Submissions:2023/Defense against the Dark Arts: Disinformation on Wikipedia

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Edited video version of this talk: File:Defense Against the Dark Arts - Disinformation on Wikipedia.webm

This submission has been accepted for WikiConference North America 2023.


Defense against the Dark Arts: Disinformation on Wikipedia


Credibility / Mis and Disinformation (WikiCred)

Type of session:



In this talk, I will review what we know about the goals of disinformation attacks, how they work, and how we can better defend against them at all levels of society. I will discuss the work I've done to expand the Wikipedia article on "Disinformation attack”, as Wikipedian in Residence for the non-profit science publisher Annual Reviews.

Disinformation is an industry. Disinformation starts with a lie, to benefit political, economic, or individual bad actors. Disinformation can be transmitted through scientific and scholarly publishing, through traditional news media and through social media. Social media is being used to vastly amplify disinformation.

We need to recognize that disinformation has multiple goals. Convincing people to believe incorrect information may not be the only goal of a disinformation campaign, or even its main goal. Disinformation is intentionally used to create confusion and uncertainly in ways that benefit bad actors. Undermining trust and credibility of science and authorities is a major objective of disinformers.

If you don’t know what to believe, you don’t know what to do. DIsinformation campaigns try to prevent people and governments from collective actions such as voting, public health policy-making, legislation, regulation and litigation.

Disinformation aims to divide and conquer. Disinformers want people to be isolated, distrustful of others, and unable to act. Feeling helpless doesn’t benefit us as individuals or communities. One of the first lessons for fighting disinformation is to engage!

I returned to the "Disinformation attack" article over a couple of months, and expanded both the article text and the number of references by a factor of 10. The article now cites over 200 sources, ten of them published by Annual Reviews. Information about the goals of disinformation and about scientific disinformation are among the content that has been added.

In expanding "Disinformation attack", I wanted to put disinformation research into practice. I wanted to organize information in a way that clarifies what disinformation is and does, and to inoculate against it. I wanted to illustrate points with examples from both political and scientific disinformation to avoid siloed thinking, which researchers have warned against. I wanted to avoid triggering existing biases and reinforcing examples of disinformation.

I also wanted to illustrate how people and governments can better deal with disinformation. One of my favorite quotations is in a report from the Brookings Institute: “Building resilience to and countering manipulative information campaigns is a whole-of-society endeavor” As governments, organizations, scientists, educators, and individuals, there are actions we can take, including thinking critically. Luckily, it turns out that thinking critically often means thinking like a Wikipedian!

Author name:

Mary Mark Ockerbloom

E-mail address:

Wikimedia username:

MaryMO (AR)

Affiliated organization(s):

Annual Reviews

Estimated time:

Ideal: 1 hour (40 min talk, 20 min questions) but I could do something as short as a 30 minute talk with no questions.

Special requests:

powerpoint slides

Have you presented on this topic previously? If yes, where/when?:

Invited talk for National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH), May 2023

Okay to livestream?

Livestreaming is okay

If your submission is not accepted, would you be open to presenting your topic in another part of the program? (e.g. lightning talk or unconference session)