Following the onslaught of pervasive threats on the lives and well-being of a number of Wikipedia editors, they have now resorted to hiding their identities under the cloak of anonymity offered by Tor.
Some administrators were given the task to edit pages containing controversial topics.
For these random individuals, the seemingly innocuous task of moderating Wikipedia pages has turned into a potentially deadly venture.
Twenty three of them were interviewed by researchers from Drexel University in Philadelphia.
The researchers sought answers as to why an individual would feel the need to hide one’s online identity, and how a person gets to be in that predicament.
Threats of Violence are Very Real
The one thing that was immediately apparent during the research is that, they found out that those threats were substantial.
This is enough to push some wary editors and other Wikipedia officials with roles to seek the services of the Tor.
While Tor is predominantly known to serve the online criminal in the underworld by helping them cloak their activities from law enforcement, Tor has been proven to be invaluable to these editors seeking to conceal their identity and locations for safety purposes.
There is a problem with Wikipedia as to who can edit their pages.
Wikipedia allows just about anyone to edit their pages, even without signing up for an account.
However, they do not allow users to hide their IP addresses, and also they are known to block Tor users outright with a few exceptions.
Threats come from all sorts of places; it could be a group of people or influential individuals with the power to turn threats into actions.
Among the 23 interviewees, only 12 used Tor to mask their IP addresses while the others deployed various anonymity tactics to ensure that their privacy is intact while contributing to open collaborations.
The Tor Browsing Experience
Tor is by far the best way to ascertain user anonymity as it completely hides the location of the user.
Some sites typically are trying to make life as hard as possible for Tor users, while Wikipedia explicitly blocks Tor users.
They employ less irrefutable methods to deter Tor users, which is often a lot more annoying.
For instance, the sites hosted by Cloudflare, they are notorious in deploying an excessive amount of CAPTCHAs, just to make it harder for Tor users to access a desired site.
However, for these targeted Wikipedia users, it is a small price to pay for their safety.
Threats From Within
One of the interviewees who has been involved in the open collaboration since she was 13 years old revealed how rape and death threats have always been present in her line of work.
Ironically, some issued threats came from the editors of the pages themselves.
These threats are often directed towards the page’s administrators, the threats usually will arise when their posts are disallowed while others are published.
Higher ranking individuals often issue the most ferocious intimidations.
The Ever-Looming Government Presence
The fear of government surveillance is also pertinent to the administrators and editors who resort to using Tor to hide their locations.
This applies especially to the reputable experts in certain fields of study whose contributions might have a negative impact in their reputation, or might contradict with the current standing on their various government ranks.
One of the Wikipedia editors admitted to stepping back from contributing to the Edward Snowden page for fear that the government was watching.
He was wary of leaving references as one or two could inadvertently lead back to him.
Hostile Environment Stifling the Open Collaboration
In conclusion, the researchers noted that the ongoing harassment of Wikipedia editors would eventually lead to the loss of diversity that makes Wikipedia such a unique and unbiased source of information.
Their research was comprehensively recorded in an open access paper entitled: “Privacy, Anonymity, and Perceived Risk in Open Collaboration: A Study of Tor Users and Wikipedians,” which is set to be presented in the upcoming ACM conference in 2017 February.
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