Has Wikipedia Been Running with the Wrong Crowd?

In response to my last post, Captain Obvious came swooping in to point out what had been hiding in plain sight. While I was focussing on the potential dangers of predators lurking in the darkest shadows of the Wikipedia community, I failed to see the very real danger right in front of me: Wikipedia itself.

Could all the free, multilingual, educational content Wikipedia provides, paired with underdeveloped judgement, put children at risk? As a former bored, judgement-impaired, pubescent boy, I knew exactly what how to find out. I searched on “Sniffing glue“. And here’s what I found:

 

Kids Huffing Glue

 

WTF? There is absolutely nothing OK about this picture. These are children. I understand that there is a problem with children huffing on the streets in certain parts of the world. It needs to be acknowledged and addressed. But I will thank you as a father for not spreading that problem around by showing smiling, relaxed, seemingly “mature” kids sticking faces in a bag and casually flipping off the photographer. If this article on such a dangerous act was incomplete without a visual aid, couldn’t you at least have looked for a picture of an adult to kick things off? Maybe a picture that reflects the incredibly destructive aspect of huffing would be more appropriate. And, while we’re at it, we should probably dig up something that doesn’t make huffing look cool to kids. Maybe this?

 

Gold Paint Adult Huffer

 

What follows amounts to a manual on huffing all kinds of extremely dangerous gases. If my son looked this up, he wouldn’t just figure out the best technique to sniff glue, he’s also be turned on to:

The Smorgasbord

Grab a bag and take your pick.

  • Gasoline
  • Kerosene
  • Propane
  • Butane
  • Toluene
  • Xylene
  • Acetone
  • Hydrofluorocarbons
  • Chlorofluorocarbons
  • Trichloroethylene
  • Alkyl Nitrites
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Diethyl Ether
  • Enflurane
  • Methylene Chloride
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • Benzene

 

 

After going over this smorgasbord of inhalants, the article covers a few pro-tips for abusing them:

Inhalant users inhale vapors or aerosol propellant gases using plastic bags held over the mouth or by breathing from an open container of solvents, such as gasoline or paint thinner. Nitrous oxide gases from whipped cream aerosol cans, aerosol hairspray or non-stick frying spray are sprayed into plastic bags. When inhaling non-stick cooking spray or other aerosol products, some users may filter the aerosolized particles out with a rag. Some gases, such as propane and butane gases, are inhaled directly from the canister. Once these solvents or gases are inhaled, the extensive capillary surface of the lungs rapidly absorb the solvent or gas, and blood levels peak rapidly. The intoxication effects occur so quickly that the effects of inhalation can resemble the intensity of effects produced by intravenous injection of other psychoactive drugs.

The article wraps up its description of the whole experience by mentioning that all of these substances are at best dangerous and at worst fatal. Cross your fingers that your child look below the fold before they stick their face in a bag.

Safety concerns aside, it’s a pretty good article. For a responsible parent, it might provide some desperately needed answers to the problems created by a child’s abuse of inhalants. For an irresponsible child, it could create the problems themselves.

There’s only one thing we can be sure about. Whatever happens, Wikipedians won’t be taking responsibility for it.

I think it’s time we did.

,Wil

Tagged ,

41 thoughts on “Has Wikipedia Been Running with the Wrong Crowd?

  1. Captain Obvious says:

    Sorry for swooping. Also sorry to see that you have chosen what is actually a balanced and inoffensive article to promote your idea for a child-safe Wikipedia fork.

    Like

    • wllm says:

      No need to apologize about swooping. I was giving you props up there! 🙂

      You’re right that I think a child-oriented, including child-safe, project is probably the solution to many of these problems. But I wouldn’t call it a fork. It’s more like a side car. Why mess with success? Wikipedia would be the engine that provides the data for such a project.

      All the same, that article seems to be written primarily for people who are looking to abuse inhalants. The discussion of the risks seems like an afterthought. I know there are other places that kids can get the same information about how to do stupid things to fuck themselves up, but these sites aren’t get promoted in schools, etc. Wikipedia should be help to much higher standards.

      ,Wil

      Like

      • Captain Obvious says:

        I have good news and bad news.

        The good news is that what you seem to be pushing as the solution to Wikipedia’s “child protection” problems already exists. It’s called Wikipedia For Schools. It would be nice if Wikipedia funded it, rather than a separate charity.

        The bad news is that this doesn’t solve any of the problems facing children on Wikipedia proper. If you had more experience with Wikipedia, you would realise that it’s not “Wikipedia itself” that is the problem, it is the governance of Wikipedia and the editing community of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a toxic environment for children, especially those who try to edit.

        To be blunt, you seem intent on becoming the leader of something. The problems with Wikipedia have been studied and debated for years by smart people with a lot of firsthand experience. You may disagree with some of the proposed solutions, but by insisting on forging your own path you are throwing away valuable analysis and experience. You may end up solving a problem, but will it be the right problem?

        Like

      • martijnhhoekstra says:

        how do you come to the conclusion that the article is written primarily for people who are looking to abuse inhalants?

        Like

        • John Lilburne says:

          The article uses slang terms. The article has an popular culture section far longer than the risks section.

          Like

          • martijnhhoekstra says:

            I didn’t notice the slang terms, but that’s possibly because I’m not a native speaker. The article seems mostly written in a pretty formal style to me.

            I’m also no fan of popular culture sections, but I don’t really see the relation between a popular culture section and it being written primarily for people looking to abuse. How would someone looking to abuse make use of the popular culture section?

            Like

            • wllm says:

              My primary reason is that the article covers the best techniques on getting high before it gets in to the dangers.

              Other reasons include the completely inappropriate picture above the fold that show children abusing inhalants with smiles on the faces and flipping off the photographer. It would be much more appropriate to show an adult passed out on the floor drooling on themselves; because that’s a much more accurate depiction of long-term abuse of inhalants. There are others complaining about the picture on the talk page. I have reached out to some photographers to see if they will license their photos under creative commons so I can replace this image with something that is more responsible and realistic.

              ,Wil

              Like

              • martijnhhoekstra says:

                It describes the practice before it goes in to background. What you are doing now is akin to complaining that https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricin is primarily written for people who want to use it as a poison because the methods in which it is poisonous are discussed first. It looks like your emotion that you want to protect children from inhalants is taking precedence over reading the article for what is there, and is filling in an intended target of the article that is not there in the text.

                I’m not quite so knowledgable about inhalants, and I’m not sure if long term abuse in most cases leads to adults lying drooling on the floor; again, I have the idea that your own emotion about the dangers for children is playing a large part in this as well. Nor do I agree that the primary image should be one of the results of long term abuse rather than of typical abuse. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you the picture is unsuitable, but for other reasons. It seems unlikely that those children in the photograph consented about being in the photograph, and the article states ‘most users tend to be “…adolescents (between the ages of 12 and 17).”‘ (sourced to NIDA). These children look a lot younger than that to me, so it’s not the “typical” case. On the other hand, the article goes on with “The article “Epidemiology of Inhalant Abuse: An International Perspective” notes that “[t]he most serious form of obsession with inhalant use probably occurs in countries other than the United States where young children live on the streets completely without family ties. These groups almost always use inhalants at very high levels (Leal et al. 1978).” which may indicate this is typical usage.

                But it seems you want a-typical usage to scare children away from using inhalants, to use as propaganda. Maybe propaganda for a sensible goal, but propaganda still. An encyclopedia shouldn’t be a source of propaganda, and Wikipedia strives to be an encyclopedia. It doesn’t always meet that goal, but you are actively advocating to make it a worse encyclopedia.

                Like

              • wllm says:

                Martijn, I get the impression that we’re on two different planets. I just looked down, and I’m still on Earth. 🙂 I’ll reply to the parts that I think I understand.

                Ricin? Martijn, usually you’re a pretty smart, reasonable person. But killing people with Ricin didn’t cross my mind or that of any of my friends’ when I was a bored pre-teen. And, AFAIK, we were pretty typical because kids going on Ricin rampages doesn’t seem to be a problem. Kids dying and fucking up their health, social lives, and academic progress by huffing stuff is. And at least the Ricin article goes in to the lethal part right after the lede. A kid has to scroll down quite a bit before they get to the death stuff in the Intoxicating Inhalants article.

                OK, you caught me. I’m very passionate about needlessly putting kids’ lives on the line. But so what? Emotions are very important in decision making. Even Dr. Spock knows that.

                Does putting the risks of inhalants above the detailed description of how to maximize one’s high really compromise the articles accuracy or comprehensiveness? I don’t think so. Could it save a child’s life? Possibly. So how bout we throw emotional people like me a bone and not put children in danger for no good reason.

                ,Wil

                Like

              • martijnhhoekstra says:

                (reply to wrong parent due to max reply depth)
                You’re saying something interesting here; “Ricin didn’t cross my mind when I was a bored pre-teen”. Who exactly is the Wikipedia article currently putting at risk, according to you? Bored pre-teens (10 to 12 year olds) that already thought about sniffing glue and wanted to know more about it, but have the very specific attention span where they read the lead, the chemical composition and classification, beyond the fold, down to the first half of the section Administration and effects which contains how it is typically administered (which you may regard as a how to guide, but I certainly don’t), and the possible intensity of the effects, but not the second half of the section that includes “Hey kids, go sniff glue, it’s amazing”^H^H^H^H^H^H “In the short term, many users experience headache, nausea and vomiting, slurred speech, loss of motor coordination, and wheezing.” and definitely not the next section Dangers and Health problems, and after that, stop their internet search about sniffing glue?

                This too seem to be planet earth, so we’re on the same planet, but I have to agree with you that if you think this article will lead children to huffing glue our perception is very divergent.

                Like

  2. Marc B. says:

    Oups – did you just show, that Wikipedia gives its readers a thorough, and balanced article on $ISSUE (for $ISSUE = “glue sniffing”)? It must have been a shocking experience to find that an encyclopedia actually informs its readers. Yes, kinds can find all kinds of information about the world on Wikipedia. On constructive issues and on destructive issues. That’s how the world is. Wikipedia just reflects that.

    It’s you job as a father to instill your kids with understanding the world with all its constructive and destructive sides.

    Like

    • wllm says:

      Yes, but Wikimedia also performs outreach to education, which is a rather unique thing for a major website to do. Yet the site they’re encouraged to use is built for adults, not children.

      Frankly, I’m not ready to get in to the pros and cons of huffing gas with my 9-year-old son because he read about it at school doing a research project.

      ,Wil

      Like

      • Marc B. says:

        That’s your problem. Not that of Wikipedia. Wikipedia just reflects the world and in this world there are people sniffing glue, even kids younger than 9.

        Liked by 1 person

        • wllm says:

          Children sniffing glue is a social problem. If Wikipedia is not the place to help solve such problems, it should at least be a place that doesn’t help spread them.

          ,Wil

          Like

          • Abd says:

            That article will not spread huffing. Huffing does not spread from Wikipedia articles on it. Basically, this is made up. If there is accurate, reliable information on huffing in the Wikipedia article, it will be useful in helping to inhibit kids from doing it. Hysteria won’t accomplish that, period.

            And, yes, Wikipedia is explicitly not the place to solve social problems. Any social problems. At all. By design.

            Except maybe ignorance. I does that to a degree, also by design.

            Like

            • wllm says:

              I’m not asking Wikipedia to solve this social problem. I’m asking Wikipedians not to make it worse.

              ,Wil

              Like

              • Tim Davenport /// Carrite /// Randy from Boise says:

                You didn’t like the picture, needed something sensational to write about, and probably didn’t even read the article.

                Hurrah!

                t

                Like

              • wllm says:

                I read the article. I thought that would have been pretty obvious from all the info from it that I cited in my post.

                Tim, I’m really looking forward to the day that you’ll have interesting things to say to me again. Maybe that day will never come. Whatev’s. In any case, thanks for the insight you’ve passed along over these past few months.

                ,Wil

                Like

  3. martijnhhoekstra says:

    ” And, while we’re at it, we should probably dig up something that doesn’t make huffing look cool to kids. Maybe this?” Yes, that’s a better picture. It’s probably a good idea to upload that to commons and put it in.

    Like

    • Captain Obvious says:

      Wait, what? I can understand removing an image of kids huffing solvents on the basis that those kids shouldn’t become a poster for solvent abuse, but why would you encourage Wil to replace it with someone’s mugshot?

      Like

      • martijnhhoekstra says:

        Is that a mugshot? I’m so obvious. I expected there would be hight stripes behind that and all that.

        Like

        • martijnhhoekstra says:

          Yeah… obvious. I wish there was an edit button here.

          Like

          • wllm says:

            That mugshot made the rounds online as a “humorous” photo years ago. I was being a bit facetious when I suggested it, although it is much more appropriate than a picture of children casually abusing dangerous inhalants. These children may not have gotten high yet. If we want to focus on the problem in developing countries, let’s take a look at what an inhalant high really looks like for these children:

            http://www.theworldsbestever.com/2009/09/29/glue-sniffing-teenage-gangs-of-kathmandu/

            I suppose a photo of a dead child who has choked on his own vomit would be too graphic, but it would still be a more accurate depiction that that picture.

            ,Wil

            Like

          • wllm says:

            Hmmmm. I have an edit button.

            Martijn, are you logged in to WordPress? This blog is hosted on wordpress.com with a custom domain; if you sign up here, you are signing up for an account that works across all blogs on WordPress, which, in my experience, is something like 50% of active blogs on the internet. YMMV.

            Let me know if you try this. I’m going to my settings now to see if I have to enable editing comments that have already been posted.

            ,Wil

            Like

  4. Abd says:

    I researched this. I wrote a long post about it. Bottom line, Marc is cogent.

    It is a mug shot, one of a series of three found at http://www.thisis50.com/profiles/blogs/man-arrested-repeatedly-for

    Wil’s outrage will have zero protective effect for children, might actually increase harm by increasing internet exposure. The stuff on the guy’s face is gold paint. The three mug shots show a man initially arrested, then arrested twice more, the last arrest was obviously years later than the first. The man does not look like a happy camper. Of course he wasn’t, he was just arrested! However, the photo does not show the harm of huffing. At all.

    Except what will be obvious to any kid: spray gold paint on your face, you might attract unwelcome attention. Don’t huff and walk around.

    Obviously, the blog post got attention, the photo was removed by an IP editor. That may or may not stand. Wil complained here, he did not act at the article.

    A much larger problem: the internet.

    And the real problem: the society that will tolerate kids huffing in the street and giving the finger to someone who photographs them. If it did. We don’t know what the photographer did. At least I haven’t researched it. The photo appears in another article, and describes the children as “homeless.” From Borneo. And, again, the real problem here is ….

    Like

    • wllm says:

      I’m glad you researched it Abd. It deserves more attention from adults and especially Wikipedians. At least one Wikipedian took responsibility and removed the photo, although I would have gone one further and shown the true impact of huffing inhalants.

      I’ll be working with the community on this article to make it more socially responsible without losing any of the information contained in it. This would start with adding more information about the dangers of huffing inhalants in the lede. Not all Wikipedians believe that Wikipedia should take responsibility for such matters. I do. Because if Wikipedia doesn’t and parents can’t simply because Wikipedia is so ubiquitous in school and elsewhere, no one will.

      ,Wil

      Like

      • Captain Obvious says:

        If you’re looking for an article to work on with the community, why not try “A Free Ride”? I think you’ll learn more about the community with that one.

        Like

        • wllm says:

          I’ve seen that. Didn’t watch all of it, but watched enough. I’m not even sure how to approach that one; maybe linking to it from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornography would get some attention, because it easily meets the definition and provides very relevant information. I don’t mean to make it easier for children to find it; I just think that Wikipedians might re-consider whether the content is appropriate for Wikipedia with an edit on a presumably high-profile articles.

          If Wikipedia’s stand will be that Wikipedians shouldn’t consider the impact of their articles on children, then this would be a great contribution that is totally in the spirit of Wikipedia. Who cares if kids stream it off commons after looking up “pornography”? And, besides, how do we even know that kids are looking up something like that? I’d like to see who’s ready to walk that talk.

          ,Wil

          Like

  5. Herostratus says:

    Wil’s got a reasonable point. It’s a complicated question but it’s a reasonable point. I don’t have a opinion on glue sniffing or that Wikipedia article in particular, but there certainly are articles and images (a few) that are harmful to young people. It’d be unreasonable to say “No there aren’t”. It’d be reasonable but inhumane to say “So what”. It’d be reasonable to say “Yes, but overall its worth it because [cogent reason]” or “Yes but there’s no help for that because [cogent exposition on Wikipedia politics]”. I wouldn’t agree with these last two even though they are reasonable, though.

    The “overall it’s worth it” faction generally points out that the Wikipedia is written for and intended for adults. Fine, but a couple things about that: First, a main user of encyclopedias has always been children, not young children but say bright ten-year-olds through high school. College students mostly use more advanced materials for research. That is why print encyclopedias were always marketed to families as enrichment for the children. Encyclopedias were not marketed mainly to childless adults or older empty-nesters or college students. So making an encyclopedia and then saying it’s not for children is kind of like building a skateboard park and marking it adults-only. It’s out of synch with reality. (Look up the legal term “attractive nuisance” for why our skateboard-park-example builders would be held liable if a young person was hurt in their unsafe park, regardless of how many adults-only signs they had put up.)

    Second, we market the publication to schools and school districts with various outreach initiatives. The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, I guess, which is organizationally mediocre. We could at least stop doing that. All of our school-outreach people at WMF should be required to read our articles “Cock and ball torture” and “Scrotal inflation” and “Bukkake” and think a little bit about that.

    Like

    • wllm says:

      How about https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erotic_asphyxiation? Another description of an act that is not only potentially fatal.

      The “Accidental death” section is also below the fold, and the dangers of suffocation aren’t even mentioned in the lede. In the 10-18 age range, we can safely assume we’re including a lot of pubescent boys with severely underdeveloped judgement who are experimenting with sex acts that- and it goes without saying- don’t involve partners who might be able to help if something goes wrong.

      The more immediate solution for the articles that describe how to perform dangerous act is to restructure them to surface the dangers sooner and avoid completely inappropriate pics like the one in this post. That doesn’t address your concern of information that is simply not appropriate for an encyclopedia with educational outreach to these age groups. That’s a much bigger nut to crack, but is well worth putting in the effort, IMO.

      ,Wil

      Like

      • Captain Obvious says:

        See also Choking game. Sniffing glue and hyperventilating predate Wikipedia by many many years. If kids don’t know about them from their peers, they are likely to discover them on their own. The internet acts as a catalyst for some risky things to become fads, but I think Wikipedia’s sober articles on these topics aren’t part of the problem.

        Like

        • wllm says:

          Ummm. A lot of things predate Wikipedia and isn’t Wikipedia’s mission to spread all this free information to the world for free? So, that’s cool. Wikipedia didn’t invent choking yourself with a belt. It just spread the idea around to more kids along with the risks. They are a little bit farther down the page after the article explains that a belt is a good choice.

          Seriously. It’s starting to look like the editors intentionally wrote these articles irresponsibly. It’s almost as if Wikipedia is letting teenage boys write these articles with no oversight or even guidance. :0

          ,Wil

          Like

          • Captain Obvious says:

            “It’s almost as if Wikipedia is letting teenage boys write these articles with no oversight or even guidance.” It’s not almost like that, it’s exactly like that. And it’s worse than that. Most teenage boys have exactly zero interest in editing Wikipedia as a hobby. The ones who gravitate to Wikipedia may not be the most well-adjusted or well-rounded people.

            Like

    • John Lilburne says:

      Exactly. The adult readers of WP are mainly those that are factoid surfing,it could be “Believe it or not”, “Old Moore’s Almanack”, or “10,000 Pub Quiz Q&As”. However, when we talk about an “Encyclopedia” we are indeed thinking of the 18th century French, and in particular the EBs and how they were sold and advertized as giving your child a head start. That is indeed why the middle classes bought sets of encyclopedias. Yes adults dipped into them to ascertain some fact or other, but they bought them as a ‘homework’ resource for their kids. If the WMF presented the thing with the proud boast that it is just like and old encyclopedia but with added “Cock and ball torture”, “Scrotal inflation” and “Bukkake” then people would know better how to assess it, but I’m 100% sure that none of them has ever done that.

      Like

      • martijnhhoekstra says:

        If EB was specifically sold and advertized as being for children, what’s the deal with the 1934 EB for Children?

        Like

        • John Lilburne says:

          Probably an easier reading thing for primary school kids. One that doesn’t describe the subatomic world in terms of, as my mathematician colleague would say, “shimmering energy levels” but rather in terms of a ‘plum pudding” made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

          Like

        • John Lilburne says:

          Indeed I recall that when the EB guy came around to sell us the thing in 1980 he was also offering an extra version at a discounted price for if we had any little kids.

          Like

        • wllm says:

          I’m lost. 1934 EB?

          ,Wil

          Like

  6. wllm says:

    Thanks! I fixed it.

    A lot of stuff is getting shuffled around on Offwiki in preparation for 2.0. I’ve been working on the new server, and things are looking great. Excuse our dust in the meantime.

    ,Wil

    Like

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