On Wikipedia, vandalism is editing the project in an intentionally disruptive or malicious manner. Vandalism includes any addition, removal, or modification that is intentionally humorous, nonsensical, a hoax, offensive, libelous or degrading in any way.

Text: "get a life losers"
Vandalism of a Wikipedia article (Sponge). Section of page content has been replaced with an insult.

Throughout its history, Wikipedia has struggled to maintain a balance between allowing the freedom of open editing and protecting the accuracy of its information when false information can be potentially damaging to its subjects.[1] Vandalism is easy to commit on Wikipedia, because anyone can edit the site,[2][3] with the exception of protected pages (which, depending on the level of protection, can only be edited by users with certain privileges). Certain Wikipedia bots are capable of detecting and removing vandalism faster than any human editor could.[4]

Vandalizing Wikipedia or otherwise causing disruption is against the site's terms of use. Vandals are often blocked from editing, and may also be further banned according to the terms of use. Vandals could be banned either for just a few months or indefinitely depending on the level of vandalism they have committed. Vandalism can be committed by either guest editors (IP addresses), or those with registered accounts (oftentimes accounts created solely to vandalize).

To combat inappropriate edits to articles which are frequently targeted by vandals, Wikipedia has instated a protection policy, serving as a user-privilege merit system. For example, a semi-protected or fully protected page can be edited only by accounts that meet certain account age and activity thresholds or administrators respectively. Frequent targets of vandalism include articles on trending and controversial topics, celebrities, and current events.[5][6] In some cases, people have been falsely reported as having died. This has notably happened to United States Senators Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd, and American rapper Kanye West.[7]


Screenshot of "administrator intervention against vandalism" page on the English Wikipedia in June 2022

There are various measures taken by Wikipedia to prevent or reduce the amount of vandalism. These include:

  • Using Wikipedia's history functionality, which retains all prior versions of an article, restoring the article to the last version before the vandalism occurred; this is called reverting vandalism.[5] The majority of vandalism on Wikipedia is reverted quickly.[8] There are various ways in which the vandalism gets detected so it can be reverted:
    • Bots: In some cases, the vandalism is automatically detected and reverted by a Wikipedia bot. The vandal is always warned with no human intervention.
    • Recent changes patrol: Wikipedia has a special page that lists all the most recent changes. Some editors will monitor these changes for possible vandalism.[9]
    • Watchlists: Any registered user can watch a page that they have created or edited or that they otherwise have an interest in. This functionality also enables users to monitor a page for vandalism.[9]
    • Incidental discovery: Any reader who comes across vandalism by chance can revert it. In 2008, it was reported that the rarity of such incidental discovery indicated the efficacy of the other methods of vandalism removal.[9]
  • Protecting articles so only established users, or in some cases, only administrators can edit them.[5] Semi-protected articles are those that can be edited only by those with an account that is autoconfirmed (at least four days old with at least ten edits). Fully protected articles are those that can be edited only by administrators. Protection is generally instituted after one or more editors make a request on a special page for that purpose. An administrator familiar with the protection guidelines chooses whether or not to fulfill this request based on the guidelines.
  • Blocking and banning those who have repeatedly committed acts of vandalism from editing for a period of time or in some cases, indefinitely.[5] Vandals are not blocked as an act of punishment – the purpose of the block is simply to prevent further damage.[10]
  • The "abuse filter" extension, which uses regular expressions to detect common vandalism terms.[a]

Editors are generally warned before being blocked. Wikipedia employs a 5-stage warning process leading up to a block. This includes:[11]

  1. The first warning "assumes good faith" and takes a relaxed approach to the user. (in some cases, this level can be skipped if the editor assumes the user is acting in bad faith[b]).
  2. The second warning does not assume any faith and is an actual warning (in some cases, this level may also be skipped).
  3. The third warning assumes bad faith and is the first to warn the user that continued vandalism may result in a block.
  4. The fourth warning is a final warning, stating that any future acts of vandalism will result in a block.
  5. After this, other users may place additional warnings, though only administrators can carry out the block.

In 2005, the English Wikipedia started to require those who create new articles to have a registered account in an effort to fight vandalism. This occurred after inaccurate information was added to Wikipedia in which a journalist was accused of taking part in Kennedy's assassination.[2][c]

Wikipedia has experimented with systems in which edits to some articles, especially those of living people, are delayed until it can be reviewed and determined that they are not vandalism, and in some cases, that a source to verify accuracy is provided. This is in an effort to prevent inaccurate and potentially damaging information about living people from appearing on the site.[12][13]

ClueBot NG

The most well-known "bot" that fights vandalism is ClueBot NG. The bot was created by Wikipedia users Christopher Breneman and Cobi Carter in 2010 (succeeding the original ClueBot created in 2007; NG stands for Next Generation)[8] and uses machine learning and Bayesian statistics to determine if an edit is vandalism.[14][15]

While the bot has been effective in helping keep Wikipedia clean, some claim the bot is hostile to new users by not being able to apply a human brain's knowledge to the edit, and leaving impersonal template messages.[16]

Notable acts of vandalism

Seigenthaler incident

John Seigenthaler, who in 2005 criticized Wikipedia

In May 2005, a user edited the biographical article about John Seigenthaler Sr. so that it contained several false and defamatory statements.[17] The inaccurate claims went unnoticed between May and September 2005, after which they were discovered by Victor S. Johnson Jr., a friend of Seigenthaler. Wikipedia content is often mirrored at sites such as Answers.com, which means that incorrect information can be replicated alongside correct information through a number of websites. Such information can develop a misleading air of authority because of its presence at such sites:[18]

Then [Seigenthaler's] son discovered that his father's hoax biography also appeared on two other sites, Reference.com and Answers.com, which took direct feeds from Wikipedia. It was out there for four months before Seigenthaler realized and got the Wikipedia entry replaced with a more reliable account. The lies remained for another three weeks on the mirror sites downstream.

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert in 2019

Comedian Stephen Colbert made repeated references to Wikipedia on his TV show The Colbert Report, frequently suggesting on-air that his viewers vandalize selected pages. These instances include the following:

  • On a 2006 episode of his show, Colbert suggested viewers vandalize the article "Elephant". This resulted in many elephant-related articles being protected.[19]
  • On 7 August 2012, Colbert suggested that his viewers go to pages for possible 2012 U.S. Republican vice-presidential candidates, such as the Tim Pawlenty and Rob Portman articles, and edit them many times. This was in response to a Fox News hypothesis that mass editing of the Sarah Palin page the day before she was announced as John McCain's running mate could help predict who would be chosen as Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 election. After Colbert's request and his viewers' subsequent actions, all these articles were put under semi-protection by Wikipedia administrators, with editing restricted to established users.[20]

Hillsborough disaster vandalism

In April 2014, the Liverpool Echo reported that computers on an intranet used by the British government had been used to post offensive remarks about the Hillsborough disaster on Wikipedia pages relating to the subject. The government announced that it would launch an inquiry into the reports.[21] Following the allegations, The Daily Telegraph reported that government computers appeared to have been used to vandalize a number of other articles, often adding insulting remarks to biographical articles, and in one case falsely reporting a death.[22]

Political vandalism

The article for Donald Trump was blanked twice on 22 July 2015.

Politicians are a common target of vandalism on Wikipedia. The article on Donald Trump was replaced with a single sentence critical of him in July 2015,[23][24][25] and in November 2018, the lead picture on the page was replaced with an image of a penis, causing Apple's virtual assistant Siri to briefly include this image in answers to queries about the subject.[26] Both Hillary and Bill Clinton's Wikipedia pages were vandalized in October 2016 by a member of the internet trolling group Gay Nigger Association of America adding pornographic images to their articles.[27] That same month, New York Assembly candidate Jim Tedisco's Wikipedia page was modified to say that he had "never been part of the majority", and "is considered by many to be a total failure". Tedisco expressed dismay at the changes to his page.[28] On 24 July 2018, United States Senator Orrin Hatch posted humorous tweets after Google claimed that he had died on 11 September 2017,[29] with the error being traced back to an edit to his Wikipedia article.[30][31] Similarly, vandalism of the California Republican Party's Wikipedia page caused Google's information bar to list Nazism as one of the party's primary ideologies.[32]

The week of 29 January 2017 saw various acts of Wikipedia vandalism that attracted media attention. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's Wikipedia page was vandalized and his picture replaced with that of Baghdad Bob, Dana J. Boente's page description was edited to read that he was "the newest sock puppet for the Trump Administration", and Paul Ryan's picture was added to a list of invertebrates, with the edit summary stating that he was added due to his lack of a spine.[33][34][35]

On 27 September 2018, the personal information of U.S. senators Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee, and Orrin Hatch were added to their respective Wikipedia articles during the hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The information included their home addresses and phone numbers, and originated from the network located from within the United States House of Representatives. The edits were removed from Wikipedia and hidden from public view shortly afterwards.[36][37] These edits were captured and automatically posted publicly to Twitter by an automated account. Twitter shortly removed the posts and suspended the account in response to the incident.[38] An internal police investigation located the person who made the edits, and 27-year-old Jackson A. Cosko (a staffer for Congress paid by an outside institution) was arrested and charged with multiple felony crimes relating to the incident. Cosko was sentenced in 2019 to four years in prison after pleading guilty to five felonies.[39][40][41]


  • A vandal called "Willy on Wheels" moved thousands of articles so that their titles ended with "on wheels."[42]
  • In 2006, Rolling Stone printed a story about Halle Berry based on false information from Wikipedia, which had arisen from an act of Wikipedia vandalism.[43]
  • In the music video for "Weird Al" Yankovic's 2006 song "White & Nerdy", Yankovic is shown editing the Wikipedia page for Atlantic Records, replacing the entire page with "YOU SUCK!" written in a large font; this was in reference to a dispute he had with Atlantic over the release of his song "You're Pitiful". The music video spawned copycat vandalism and Atlantic's page getting protected. Herald Sun writer Cameron Adams interviewed Yankovic in October 2006 and brought up the vandalism, to which Yankovic responded "I don't officially approve of that, but on a certain level it does amuse me".[44]
  • In February 2007, professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller sued a Miami company whose IP-based edits to the Wikipedia site included negative information about him.[45]
  • In August 2007, local media from the Netherlands reported that several IP addresses from Nederlandse Publieke Omroep had been blocked from Wikipedia for adding "false and defamatory" information to pages.[46] A similar incident occurred with the Minister of the Interior in France in January 2016.[47]
  • In May 2012, media critic Anita Sarkeesian created a Kickstarter project, intending to raise money to make a series of videos exploring sexism in digital gaming culture.[48] The idea evoked a hostile response,[49] which included repeated vandalism of Sarkeesian's Wikipedia article with pornographic imagery, defamatory statements, and threats of sexual violence.[50] More than 12 IP addresses from unregistered editors contributed to the ongoing vandalism campaign before editing privileges were revoked for the page.[49]
  • In November 2012, the Leveson report – published in the UK by Lord Justice Leveson – incorrectly listed a "Brett Straub" as one of the founders of The Independent newspaper. The name originated from one of the several erroneous edits by one of Straub's friends as a prank to Wikipedia by falsely including his name in several articles across the site. The name's inclusion in the report suggested that part of the report relating to that newspaper had been cut and pasted from Wikipedia without a proper check of the sources.[51][52] The Straub issue was also humorously referenced in broadcasts of BBC entertainment current affairs TV program Have I Got News for You (and extended edition Have I Got a Bit More News for You),[53][54] with The Economist also making passing comment on the issue: "The Leveson report ... Parts of it are a scissors-and-paste job culled from Wikipedia."[55]
  • In April 2015, The Washington Post reported on an experiment by "Gregory Kohs, a former editor, and prominent Wikipedia critic": "Kohs wrapped up an experiment in which he inserted outlandish errors into 31 articles and tracked whether editors ever found them. After more than two months, half of his hoaxes still had not been found – and those included errors on high-profile pages, like "Mediterranean climate" and "inflammation". (By his estimate, more than 100,000 people have now seen the claim that volcanic rock produced by the human body causes inflammation pain.)"[56]
  • In August 2016, a sentence was added to Chad le Clos's Wikipedia page saying that he "Died at the hands of Michael Phelps, being literally blown out of the water by the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln" after Phelps won the gold medal for 200-meter butterfly at the 2016 Summer Olympics.[57] This particular instance of Wikipedia vandalism attracted moderate media attention.[58]
  • On 25 April 2018, various pages related to American video game director Todd Howard were vandalized after a post went viral on Tumblr stating that his page would no longer be semi-protected as of said date. Although Howard's page had its protection extended, a massive raid campaign vandalized many related pages. These included "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" (the most popular game he worked on), "Lower Macungie Township, Pennsylvania" (his hometown), and "Ferret (disambiguation)" (after a Wikipedia administrator who reversed the vandalism).[59]
  • On 16 August 2021, a template that was transcluded onto approximately 53,000 pages was replaced with a swastika. The vandalism was reverted five minutes later.[60]

See also



  1. ^ "Wikipedia testing new method to curb false info". Christian Science Monitor. CSMonitor.com. 25 August 2009. Archived from the original on 1 August 2012. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Wikipedia tightens editorial rules after complaint – 06 December 2005". New Scientist. Archived from the original on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  3. ^ "Wikipedia tightens online rules". BBC News. 6 December 2005. Archived from the original on 13 December 2010. Retrieved 26 November 2010.
  4. ^ "Meet the 'bots' that edit Wikipedia". BBC News. 25 July 2012. Archived from the original on 16 September 2018. Retrieved 19 September 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d Kleeman, Jenny (2 April 2007). "Wikipedia fights vandalism". The New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  6. ^ Martin, Lorna (18 June 2006). "Wikipedia fights off cyber vandals". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 28 December 2016. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  7. ^ "Vandals prompt Wikipedia to ponder editing changes". ABC News. 28 January 2009. Archived from the original on 15 October 2013. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  8. ^ a b Hicks, Jesse (18 February 2014). "This machine kills trolls". The Verge. Archived from the original on 27 August 2014. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  9. ^ a b c Broughton, John (2008). Wikipedia: the missing manual. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-596-51516-4. Archived from the original on 16 June 2021. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  10. ^ Broughton, John (2008). Wikipedia: the missing manual. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-596-51516-4. Archived from the original on 31 December 2021. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  11. ^ Broughton, John (2008). Wikipedia: the missing manual. pp. 130–31. ISBN 978-0-596-51516-4. Archived from the original on 31 December 2021. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  12. ^ "Wikipedia Tests Approval System to Reduce Page Vandalism". Maximum PC. 19 July 2008. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  13. ^ "Wikipedia plans to enforce new editing policy to thwart vandals – eBrandz Search Marketing & Technology News". News.ebrandz.com. 27 August 2009. Archived from the original on 21 June 2012. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  14. ^ Nasaw, Daniel (25 July 2012). "Meet the 'bots' that edit Wikipedia". BBC News. Archived from the original on 16 September 2018. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  15. ^ Raja, Sumit. "Little about the bot that runs Wikipedia, ClueBot NG". digitfreak.com. Archived from the original on 22 November 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  16. ^ "The Bots Who Edit Wikipedia (And The Humans Who Made Them)". MakeUseOf. Archived from the original on 11 May 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  17. ^ Seigenthaler, John (29 November 2005). "A false Wikipedia "biography"". USA Today. Archived from the original on 6 January 2012. Retrieved 17 September 2017.
  18. ^ "Mistakes and hoaxes on-line". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 15 April 2006. Archived from the original on 8 June 2007. Retrieved 28 April 2007.
  19. ^ "Did Colbert hack Wikipedia? – VIDEO". Tvsquad.com. Archived from the original on 19 January 2011. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  20. ^ "Stephen Colbert's Wikipedia Vice Presidential Scheme Short Circuited". The Hollywood Reporter. 8 August 2012. Archived from the original on 11 August 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  21. ^ "Hillsborough Wikipedia posts were 'sickening', Cabinet Office says". BBC News. BBC. 25 April 2014. Archived from the original on 26 April 2014. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  22. ^ Duggan, Oliver (27 April 2014). "Des Lynam 'killed by a giant snowball' and other embarrassing Wikipedia edits from Whitehall computers". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 30 April 2014. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
  23. ^ Popper, Ben (22 July 2015). "Someone just deleted Donald Trump's entire Wikipedia page". The Verge. Archived from the original on 26 February 2018. Retrieved 28 April 2023.
  24. ^ "All The Content On Donald Trump's Wikipedia Page Was Just Deleted". Talking Points Memo. 22 July 2015. Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2023.
  25. ^ Peterson, Andrea (22 July 2015). "Donald Trump's Wikipedia page was deleted today. Twice". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2023.
  26. ^ Brandom, Russell (24 November 2018). "Wikipedia's Trump penis vandals have struck again". The Verge. Archived from the original on 27 July 2019. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  27. ^ O'Connor, Brendan (13 October 2016). "Internet Trolls Vandalize Hillary and Bill Clinton's Wikipedia Pages in Extremely NSFW Way". Archived from the original on 13 October 2016. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  28. ^ "Assemblyman Tedisco's Wikipedia vandalized". 22 October 2016. Archived from the original on 25 October 2016.
  29. ^ Ehrlich, Jamie (24 July 2018). "GOP senator says he is alive amid Google searches suggesting he is dead". CNN. Archived from the original on 11 September 2018. Retrieved 11 September 2018.
  30. ^ Horton, Alex (24 July 2018). "Is Orrin Hatch dead? Let me Google that for you". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 11 September 2018. Retrieved 11 September 2018.
  31. ^ All Things Considered (24 July 2018), from National Public Radio.
  32. ^ "Google Search Labeled the California GOP as Nazis, But It's No Conspiracy". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Archived from the original on 2 March 2021. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  33. ^ Kircher, Madison Malone. "Wikipedia Edits Are the Only Joy in These Fraught Political Times". Select All. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  34. ^ "Wikipedia briefly listed politicians and other invertebrates". Houston Chronicle. Archived from the original on 1 February 2017. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  35. ^ "From the strange specimen of Paul Ryan to Uber's big dropoff – The Boston Globe". BostonGlobe.com. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  36. ^ Cameron, Dell (27 September 2018). "Republican Senators Doxed While Interviewing Kavanaugh". Gizmodo. Archived from the original on 30 October 2018. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  37. ^ Wegmann, Philip (27 September 2018). "Someone on Capitol Hill just 'doxed' Republican Sens. Mike Lee, Orrin Hatch, and Lindsey Graham". Washington Examiner. Archived from the original on 30 October 2018. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  38. ^ Mikelionis, Lukas (28 September 2018). "Republican senators doxxed on Wikipedia by someone from House of Representatives after Kavanaugh hearing". FOX News. Archived from the original on 30 October 2018. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  39. ^ Dick, Jason (3 October 2018). "Suspect in congressional doxxing cases arrested". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on 30 October 2018. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  40. ^ Robertson, Adi (5 April 2019). "Former Senate staffer admits to doxxing five senators on Wikipedia". The Verge. Archived from the original on 26 April 2021. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  41. ^ Gerstein, Josh (19 June 2019). "Ex-Hassan aide sentenced to 4 years for doxing senators". Politico. Archived from the original on 14 January 2021. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  42. ^ Dee, Jonathan (1 July 2007). "Wikipedia - Computers and the Internet - Encyclopedias - News and News Media". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  43. ^ "Rolling Stone prints story based on Wikipedia vandalism – Wikinews, the free news source". Wikinews. En.wikinews.org. 22 December 2006. Archived from the original on 8 March 2012. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  44. ^ Adams, Cameron (5 October 2006). "Weird Al Yankovic". Herald Sun. Archived from the original on 1 December 2008.
  45. ^ "Zoeller Sues to Identify Author of Wikipedia Post". Associated Press. 22 February 2007. Archived from the original on 2 October 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2021.
  46. ^ "Wikipedia blokkeert medewerkers publieke omroep". De Volkskrant (in Dutch). 30 August 2007. Archived from the original on 3 April 2017. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  47. ^ Tual, Morgane (13 January 2016). "Une adresse IP du ministère de l'intérieur bloquée sur Wikipédia pour " vandalisme "". LeMonde.fr (in French). Archived from the original on 14 August 2017. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  48. ^ Lavigne, Carlen (24 January 2013). Cyberpunk Women, Feminism and Science Fiction: A Critical Study. McFarland. p. 184. ISBN 978-0-7864-6653-5. Archived from the original on 20 January 2021. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  49. ^ a b Lewis, Helen (12 June 2012). "Dear The Internet, This Is Why You Can't Have Anything Nice". New Statesman. Archived from the original on 26 April 2013. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  50. ^ Weckerle, Andrea (13 February 2013). Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies and Other Jerks. Que Publishing. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-13-313498-8. Archived from the original on 21 July 2022. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  51. ^ Allen, Nick (5 December 2012). "Wikipedia, the 25-year-old student and the prank that fooled Leveson". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 31 January 2014. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  52. ^ Andy McSmith (30 November 2012). "Leveson's Wikipedia moment: how internet 'research' on The Independent's history left him red-faced". The Independent. Archived from the original on 4 December 2012. Retrieved 17 September 2017.
  53. ^ "Have I Got News for You (series 44, episode 8) TV programme". BBC. 7 December 2012. Archived from the original on 11 December 2012. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  54. ^ "Have I Got News for You: Series 44, Episode 8 (Leveson clip)". BBC. 7 December 2012. Archived from the original on 10 January 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  55. ^ "Hacked to pieces". The Economist. 8 December 2012. Archived from the original on 27 December 2012. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  56. ^ Caitlin Dewey (15 April 2015). "The story behind Jar'Edo Wens, the longest-running hoax in Wikipedia history". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 19 April 2015. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  57. ^ "Somebody trolled Chad Le Clos with the greatest Wikipedia page edit ever". 10 August 2016. Archived from the original on 10 August 2016. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  58. ^ "Chad le Clos' Wikipedia Page Edited to Say Phelps Killed Him". Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  59. ^ Feldman, Brian (27 April 2018). "Dozens of Wikipedia Articles Are Being Vandalized Because of Todd Howard". New York. Archived from the original on 21 November 2018. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  60. ^ "Wikipedia vandal adds swastikas to 53,000 pages". Archived from the original on 6 January 2023. Retrieved 6 January 2023.