Wikipedia Vandalism and IP Bans


Andy Carvin is intrigued about a school in Canada that asked Wikipedia to block its IP address after a series of vandalism incidents dating to 2002.

Wikipedia Blocks School’s Editing Privileges Due to Vandalism

We have had a similar experience. Here is my reply.

After a series of vandalism incidents from our school IP address, we have asked a Wikipedia admin to block our IP address indefinitely. At the same time, we are taking advantage of the teachable moment to provide some instruction at an all-school meeting about the implications of online vandalism and the interconnectedness among people in online communities such as this one. The difficult question is how much vandalism to a public resource we are willing to tolerate while the teaching is taking place. That’s why we decided to first institute the ban.

Most students who edit Wikipedia pages have not a clue about the potential impact of their edits. High school students are in a developmental stage that makes it difficult for them to grasp the implications of actions in any community, never mind one as abstract as cyberspace. Many are only now emerging from a very concrete, self-centered stage, so that even when you teach them about the implications of editing on Wikipedia, they just don’t internalize the lesson until it happens to them.

We host our own online forums, photo galleries, student email system, and Moodle site. In all of these systems, users are automatically identified by their login name, encouraging them to take responsibility for their posts. Ideally, we would like to have only the anonymous Wikipedia user, which is identified by our IP address, blocked from using Wikipedia. That way, users would have the register in order to make changes, both limiting the damage to the school community when a person vandalizes the site, and also creating consequences for posting malicious content. The only problem is that it appears that the block has affected all posts from our address, registered or not. I am going to contact an admin to determine whether we can get a more selective block, which would be the most pedagogically effective. Wikipedia in its current form makes it too easy for a student to make a rash mistake under the banner of adolescent experimentation.


  1. Ben says:

    That’s quite an intelligent way of addressing the problem Richard. I’ve never taken the time to think about how socially and ethically responsible high school students think they are. While I would have enjoyed making a few defacements on Wikipedia if it had existed when I was in school, it would have only been to gratify my own personal desire to see how my work could be made public to the entire world before I quickly changed the article back.

    However, that still would have constituted as vandalism, and I think your actions are warranted in this regard. A shame that all students are blocked until a more practical method of blocking vandalism is achieved, but thus is the way of the Web 2.0 world. Perhaps training students at a younger age, when they are more impressionable, to use resources like Wikipedia responsibly might be an answer.

  2. rkassissieh says:

    My post has generated a lot of attention at… Look in the comments section. A lot of the people clearly don’t have a lot of pedagogical expertise in the area of technology.

  3. angela neff says:

    I agree with Ben— training at a young age will help deter this kind of activity. I have not had any kind of vandalism problems with the students I teach in a K-8 school for many years now. If they know how to use it as a tool for themselves in their own lives they will not destroy it. On some level it must be being perceived as an "adult" tool which is a shame as it is really for them. I wonder if they see it as on-line graffiti. Tricky one to change.