Overstock.com CEO: Wikipedia Has Become An Instrument Of Mass Mind-Control

Reader Adam forwarded us this bizarre email from Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com.

After announcing deals on watches and exercise equipment, the email invites readers “Take 5 with Patrick, ” which involves the CEO likening Wikipedia to mind-control and Wall Street corruption. Apparently the feud between Wikipedia and Overstock goes way back. Back in late 2006, someone from Overstock edited the company’s Wikipedia page to read like an advertisement. This was reverted by one of the site’s editors. Over the next few months, Overstock’s “director of social media,” Judd Bagley, used dozens of Wikipedia identities to revert Overstock’s entry and harass editors. Overstock also began a site called antisocialmedia.net, run by Bagley. Fed up, Wikipedia banned all Overstock. IP addresses from editing Wikipedia pages. Since then, Byrne has used his “Take 5 with Patrick” postings to disseminate articles such as “Social Media – Hijacking the Discourse,” “How to Handle a Corrupt Reporter,” “A Small Thing Called, the First Amendment,” and “Our Corrupt Federal Regulator the SEC.”

Take 5 with Patrick
Forbes journalist Gary Weiss’s posts about Overstock

Comments

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  1. timmus says:

    Time to call in the Web Sheriff®!

  2. Virtually every company hates Wikipedia, since facts as well as conjecture ends up on it, and they find it damaging to their image. Contrary to Overstock’s CEO’s statement, wikipedia is hardly a mass mind control device; he’s just pissy that he can’t control something that keeps some facts on their bad service. Next, he’ll claim consumerist.com isn’t for consumers, but for blind sheep that don’t know how to “consume” products.

  3. DrGirlfriend says:

    This sounds ike something he might have sent out at 2 am, after waking up in the middle of the night and having an “epiphany”.

  4. nequam says:

    Does Patrick Byrne by any chance wear an overturned boot on his head?

  5. dorkins says:

    Hell, anyone interested in objective discourse hates Wikipedia, since controversial topics are (or used to be) “guarded” by partisans with plenty of time on their hands, resulting in a game of “my edit trumps yours, ha ha.”

  6. Jhonka says:

    This is the same CEO that used a Darth Maul reference on a CNBC interview.

  7. ncboxer says:

    @超外人: Baaaaaa….

  8. SuffolkHouse says:

    The rules are wikipedia are clear that you can’t use the site to advertise. So, screw them!

  9. mgy says:

    One of my favorite things to do in Wikipedia is the read the discussions on articles that are up for deletion. There are frequently articles about murder victims, and I just love seeing the nitpicky micromanagement and rule-thumping going on juxtaposed to facts about someone’s life coming to an end.

    It’s not necessarily ironic, but it does ring in that same vein.

  10. skittlbrau says:

    Though wikipedia may not be the best source of information for loads of things, it doesn’t overlook one key fact:

    The CEO of Overstock.com has lost his damned mind, and it’s been gone for awhile. He brings the crazy in interviews, and is convinced there is a conspiracy to short-sell his stock and devalue his company (which is what Enron was complaining was happening on its slide to oblivion).

  11. CumaeanSibyl says:

    Wikipedia is only as good as the people who edit it — which does mean that you get editors treating subjects as their own little fiefdoms, or the senseless proliferation of articles on individual anime characters.

    However, many of these problems might be improved if administrators and vandal-hunters didn’t have to spend time hunting down corporate shills and trying to keep their advertising spam out of the articles. The signal-to-noise ratio there is bad enough without Bagley and his ilk.

    I’m not a fan of Wikimedia and its works, but it’s pretty obvious when someone’s mad they got caught breaking the rules.

  12. nequam says:

    @mgy: I just checked out the deletion discussions for the first time. What makes me laugh is the google verification system. “This cannot be true since it does not turn up in Google.” You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s like saying, “I asked everybody currently in my car, and nobody has heard of this guy — he clearly does not exist.” And they talk about notability as though it is some objectively measurable concept. What a bunch of crap. It’s part of the reason why I might become skeptical that 2+2 in fact equals 4 if somebody cites wikipedia for the proposition.

  13. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Cue the men with the little white coats and the bright shiny syringe full of goo.

  14. Mary says:

    I wonder what it would take to really convince the world that Wikipedia is just a good place to start getting information, that you then need to look around and verify. A well cited article is a great place to start because it gathers several sources in one place, but for goodness gracious why does anybody think it’s anything other than what it is: a really large message board with a ton of topics.

  15. evslin says:

    @Meiran: Yep, Wikipedia is best served for settling bar bets and killing time at work.

    Oops, did I say that last bit out loud?

  16. rfjason says:

    I’m going to have to side with Overstock on this one. I’ve been a long time observer of Wiki politics. It’s no secret Wales and Co. have a distinct agenda to use their wiki-power to discredit and smear anyone and anything they don’t like.

    The worst part is that anyone under 25 thinks wikipedia is an authoritative source and will swallow any lie they see there.

  17. WriterJudd says:

    this would be a compelling post, if it were only a little more insistent on adhering to the truth.

    Long before I started working for Overstock.com, I discovered that ex-journalist Gary Weiss (whose blog is liberally linked above) was using many, many, sockpuppets to, among other things, write the Wikipedia article on…ahem…Gary Weiss, to pepper the site with references to a book he wrote, to attack his RL opponents, etc.

    I started working on AntiSocialMedia.net (which has nothing to do with Overstock.com) in order to raise awareness of the fact that Wikipedia leadership (including Jimbo Wales), were going to such great lengths to keep Gary Weiss doing exactly what he was doing.

    Recently the matter was taken up officially, and Weiss found to have pulled the biggest conflict of interest scam in Wikipedia history.

    If only they’d listened when I said the same thing 18 months ago.

  18. nequam says:

    @WriterJudd: You are also accused (in this post) of using sock puppets on Overstock’s behalf. Are you just making a “but teacher, Gary did it too” argument?

  19. WriterJudd says:

    @nequam:Those edits to the Overstock.com page happened long before I worked there, and were apparently done by a PR intern who was unclear on the concept.

    And I agree, those edits read like a bit of a press release and were not, as they say, “encyclopedic”.

    My use of sockpuppetry was minimal, and purely for the purpose of exposing the abuses of Weiss; not to influence content (which was, in fact, the aim of Weiss).

    And that’s the difference between being an actual prostitute and being a cop posing as a prostitute to clean up the streets.

  20. IvanD says:

    OK, I am seriously saddened by everyone’s dismissal of Wikipedia. I am a medical student who FREQUENTLY uses Wikipedia to reference simple facts about anatomy (if I forgot a term, say) or a drug (if I forgot the structure or unusual side effect), etc. I have almost NEVER found a single error in the articles and usually they are more up-to-date than our textbooks or even class notes. The reason? Wikipedia’s greatest strength is the infinite number of editors. If 100 people read an article on Lipitor and only one of them read an obscure paper about a rare complication, he can cite that and edit it. There are almost no other places that something like this is possible. The ‘politics’ of Wikipedia may be there… but luckily it hasn’t spilled into the more ‘factual’ articles.

  21. KJones says:

    @dorkins: Hell, anyone interested in objective discourse hates Wikipedia, since controversial topics are (or used to be) “guarded” by partisans with plenty of time on their hands, resulting in a game of “my edit trumps yours, ha ha.”

    @CumaeanSibyl: Wikipedia is only as good as the people who edit it — which does mean that you get editors treating subjects as their own little fiefdoms, or the senseless proliferation of articles on individual anime characters.

    I’m glad other people notice wikipedia’s lack of objectivity and usability. What gets posted on that site is by “majority rule” or “moderator say-so”. Facts are the last thing you’ll find there.

    If you want a reliable reference on the cheap, buy an old CD encyclopedia from the $10 bin at your computer store, or a desktop encyclopedia (1000 page paperback). An accurate and reliable source from five years ago is better than one that is wrong now.

  22. basket548 says:

    Everyone claims that Wikipedia is full of wrong facts or bad edits – I tend to find most things on there correct. Mind linking to a few examples of inaccurate articles? (and no, things like Bush, Iraq, or the election don’t count)

  23. dweebster says:

    Maybe this Overstock guy should put a little less emphasis on worrying about Wikipedia taking over his mind, and a little more energy on getting rid of those ridiculously amateurish Overstock ads with some barely-dressed harlot purring about the “Big O.”

    Yeah, we get it, Overstock – very clever – ha, ha – “*O*verstock” and “*O*rgasm” both start with the letter “O.” Splattering the TV (yes, pun intended) with soft-core pornography to sell your shitty online Dollar store inventory seems to be a bigger threat to my mind sanity than a website with (at least diligent attempts at) democratic discourse. Sheesh.

  24. Alex Chasick says:

    @basket548: Well, Andrew Johnson probably wasn’t a dick ALL the time:

  25. Buran says:

    @ncboxer: I think that was half sarcasm.

    I use Wikipedia and I do use articles on it in discussions. However, I always, always include the suggestion that people verify the statements on their own using the linked sources in the article AND using their own sources. It is very useful as a quick reference guide but you need to keep in mind that while many of the people editing it do know their subject (they’re in the field, they’re highly interested in it and highly educated/read/etc. in it even if it’s just a hobby/whatever, or they know a lot about closely related stuff) many don’t.

    I personally stick to editing articles on subjects I know about and am honest about making sure that to the best of my knowledge, what I include is accurate. Or, I just fix typos in articles I’m reading (if someone doesn’t close a parenthesis, for example, I’ll leave behind a correction even if I don’t know a lot about the subject; that’s just simple cleanup. I’ve even done that before in really-controversial articles once or twice and never caught flak — it’s hard to make a big deal about typo repair no matter who does it).

    However, I’ve never bought anything from Overstock and given their rampant deception and apparently crazy CEO, I probably never will.

  26. WraithSama says:

    In today’s litigious society, he’s probably walking the razor’s edge of a libel suit from this Jimbo Wales.

  27. Hamm Beerger says:

    @KJones: Agreed. Wikipedia is a fine, fine reference source that has about as many errors per word as any print encyclopedia. Anyone that recommends you get Encarta on CD instead is foolish.

    @Meiran: If you look at the bottom of a Wikipedia article there are references. Click them and you’ll find independent verification of whatever the article is claiming.

  28. I like wikipedia, I learned a long time ago how to read footnotes and trace sources. I also know it could be a lot worse:o [www.conservapedia.com]

  29. basket548 says:

    @Alex Chasick: OK, point. But that’s obvious vandalism and not really incorrect info.

  30. strangeffect says:

    I bet Judd is loving this post. Hi Judd!

    It seems that about 50% of Overstock’s operations involve whining about their public image.

  31. strangeffect says:

    @dweebster: Perhaps we should short their stock. That sounds like a terrific idea.

  32. sabrinad says:

    So if I buy from Overstock, I get a bargain on a cosy down comforter *AND* my money helps support crazy people so they keep entertaining me for years to come? Bonus.

  33. lihtox says:

    @basket548: And there’s no proof that the OP didn’t do the vandalism himself. Or, whether or not he did, it’s not said how long the vandalism existed: 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 months?

  34. TechnoDestructo says:

    @CumaeanSibyl:
    I just LOOOVE deleting and merging articles like those. And the trivia sections. God I love destroying those.

  35. TechnoDestructo says:

    @alphafemale:
    Christ, that list reads like it was written by Bill O’Reilly.

  36. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @sabrinad: Yeah, but when the comforter arrives after six to eight weeks you’ll find it’s stuffed with shredded customer information.

  37. EtherealStrife says:

    Eh what overstock was doing sounds 100% in the wrong, but I don’t disagree with the CEO. Uneducated editors watch over entire fields and prevent changes that conflict with their particular interpretation of “the facts.” Wiki is a great first stop for finding sources, though.

  38. StevieD says:

    @SuffolkHouse:

    Oh yea, like that has stopped companies from posting “history of xyz with a link to our current sales page” on the wiki.

  39. humphrmi says:

    This guy is a total nutjob. I don’t like to buy stuff from nutjobs.

  40. manus manum lavat says:

    I love the comment in the now-famous Randy Pausch lecture, where (among other things) he says that “Having been selected to be an author for the world book encyclopedia, I now believe that Wikipedia is a perfectly fine source for your information because I know what the quality control is.” Wikipedia may be inherently flawed, but at least the flaws are transparent for everyone to see.

  41. tcp100 says:

    I thought it was pretty much common knowledge these days that the Overstock CEO is 101% nucking futz.

    To say this guy is slightly paranoid is like calling the Amish slightly religious. How he remains in control of the company is a mystery.

  42. TeraGram says:

    If you want to see more of Patrick Bryne’s megalomania in action, head on over to The Motley Fool and read his writings under his nom de plume there, “Hannibal100″.

  43. ldavis480 says:

    eNom has been doing this lately. I don’t know if they hired a public relations firm to clean up their wikipedia page, but the user “Thirdbeach” has been removing any negative data and replacing it with garbage like “Accreditations and Awards” references. Nauseating.

  44. @KJones: It’s the piss-poor grammar that gets me. I mean, if you are going to take time to fabricate information, can you at least make your subject and verb agree?

  45. Mary says:

    @Jim Thome’s Self-Cleaning Oven: “If you look at the bottom of a Wikipedia article there are references. Click them and you’ll find independent verification of whatever the article is claiming.”

    Exactly : ) I’ve found some fascinating new reference sources that way, and spent many an hour surfing the cites linked through the sources of a well-done article.

    Other than that, I use Wikipedia to find out the endings of movies I don’t really want to see but want to know the end of…like The Number 23. Everybody said it was terrible, but not WHY. Wikipedia saved me a few hours.

  46. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    Sounds like the CEO of overstock.com is overstocked with too much time on his hands. Perhaps he should take up golf.

  47. BugMeNot2 says:

    does Apple edit their pages on wikipedia? does Radiohead? but I guess every big pharma etc does …

  48. TechnoDestructo says:

    @Meiran: At the bottom of a GOOD wikipedia article, maybe.

    Man…it’s been a long time since I wrote a good one myself. (I mainly clean up non-native English, and delete bullshit)

  49. ExecutorElassus says:

    @WriterJudd: What isn’t mentioned here is that you were also banned from Wikipedia for sending malware to at least one member, and you’ve bragged on online message boards (like InvestorVillage) of using inserted javascript inserts to track and de-anonymize anonymous accounts, which is pretty close (if not actually) cyberstalking, and a whole host of other deeply odious behaviors.
    Or are you going to use the same “but I only did it a little, and it was to fight the bad guys!” argument?
    Patrick Byrne is totally nucking futz, like tcp100 said. I’m not sure why, Mr. Bagley, you engage in such obviously shady practices on his behalf.

  50. ExecutorElassus says:

    @alphafemale: wow. That site is craptastic. Their article on evolution is page after page about why Darwin’s principle of natural selection is implausible, but (better yet) goes waaay off the deep end about it. By the end, they’ve got pictures of Hitler.

  51. unonymous says:

    @ExecutorElassus

    Fun is pulling up matching results from both Wikipedia and Conservapedia side by side. It’s like sitting at a table with the Dali Lama and Rush Limbaugh.

  52. ncboxer says:

    @Buran: It was a joke….

  53. The Instructor says:

    I just want to add my two cents in.

    I’m a college writing instructor. My policy on Wikipedia and other user-driven sites (blogs, wikis, etc.) is that citing common knowledge (admittedly a subjective judgment) from a wiki is fine, but controversial or putative references need to be backed up with academically-reviewed sources.

  54. Pink Puppet says:

    @rfjason: rfjason! You wouldn’t happen to be THE rfjason, the racist troll, would you? Aw man, I didn’t know you were here, too.

    If you’re not him, I’d look into getting a different screenname.

  55. AlphaTeam says:

    Editing is an article to read like an advertisement deserves a ban. Overstock’s actions are uncalled for.

  56. Mary says:

    @TechnoDestructo: True, I usually put “well cited” in front of my statements about Wiki articles. But most of the time, if I’m using Wiki I’m looking up pop culture stuff (last night I looked up the documentary Spellbound and I believe most of the info in the article came from the DVD special features).

    I mostly go through and clean up really terrible movie summaries myself. Sometimes if I’m very bored I’ll fix tense shift problems, but it’s been ages since I’ve bothered to edit anything. I mostly go there to get links and places to start looking for more info.

  57. dweebster says:

    @TechnoDestructo: Or another wacko in the asylum like Ann Coulter or Charles Manson. Here’s an example of how that site presents “facts” without bias:
    Definition of “Conservative”:
    [www.conservapedia.com]
    Definition of “Liberal”:
    [www.conservapedia.com]
    (enjoy the helpful illustration if words are too challenging for you to comprehend):
    [www.conservapedia.com]

    …at least we know the reference source Fox “News” turns to for their “fair and balanced” reporting.

    I’ve heard William Buckley present his views and he seemed quite intelligent in his debates – certainly not so absolutely ridiculous and base as the current idiots running the conservative movement. Maybe the inbreeding amongst the upper classes has finally overcome it’s ability to purchase coherent shills.

  58. dweebster says:

    @strangeffect: Huh? Perhaps you mean that they are “stocking shorts” or they “stock short stockings” or…? Are you a speculator?

  59. WriterJudd says:

    @ExecutorElassus:My first suggestion is that you get clear on the definitions of “malware” and “cyberstalking”. Once you realize that neither term comes close to applying in this case, we can move on to the larger, real issues.

  60. rawstock says:

    Neither of these entities are exactly what they say there are … did someone expect otherwise? At least Overstock advertises on cable and network television so we can know up front that they’re full of shit. At the same time, I’ve found Wikipedia to be about as open to editing by the general public as any of the 30 volumes of the World Book that were in my jr. high library; maybe that’s the way it has to be, but that’s not what they call it …

  61. memphis9 says:

    A bit of digression here, but even without knowing who to root for in this pissing contest, I ‘m curious. I have happily bought from Overstock.com on occassion in the past and recently poked around the site – when did they start with the retail-*plus* (prevailing, not MSRP) “discounting”? It’s boggling, but then my local Tuesday Morning is more ludicrously overpriced smash-and-dent than bargain these days as well…and no, that’s comparing to Amazon, fatwallet or slickdeal finds, not to pre-inflation memories.

  62. Trai_Dep says:

    I love the people that try editing Wiki articles in violation of their (fair and legitimate) rules, then whine about how “closed” or “dishonest” Wiki is.

    I’ve had no problems contributing to Wiki articles. Was there give and take? Sure. Was there teeth-gnashing on my part due to having to cite sources for facts that “everyone knows”? Absolutely. And a better work product resulted.

    Welcome to collaboration, people. And, adulthood. Get over it.

  63. Ford MF says:

    Amen, Trai. Most of the people who complain about Wikipedia being closed or dishonest are folks who were surprised to learn they weren’t allowed to write ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING THEY WANTED, and somehow take this to mean Wikipedia’s mission of openness is a sham.

    That, and crackpots who want Wikipedia to reflect that their great-great grandfather, personally, started the Civil War.

  64. strangeffect says:
  65. picardia says:

    Whatever problems Wikipedia has or doesn’t have, this letter makes Overstock’s CEO look like a ranting loony.

  66. deathbychichi says:

    Try this stuff on Wikipedia and tell us how wrong they are: Skip Lists, AVL Tree, Hash table, Objective-C.

    OK, now try Gibson Les Paul, Stratocaster, and Steve Miller (musician).

    That’s all good stuff. You going to find any of that in the Encyclopedia Brittanica? No, you’re not, or not in time for it to be of any use to you. How electric motors work, last edited in the 1950s? Sure.

    I’m not saying bet your life on the accuracy of the WP, but a lot it’s going to have stuff on the stuff you’re looking for and, on the whole, it’s going to be pretty good.

  67. trujunglist says:

    @Meiran:

    I’m not sure what makes Wikipedia a less valuable resource than any other encyclopedia. They’re all collaborations of people’s knowledge. Wikipedia has the advantage of anyone on the planet editing the source, including the people involved. Traditionals don’t. Whether or not the people presenting the material are not getting the facts straight on a given subject is another story, but affects both Wikipedia and traditional media in the same way.

  68. Ltic says:

    @trujunglist — You may be correct about more contemporary/current events. That being said, do you understand that the typical wikipedia “editor” is either a 16 year old high school student or a 20-something social misfit (with many still living in their parents’ basements). At one point one of these so-called editors successfully won an edit war about dinosaurs against a world class paleontologist because the adult got tired of arguing that just because it wasn’t that way in Jurrasic Park doesn’t mean it isn’t correct. (and by the way, I agree that the CEO of Overstock does come off like a lunatic)

  69. m4ximusprim3 says:

    This week on Overstock:

    Bulk tinfoil hat shaping kit! Now you can make all your favorites like “The Stetson”, “The Bowler” and “The Tophat”!

    It’s all about the O!

  70. jdjonsson says:

    Patrick Byrne heavily financed a campaign against a citizen referendum in Utah that would repeal a Law creating a school voucher program.

    He showed up in the local papers, after the referendum was passed, voiding the law by a large majority of Utah voters, and called the voters in the majority idiots.

    Patrick Byrne is a right-wing ideologue with a persecution complex.

  71. Mr. Gunn says:

    Yeah, but it’s still pretty shady to do what you did, WriterJudd.

  72. Mr. Gunn says:

    Trai_Dep: Hey, wikipedia’s great for a lot of things, but it’s also true that for some issues, there are people with way too much time on their hands who make the article on their issue unreliable.

    But, hey, everyone should learn to mistrust authority, and if wikipedia helps people along that path, good for them.