice, that his site has been compromised by vandals. In this case, despite my initial feelings about the matter, TK was right and I was wrong.

I am frustrated by this culture of vandalism and parody. My history on Wikipedia where we have successfully overwhelmed all attempts to cause such harm has given me a keen appreciation of the advantages of open editing, but on a much smaller wiki which is apparently already subject to quite heavy infiltration by people who mean no good, how am I to persuade the Conservapedians, as I have been trying to do, that open editing is a viable direction to take? I believe that the Conservapedians could be persuaded that permitting open editing, within their site policies, as Wikipedia already does, would improve their encyclopedia and earn it a reputation for quality. I have tried to show them good evidence gathered by Aaron Swartz suggesting that edits from one-time, casual editors have played a major part in building Wikipedia’s high quality content. But they are unlikely to appreciate the strength of this argument when faced with deliberate and organized attempts to embarrass them by planting parodic content.

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