Before today, I had never visited Scots Wikipedia. In fact, my only brush with Scots was reading the novel Trainspotting about 10 years ago and that took a lot of concentration because I have never been to Scotland, do not know anyone from Scotland, and do not speak Scots. However, my editor then dropped this Reddit post into our Slack and thus, I fell headfirst into the Scots Wikipedia rabbit hole.
Earlier today, Reddit user Ultach wrote a fairly lengthy post about an alarming discovery. In it, they described that Scots Wikipedia has a notorious reputation for being inaccurate with regard to vocabulary and grammar. Ultach claims that Scots Wikipedia was poorly spelled English with a few Scots words thrown in here and there. Out of curiosity, they checked the Wikipedia’s edit history… and lo, apparently one person had created and edited roughly a third of Scots Wikipedia’s 60,000 or so articles.
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Ultach then posted a link to a screenshot of a redacted version of that person’s Wikipedia User page. The bio was the stuff of internet meme glory. After noting that they had been an active user and administrator on Scots Wiki since February 2013, the user noted that “Apart from Wikipedia, I’m a brony, and an INTP.” Chuckles aside, Ultach claims that this person, by 2018, had written 20,000 articles and made 200,000 edits, possibly averaging about nine articles a day for seven years.
Long story short, Ultach claims this prolific editor is an American teen who does not actually speak Scots. While Ultach details a pretty compelling case for why they think this editor doesn’t speak Scots, it’s not immediately clear how Ultach concluded an American teenager was behind all this. I’ve reached out to Ultach to clarify this particular avenue of sleuthing but did not immediately receive a response.
At this point, I decided to rifle through Scots Wikipedia myself. While peeping through the edit history of several articles on Scots Wiki — which is actually kind of hard if you’re not comfortable reading any version of Scots, correct or not — I did find that one user did frequently pop up over and over again.
When I went to that user’s bio to try and verify for myself, it had been scrubbed clean and didn’t match Ultach’s screenshot. There are lots of reasons why that might be, but after poking around some more on Wikipedia talk pages, it would appear that the drama had only intensified.
Ultach’s Reddit post sparked the internet’s ire. The user, who Ultach claims is also the admin of the Scots Wikipedia, appears to have reliquished their position and the latest post on their profile directs users to another user who appears to have taken over admin duties. There’s currently a vigorous debate between admins, editors, and complete randos about whether the entirety of Scots Wikipedia should be closed or edited for accuracy.
The discourse has gotten particularly firey on the profile page of the new admin. “[W]e are at a crossroads,” wrote one. “If this project is closed it will never be reopened. There will never be a Scots Wikipedia in existence again. If you think that is what is best for the Scots language, then so be it.”
“From the sheer volume of pages affected, it’d take far longer to clear up the inaccuracies present in Scots Wikipedia than it would be to simply start over,” wrote another user. “If that is not possible, better to have no Scots Wikipedia than pass off a load of nonsense as Scots.”
Given the sheer number of pages edited incorrectly, it is possible that this discovery could spell the end of Scots Wikipedia forever. That’s because every Wikipedia article is maintained by volunteers who aren’t in it for the fame or accolades (and after trying to navigate Wikipedia’s editing system, woof, these are patient heroes). Editing out all the inaccuracies would be a massive undertaking — and one that’s unpaid at that.
I reached out to Wikimedia, the company behind Wikipedia, to see if anything like this has ever happened to an entire wiki before. And if so, what the fuck is anyone supposed to do about it? I haven’t received a response yet but will update if I do.
Whatever happens, this is a sober reminder that your teacher was right all along about why you shouldn’t cite Wikipedia as a source.
Do you know something about what is going on with Scots Wikipedia? Are you the person who allegedly edited over 20,000 Scots wiki articles without speaking a lick of Scots? If so, I would like to chat. You can reach me at [email protected], [email protected], or via Gizmodo’s Secure Drop.