24 May through 6 June 2007

On 24 May 2007, I searched the Internet for the answer to a simple question about the first law of thermodynamics. My Google search produced a list of links that began with the Wikipedia entry “Thermodynamics” (24 May 2007 16:33 UTC). Since my question was a simple one, I elected to read this entry before moving on to a more authoritative resource. The description posted to Wikipedia might have provided a satisfactory answer had I skimmed the entire entry; however, I didn’t. I was stopped by a fragment of obscene text inserted into the first sentence of the second paragraph.

Although I had never before come across text of this sort in any Wikipedia entry, I was not surprised. I have encountered inaccuracies in Wikipedia entries in the past. At times, I have not agreed with the presentation of information. I also know that vandalism occurs in Wikipedia entries and that, at times, biased postings have a longer than desirable screen life. Since I am enthusiastic about public, collaborative writing projects, these sorts of time-limited kinks do not alarm me; Wikipedia administrators and volunteers are quick to snag vandals, and it is easy for readers to edit Wikipedia entries. I did not, however, until 24 May 2007, realize how effective this process could be.

The good news is that I edited the offensive fragment out of the entry on thermodynamics (“Thermodynamics” 24 May 2007 17:41 UTC), following the procedure for replacing vandalized text outlined in “Wikipedia: Vandalism.” Also good news, I encountered the offensive text, just coincidentally, an hour and eight minutes after it appeared. In addition, after editing, I reviewed the edit history, was able to identify the IP address of the network from which the offensive text originated, contacted a Wikipedia administrator (Hood, Wikipedia) who, two hours and twenty-two minutes later, identified the name of the source network, which was located outside the United States, and conveyed that information to me (Wikipedia Information Team). I then contacted the network administrator and explained the situation (Hood, Troubling Wikipedia edit from Saskatchewan Community net computer). Four days later, the administrator informed me that he had “traced the offending IP to the source” and that the offense “will be dealt with” (Lawson, Wikipedia). This process took less than two weeks.

Since then, I have returned to the Wikipedia entry on thermodynamics many times to check for postings of the same sort. The entry has been edited many times; however, as of this date, I have not encountered any more offensive fragments (“Thermodynamics” 20 March 2008 13:38 UTC and "Thermodynamics" 25 October 2008 7:54 UTC). Nor have I confronted obscene text tucked into sentences in Wikipedia entries on other topics. I am confident they still occur; I just have not come across a fragment of text of the sort that I encountered on 24 May 2007 (see Note 1).

© Carra Leah Hood