Hacking vs Editing, Wikipedia & Declan Donnelly

On the 18th of November 2018 the Wikipedia article for Declan Donnelly was edited and vandalised. Vandalism isn’t new on Wikipedia, it happens to all sorts of articles throughout every day. A few minutes after the vandalism the change made its way to Twitter and from there on to some media outlets such as thesun.co.uk and  metro.co.uk the following day, with another headline scaremongering and misleading using the word “hack”.

“I’m A Celebrity fans hack Declan Donnelly by changing his height on Wikipedia after Holly Willoughby mocks him”

Hacking has nothing to do with it. One of the definitions of hacking is to “gain unauthorized access to data in a system or computer”. What actually happened is someone, somewhere, edited the article, which everyone is able and authorized  to do. Editing is a feature, and its the main action that happens on Wikipedia.

The word ‘hack’ used to mean something, and hackers were known for their technical brilliance and creativity. Now, literally anything is a hack — anything — to the point where the term is meaningless, and should be retired.

The word ‘hack’ is meaningless and should be retired – 15 June 2018 by MATTHEW HUGHES

The edit that triggered the story can be seen below. It adds a few words to the lead paragraph of the article at 22:04 and was reverted at 22:19 giving it 15 minutes of life on the site.

The resulting news coverage increased the traffic to the article quite dramatically, going from just 500-1000 views a day to 27,000-29,000 for the 2 days following then slowly subsiding to 12,000 and 9,800 on day 4. This is similar to the uptick in traffic caused by a youtube video I spotted some time ago, but realistically these upticks happen pretty much every day for various articles for various reasons.

Wikimedia pageviews tool for Declan Donnelly article

I posted about David Cameron’s Wikipedia page back in 2015 when another vandalism edit made some slightly more dramatic changes to the page. Unfortunately the page views tool for Wikimedia projects doesn’t have readily available data going back that far.

Maybe one day people will stop vandalising Wikipedia… Maybe one day people will stop reported everything that happens online as a “hack”.

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