Thursday, December 10, 2015

Guest Post by E. A. Barbour. "Encyclopedia Dramatica: It Could be Funnier"

Encyclopedia Dramatica: It Could Be Funnier
by E. A. Barbour

This isn't intended to be a "history" of ED. I've already written a lengthy account of that for the private book wiki about Wikipedia I am associated with. This essay is mostly intended to be a discussion of ED's shortcomings, and why it continues to exist and enjoy popularity with a certain demographic. Please note that some of the links in this essay lead to highly disturbing content.

The first time I ever saw ED was in 2006. A blog linked to the lengthy ED article of Gemma "Snapesnogger" Wilson, a young woman from Australia who was a well-known amateur cartoonist and "furry" fan. She had generated incredible chaos on DeviantART, furry forums, and elsewhere by constantly dramaqueening and attacking others -- who cheerfully reciprocated. I was amazed at the nerve of whoever created said article, in complete disregard of libel law and common sense. Still, so far as I can tell, Ms. Wilson has never sued anyone over her militantly hostile treatment on ED, and similar things can be said for other popular ED targets. "Chris-Chan" Chandler's ED article  is still one of their longest and most popular, and I can find no evidence of any serious legal action stemming from it. Mr. Chandler seems to relish the negative attention he receives from ED, like many of their drama-happy "victims". And the Offended article (Don't look at that!) continues to be among their top-rated and most linked-to pages. "Offended" is intentionally one of the ugliest and most disturbing things on the entire Internet. So (of course!) hackers and trolls link to it routinely.

HISTORY

ED started out in December 2004  as a place for disgruntled Livejournal users (founders Sherrod "Girlvinyl" DeGrippo and Andrew "Jameth" Thornton being among them) to complain about each other. Absurd but true. Despite its profound offensiveness ED has always enjoyed a considerable amount of infamy. During the Sherrod era of 2005-2011 it peaked at around the 1000 mark on Alexa's web rankings. Since Sherrod and company abandoned it in 2011 (to start a now-failed "fork" called "Oh Internet") and it was revived by GNAA- and Anonymous-associated troublemakers, its Alexa rank cratered -- and slowly built up again. It recently peaked at the 15,000 mark (April 2015) albeit with a slow decline in late 2015. Nevertheless this is a remarkable showing for a website that is not advertised anywhere and is intentionally designed to offend. Even after the attempts by Google/Wikipedia critic Daniel Brandt, attorney Sue Basko, and others to get ED's TLD registration canceled in 2011-2012, it continues to exist today thanks to private donations and aggressive banner advertising.

The Wikipedia article has some helpful information, although it can't be trusted fully thanks to endless editwarring. The Brandt connection resulted in a Taking Down ED portal, and a number of personal attacks against Brandt and a few others which persist today. The Wikipedia article says: "In a question and answer session at the ROFLCon summit in October 2011, DeGrippo was asked why Encyclopædia Dramatica was closed and replaced with Oh Internet. She replied: "We were unable to stop the degradation of the content. It just kept getting longer and longer and dumber and dumber and less and less coherent over time." She also explained why she had not released the site as an archive, saying that she "didn't want to", and suggesting that this would have made her personally responsible for any DMCA and privacy violations that it contained. She also stated that hosting Encyclopædia Dramatica caused her to have troubles involving the FBI." DeGrippo was notoriously working for a US Defense Department contractor at the time, and may have lost her job thanks to angry ED fans contacting her employer. As with Wikipedia editwarring and hacker disputes, most of the ED-involved people (pro OR con) are equally guilty of abusing, "doxxing", etc. each other, and of frequently refusing to discuss it openly. The "lulz" must flow. How is that different from much of the current Web 2.0?

FLAWS

ED is just like its "good twin" Wikipedia, in that it has severe flaws, many of which are directly shared between the two. They tend to flow directly from the dominant fanbase: young male gamers, hackers, and online trolls. As with English Wikipedia, Americans dominate and a much smaller group are British or Australian. Unlike Wikipedia, however, ED does not pretend to be a "legitimate and reliable reference work".

1) ED is constantly used by angry social media users, looking to piss on each other. Look at the Needed/Proposed page for a typical mix, or just watch "New Articles". Every day a few more bitchfests about little-known troublemakers from Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, 4chan, 8ch, forums or other "griefer havens" are posted. Usually the subjects are blindingly obscure nobodies who would be ignored in "polite company" yet manage to generate "dramah" online. It's possible to be a successful net troll and "noted asshole" without ever being mentioned in "serious media", or even anywhere offline. ED coverage feeds into that world of social-media lulz by being more outrageous than any other wiki. Sorry dudes, "epic lolcows" just aren't very funny.

2) A great deal of its database is badly outdated. ED started for Livejournal bitching and many such early articles continue to exist today despite their total lack of current relevance. Especially since Livejournal was bought by a Russian company in 2007, causing most of its English-speaking users to abandon it by 2010. Yet ED continues to have massive coverage of LJ drama dating back to before 2007. See the category for some examples, with 269 articles at present. A good example is Drama Queen Kim, which dates from 2006 and is probably forgotten by both its subject and by the people who wrote it originally. A similar connection to 4chan exists, and is similarly becoming outdated. Complaints about ED's heavy focus on outdated 4chan and other web "memes" tend to be accurate. This material is "ancient history" by web standards and keeping it live today makes little sense. Much of it connects to a long-dead forum called ljdrama.org. When the GNAA/Anon people took ED over in 2011, they simply restored as much content from archive.org and elsewhere as possible, without checking or updating most of it. As with Wikipedia, updates are mostly accidental and not well managed, if they happen at all. And many ED weblinks are long dead. Perhaps some historian will derive research materials about the early web from ED's old content. That is about the only legitimate purpose it could serve.

3) As I've said before, ED and Wikipedia grew up together and are more closely connected than even ED's current admins might realize. From 2005 until 2010 it was a meeting-ground for prominent Wikipedians, who used it to complain about and attack each other. Most of those Wikipedia insiders will not discuss their ED activities today, for obvious reasons. See Bureaucratic Fuck for some remnant examples. Pieces of forgotten (or censored!) Wikipedia history are still mentioned on ED today. Because of Sherrod's abandonment, the article edit histories, talkpages and deletion records from that era were not preserved. Thus most of ED's historical links to Wikipedia drama are lost forever.

4) The way ED insiders are treated by the outside world, especially the Wikipedia world, is inconsistent and hypocritical. From 2004 until 2011 brutal editwars occurred over the Wikipedia article about ED; it is still commonly vandalized today. Until late 2010 a well-known ED administrator was Wikipedia checkuser/oversighter Alison. Now-banned Wikipedia editors Badmachine/Hipcrime and Junius Thaddeus are currently high-ranking ED administrators. Ironically, complaints about ED's offensive content usually don't include these popular personalities, even though they have some ability to remove bad content (except in certain politically-motivated cases, such as Daniel Brandt's article). All of them are current/former regulars on the defunct Wikipedia Review and the current Wikipediocracy fora. Also ironically, Wikipedia itself is declining in popularity and editing activity, and is expected to eventually self-destruct in perhaps 10 to 20 years (my personal estimate). Its disgusting bastard stepchild ED might actually outlive it. Finally, an academic researcher wishing to study Wikipedia and how its "community" was built, succeeds, and fails, is advised to look closely at Encyclopedia Dramatica as well. I am quite serious.

5) A primary reason for the hatred pointed at ED is the frequently antisemitic content. It routinely regurgitates the tired old jokes about Jews being greedy and manipulative, most of the time purely to offend. Claims that "Jews did 9/11" are commonplace, intended for satirical reasons, and often misinterpreted. Much of this Jewish mockery was encouraged by the GNAA/Anon/LulzSec-associated hackers. The "mainstream media" has sometimes erroneously described ED as a conventional "hate site". Try searching for Encyclopedia Dramatica on urbandictionary.org for some examples. One of the most infamous GNAA-connected people, Andrew "weev" Aurenheimer, often liked to attack Jews online. I'm told he was responsible for many of the antisemitic rantings in present-day ED articles prior to 2011, along with Jeremy "Grawp" Hanson, Wikipedia's worst vandal (and himself Jewish). Since weev was imprisoned by the US Department of Justice (and later released by a judge's order because the DOJ's case was questionable), he has become openly and honestly antisemitic. Interestingly his ED article, which originally was a very positive hacker/griefer fan letter, has recently become less laudatory as weev has declined in popularity with ED's userbase (although this can be difficult to tell, as his article is occasionally trashed and restored.) In fact, much of ED's direct connection to the hacker underground has faded since 2012. As with Wikipedia history, past hackerdom exploits have left ragged traces on ED. Hackers love to offend "normal society", and also throw the words "faggot" and "nigger" around with abandon, just as ED does. At some point the meaning of such words is changed. More irony: the ED people using these words are often LGBT or members of ethnic minorities. The present-day admin called Oddguy is himself also Jewish.

6) As I said, for a "satirical" website, ED often isn't very funny. Part of the content is worthwhile as offensive satire and humor (see the Lulz map ) or IT-industry articles for some of the better examples), but much ED content is merely puerile and annoying, as well as outdated. Personal attack articles tend to be crude and humorless. Again, as with Wikipedia, ED writers are often ADHD/OCD personalities who have questionable social skills or skills in humor writing (or actually, in writing anything). I've seriously suggested that ED's operators hire a Jewish comedy writer with a Sacha Baron Cohen-style reputation for offensiveness, simply to deflect accusations of antisemitism or "hate speech". That won't happen.

7) And any discussion of funding leads to one of the darker aspects of ED today. The sysop and owner of its DNS entry, Brian Zaiger, runs numerous banner ads on ED and keeps all the resulting revenue -- and refuses to discuss ED's financial state. Until recently it was running "pop-under" ads that occasionally attempted to hijack user PCs via Javascript malformations. These ads caused many complaints and are no longer visible. ED users have openly questioned the actual costs of hosting ED and what part of the revenue is being kept by Zaiger rather than being used to keep ED going, and their questions have been mocked or ignored. Nothing can be verified, including frequent claims by insiders that ED has been "struggling" ever since the takeover. As with the early Wikimedia Foundation there is some money involved and the persons handling the money refuse to discuss the fate of the revenue publicly. This is reminiscent of the Freenode IRC server that has been heavily used by Wikimedia projects from Wikipedia's early days to the present -- and is also popular with hackers. Its sysop Rob Levin was notorious for begging money from Freenode users and claiming extreme poverty, while actually living in a posh Houston apartment, and hiring a nanny to look after his son. Levin's scam was exposed in June 2006, and in September 2006 he was killed in a mysterious "bicycle accident". Wikipedians still regard Levin as a "tragic" hero in spite of his proven dishonesty. Is Zaiger doing similar things with ED? He's already got plenty of enemies.




                                                              Brian Zaiger: Why is this man smiling?

8) As outrageous as the ED wiki can be, its attendant forum is much worse. New ED users requesting assistance or offering opinions are routinely harassed and degraded verbally, by the "regulars". Many of whom are also ED wiki administrators and sysops. Who often abuse and ban each other on the forum and thence on the wiki, giving ED something in common with the deeply insane RationalWiki (also a popular hangout for Wikipedians). Outright racism, sexism, and every other kind of -ism is practiced on the ED forum, and unlike ED wiki articles, it can't be easily dismissed as "satire". The level of trolling there sometimes exceeds even 4chan's /b/ or various hacker forums. ED's "official" IRC channel is similarly insane. Yes, it is possible to have juvenile and institutional cruelty as the primary purpose of an online discussion area. What a surprise.

CONCLUSIONS

Whether people like it or not, and despite its numerous problems, ED is perhaps the purest example of satire the world has ever seen. For good and for bad. ED is continuing a dark 20-year web legacy started by now-forgotten sites such as Rotten.com, Ogrish, and Portal Of Evil. It carries content that is disgusting, illegal in many countries, and would have gotten a book publisher shut down due to legal action. Yet it continues. ED is living proof that the web does not follow the usual social rules for media outlets. Web content is 100% ephemeral and prone to disappearing without traces, and being both ephemeral and America-centric, ED can use the First Amendment as cover, so it gets a sort of "free ride". In my opinion, despite its toxicity ED serves a semi-legitimate social purpose. Or it would, if not for the crazies.



ED would not exist at all if the web were not dominated by a libertarian/libertine, anti-copyright, and pro-libel attitude. And if it sucks, then the entire Internet sucks. Satire is like David Gerard: by intention neither pretty nor friendly. Griping about ED trolling merely nourishes the trolls and says or does nothing about the underlying social-media problems.

One final point needs to be made. ED appears to be in its unstoppable terminal decline. Each time its domain was changed between 2011 and 2013, its Alexa rank dropped massively. And despite efforts to encourage new editors, it continues to struggle in Alexa and search-engine rankings. The operators could make it a "legitimate" satirical website that ordinary people can stand to peruse; instead, they want to maintain the personal backstabbing glory days of 2007, or an approximation thereof. It needs drastic cleanup which simply won't happen. Just like Wikipedia.


                                                   Encyclopaedia Dramatica: Slip slidin' away.

                                     A fitting theme for this article: Dave van Ronk's version of "Mack the Knife"

20 comments:

  1. Incisive and compelling. Peel back the rotten eyeball that is ED, hint at the allied corruption of its better-off cousin, Wikipedia.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. One thing I neglected to note: in the past few years ED has become increasingly popular with Deviant Art users. DA is the premiere website for amateur cartoonists and crazies to post their art. It "enjoys" the attention of a number of deeply bizarre fetish and pinup artists.

    And what do they do on ED? Why, they post articles attacking each other, of course! (Because it's not permitted on DA noticeboards or comment areas, naturally.) ED has been an appendage of DA squabbling, as well as Wikipedia and Livejournal squbbling, since its very beginning.

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    1. It's a pretty hate machine, that much is clear.

      Delete
  4. ED isn't interested in becoming a profitable slapstick meme satire site. It is a library of lulz and an archive of internet history. Your idea of cleaning up the site is no better than the driving motive behind OhInternet, which barely lasted 2 years.

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  5. Apparently I keep all that delicious profit. If you could please tell me where I keep it all I would greatly appreciate it, as I seem to have forgotten.

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  6. lol also did you really just use a RipOffReport entry written by ItsMsMargie aka GayDiamond as a serious source?

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  7. Howdy, Mr. Zaiger! Since you can't see fit to be honest about your ED activities and you don't give a damn about improving it, what choice do I have?

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    1. You could talk about your child pornography charges maybe. https://archive.is/fPg6z

      When you point one finger at someone there are 3 pointing back at yourself.

      Eric Barbour arrestested for possessing child porn: https://archive.is/fPg6z

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  8. And here's the forum thread:

    https://forum.encyclopediadramatica.se/threads/guest-post-by-eric-barbour-encyclopedia-dramatica-it-could-be-funnier.23987/

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    1. Be sure to check out this post where the author of this blog post is proven to be a pedophile: https://forum.encyclopediadramatica.se/threads/guest-post-by-eric-barbour-encyclopedia-dramatica-it-could-be-funnier.23987/page-3#post-803394

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  9. Eric Barbour, the author of this blog post, has been arrested fir possessing indecent images of children (Also known as child pornography).
    https://archive.is/fPg6z

    https://forum.encyclopediadramatica.se/threads/guest-post-by-eric-barbour-encyclopedia-dramatica-it-could-be-funnier.23987/page-3#post-803394

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    1. Golly, Mr. Zaiger, this is really kinda pathetic. You're not having any effect on Eric but making yourself look like a nut. And no, that's not the same guy.

      Give it up. He did you a favor by pointing out some of EDs problems, okay?

      Delete
  10. I'm semi-grateful to Ryan Cleary, who was jailed for his Internet DDoSing activities several years ago in Britain, and was the key person behind the wholesale theft of Sherrod's ED site from archive.org after Sherrod abandoned it. (There is also an outstanding U.S. grand jury indictment against Mr. Cleary in the U.S., which means he won't be knocking on my door in Texas anytime soon.) Zaiger came later, after several other key players abandoned ED. Zaiger is a "sloppy leftover".

    Fortunately, Cleary started out by hiding the resurrected ED behind cloudflare.com. CloudFlare is a Silicon Valley startup that thinks in binary when it comes to the social responsibility of corporations -- anything from Silicon Valley is good, and anyone who challenges anything from Silicon Valley is evil. After Google (by throttling my scroogle.org servers) and Cleary (DDoSing my servers) shut me down, I had nothing to do. Now my anti-CloudFlare site at crimeflare.com keeps me busy and is doing just fine, thank you.

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  11. A question: Why do you consider RationalWiki to be insane?

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    1. Because they like to block themselves for sport and that cut-rate Dracula humans call David Gerard is only in it for the dramah/lulz of mocking believers in one religion or New Age thing or the other. A rational RationalWiki would read more like a biased Britannica, and less like Cracked.com.

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  12. Wikipedia is the No.1 encyclopedia in the world. There are more than 10 million visitors every month.

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    1. And I shoot down the UFOs buzzing my house EVERY NIGHT using only a .177 caliber BB gun.

      Delete
  13. Encyclopedia Dramatica has plenty of content attacking others, not just jews.

    Infact before it closed down, the African American, and Jew pages were locked, and deleted, while the Mexican, Gypsy and Arab pages were left completetly untouched.

    I wish people didn't put racism on tiers.

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