I’ve written several times about patrolling Wikipedia for vandalism. It a great way for new editors to get practice with simple editing tasks. It is also can be a way for skeptics to demonstrate our impartiality.
It’s important to remember that vandalism on Wikipedia, just as in the real world, is often done in sprees. This is important, because it can help you avoid overlooking some instances that might be right under your nose.
Consider a piece of Bigfoot-related nonsense I removed from the Ape Canyon article recently:
The edit here (at bottom) was by an anonymous user – you can see it is logged to the IP address 22.214.171.124. Looking at the contents of the edit, I found it was a made-up species name (“Gigantopithecus sapiens helena”) for the cryptid apes that were reported at Ape Canyon. But this name is completely fictional, it’s never been assigned by actual scientists. So removing it is uncontroversial.
I removed it. Now I could have just patted myself on the back and moved on, but remember this edit was logged to an IP address – i.e. an anonymous user. What if this was part of a vandalism spree?
It turns out there’s an incredibly easy way to investigate this. Simply click the IP address right there in the editing history, and Wikipedia will show you the history of edits originating anonymously from that address. In this case, this is what came up:
Cryptozoology fans will probably recognize all three of those article names. Sure enough, this anonymous user had in fact edited three different articles about Bigfoot-like cryptids. Sure enough, clicking those “hist” links revealed the other two edits were exactly the same sort of thing – insertions of fake species names for other varieties of Bigfoot.
None of these edits had any basis in reality, and none belong in an encyclopedia. Just a couple clicks later, I had removed all three. But if I hadn’t thought to look at the editing history for that IP address, I would have only been able to fix one third of the underlying problem!
So next time you’re removing a bogus Wikipedia edit, be it vandalism or nonsense, don’t stop there. Take a quick look at the editing history for the responsible source – be it a regular user or an IP address. You may have found the tip of an iceberg.