Friday, June 23, 2006

Dangerous Intentions

I'm going to talk about Wikipedia again. Please read it anyway, because I feel the need for some advice here. If you make it all the way to the bottom, you get to see a cute Tuffy picture - and a not-at-all-cute one.

As I mentioned before in passing, Barbara Bauer has made a number of attempts to edit the Wikipedia article that bears her name. We know it's Bauer because a) the user name associated with the edits matches her posted email address, and b) nobody else would or could have written the text she's trying to substitute for the existing article. Her version describes at great length the work she allegedly did for one of her early clients, a priest who wrote a cookbook, including the blow-by-blow on his tv talk show appearance and how Bauer lost money on the deal due to her excessive generosity. Bauer refers to Father Orsini as a "first-time author," but later contradicts herself, admitting that he had a couple of previous small press/self published titles. Later in the article, shortly before revealing that she "also appeared on one episode of Sex and the City," Barbara Bauer strikes back at everyone who has Googlebombed her to be associated with the 20 Worst Agencies list:

In 2006, Bauer's agency, along with 25 other American(USA) companies, was the victim of googlebombing attacks on the internet perpetrated by terrorists attempting to destroy their small businesses, many of which are women and minority owned and operated.

(Reprinted under GNU provisions of Wikipedia.)

(Insert heavy sarcasm here.) Just for starters, BB's agency plus 25 others would make it the 26 Worst Agencies, not 25. Second: terrorist???!!!

Obviously, she can't be permitted to delete the negative but factual information in this article, or use it to make wild accusations like the one above. Every time she tries, someone puts it back the way it was, usually just within five minutes or so. And under Wikipedia policies about original research, vanity articles, NPOV (neutral point of view) and verifiability, she's really not supposed to edit an article about herself at all.

And yet...and yet...

NPOV demands that this article be as fair and balanced and factual as possible. If there is published evidence from someone other than Barbara Bauer that she sold Father Orsini's book to St. Martin's Press, and a book about mermaids to Weekly Reader Books, then the article should probably say so, as part of the discussion about whether she qualifies for the Worst Agents list. If she was really on Sex and the City and can prove it, that can go in the the bio section. But as long as she just "blanks" the negative info about her, adds this long ramble about Father Orsini that's punctuated with effusive self-praise, and calls her detractors "terrorists," she's unlikely to get any concessions from other editors.

Now, here's the dangerous part.

Wikipedia has a system of templates for certain kinds of standardized text or layouts. There's a whole page of them for template messages from one Wikipedia user/editor to another. These range from a friendly welcome with useful info to a stern but polite warning. They're designed to allow a progression from a helpful, perhaps-you-didn't-know-this stance, through last warnings, on on to a notice that the user has been blocked from editing. This is one way Wikipedia tries to keep everything as civil and friendly as possible. It's also a system for trying friendly persuasion before proceeding to more drastic actions. Wikipedia doesn't want to go around blocking users without first greeting, educating, mediating with and finally warning them, via other editors and administrators.

After five attempts to substitute her "Hooray for Barbara Bauer" edit for the factual one, nobody has placed any of the warning templates on her UserTalk page.

I'm thinking about being the first to actually do it.

I looked at a bunch of the templates, trying to figure out which working best suits the situation. The candidates are:

Please stop. If you continue to vandalize pages by deliberately introducing incorrect information, you will be blocked from editing Wikipedia.

Please refrain from removing content from Wikipedia, as you did to Barbara Bauer. It is considered vandalism. If you want to experiment, please use the sandbox. Thank you.

Please try to write in a measured, nuanced, encyclopedic and factual way. Excessive and tendentious edits might disturb the work of other editors and be reverted. You might find reading WP:POV useful in this respect. Thank you.

Eventually I chose the second option above, and wrote some text of my own, trying to explain how she may be able to get a little more positive info into her article:

If you wish to present additional factual material for this article, and can cite your sources (i.e., verification other than from your own website), please do so on the Talk:Barbara Bauer page so that we can add it. That will help to make this a more balanced article, in accordance with WP:NPOV. Thank you. (Incidentally, I'm the one who added the PhD, acting and singing information. I was able to do that because it was verifiable. If that same standard can be met for information on book sales, etc., I'm sure other editors will not have a problem with adding that as well, as long as other material is not removed.) Unfortunately, Wikipedia does not allow users to write or rewrite pages about themselves. Regards. Karen 08:21, 24 June 2006 (UTC)

Yes, I wrote and rewrote that, a helpful hint for someone who has attempted to bully her way across the Internet, trying to stifle any negative mention of her. The crux of the complaints against her, aside from the bullying, come down to two accusations about the way she does business as a literary agent:

1. She charges fees, well beyond the minimal costs of phone calls and photocopying, and does so before a sale is made. Most agents and writers consider this a big no-no.

2. There is no evidence that she has recently sold a book, tv or movie rights, etc., for any of her clients. All the books she has cited in this regard appear by be either quite a few years ago or vanity-published.

Bottom line: she takes the money, and doesn't make the sale. She may have made sales a long time ago, and she may be trying to make sales now, but basically, money is flowing from the writers instead of to the writers. The most they seem to get out of the deal is a little exposure on her web site, and on a podcast she does with them, "Authors Without Limits."

Now, if she were to come forward and say, "I sold these five books last year to the following publishers," and provide evidence that this really happened, it would go a long way toward refuting the accusations that got her on the worst agents list. She doesn't do this, probably because she hasn't made the sales. Instead, she tries to force everyone to shut up, which of course gets them talking all the more. This can't be good for her business. It sure as heck doesn't produce sales for her clients. Understandably angry, she lashes out, even though doing so is counterproductive.

Hence my latest problem. If I do as Wikipedia guidelines suggest, and post a warning template, even with the semi-helpful suggestion shown above, I'm painting a target on my chest. As it is, I'm already pussyfooting around, watching as Mrk Y. posts another personal attack directed at someone else, not saying anything right now while the truce in the edit war holds. You would think I'd learn: if I try to be nice and reasonable to a person with a strong history of abusive behavior, I'm only going to get shot at in return. Good thing I've never stated online where I work. Whatever else happens, Barbara Bauer can't try to get me first, as she tried to get TNH fired.

But that's assuming I hit the "Save" button.

I often wonder whether I'm a moral coward, doing the right thing only when it's easy and convenient. Am I leaving the Disemvoweling article alone for now because it's good enough, and we sorta-kinda have an agreement to let that text stand even though I have all this new material I would incorporate to make it better? Should I continue to wait for the Wiki advocate person to say something further, or for a break in the truce? Is that the ethical thing to do? Or am I leaving it alone because I don't want to fight another battle with Marky48? I don;t know. Both, I suspect.

The Barbara Bauer talk page question is more basic. If I don't do it, it's not due to some ethical consideration. It's fear of conflict, pure and simple. If I do it, she benefits from the same system of suggestions and warnings all Wikipedians are entitled to when they disbehave, and may even get the article changed a little bit in her favor. If I don't do it, I avoid the Wrath of Barbara - maybe. She could still come down on me for my past contributions to the article itself, or even for blogging about her here. But posting to her UserTalk page feels like a much more direct confrontation, no matter how friendly or helpful I try to be.

So you folks tell me: should I hit Save?


John and I are taking Tuffy to the vet tomorrow, eight hours from now. She was due to go in January. I think we both put it off because we're worried what the doctor will say. Tuffy has a growth on her head, previously labeled benign. But it's getting bigger. Much bigger. We really can't ignore it any longer. We've even mentioned the C word to each other.

If you believe in praying for a beloved pet, please consider dropping one in there for Tuffy, okay? Thanks!

Never mind all that! Make with the dog biscuits!


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DesLily said...

yep i made it thru the whole post.. honestly it sounds like you and others are giving Barbara Bauer the attention she craves. What is it they say? Even "bad news, is still news"..

I hope Tuffy is alright and it's still not the C word... now give Tuffy the doggie treat!

Paul said...

I don't like either of the first two items for the simple fact that they use the word 'vandalism.' It sounds too accusatory to me. Perhaps the third one might sound less like a personal attack to Ms. Bauer. I do like the added text, however.

Carly said...

I think I agree with Pat and Paul on a couple things. She most certainly IS looking for attention, and you are giving it to her by demanding she obey you...regarding how herself. This women views herself a certain way, right or wrong, factual or delusional, and she is going to insist that she appear that way in public forums as much as she can. As evidenced by her trying to remove any and all negativity about herself across the Internet.

Not that she is right, but, if you view yourself a certain way, and someone were trying their best to present you in another way, especially a way you see as negative, would you stand for them to issue a warning, when the pertinent article is about YOU? Would you let someone tell you that you might not be allowed to speak on behalf of yourself?

This lady already has a bad reputation, everyone knows it, and for the most part the jig is up...why keep poking th hornets nest. Sex in the City went off the air in 2003...who cares who played an extra or a cameo. It certainly wouldn't keep Carrie Bradshaw up nights. LOL

Becky said...

I like the 3rd option best too. Vandalism is such a strong term. But I think someone needs to say SOMETHING to her. I liked your addition. It sounds very reasonable. Is there any way you could create a new email addy/SN just for your Wiki edits to make you more anonymous? And I hope all went well with Tuffy! I am reading on...