Wikipedia infighting: Why is this a surprise?

Uh-oh. Another scandal at Wikipedia. The Register lays out the evidence, and reports the angry reaction:

... Many longtime editors are up-in-arms. And the site's top administrators seem more concerned with petty site politics than with building a trustworthy encyclopedia. "The problem with Wikipedia is that, for so many in the project, it's no longer about the encyclopedia," Martin wrote in a recent blog post. "The problem is that Wikipedia's community has defined itself not in terms of the encyclopedia it is supposedly producing, but instead of the people it venerates and the people it abhors."

Bizarre behavior. A secret, elite mailing list. Retribution against other members for minor infractions. Claims and counterclaims.

And people are surprised?

C'mon! It's an online community made up of (mostly) anonymous contributors, centered around vetting other anonymous users' contributions. Sometimes you'll get polite parlor debates, but most of the time, members will get worked up about something and start tearing each other apart. I mean, check out the talk page for clostridium difficile. It should feature a serious, wonky discussion about this obscure species of bacteria, and related research and treatment options. Instead, it's descended into a toxic morass of personal attacks, nitpicking over the French vs. Latin pronunciations, and reference to an alleged terrorist attack.

Environments like this breed situations in which feelings get hurt, starting a cascade of negative actions. It's practically inevitable that members will create alliances, backstab former friends, throw tantrums, and override others just to get revenge -- or just to have some fun.

This is the reality of online communities, folks. It's not nice, but it's the way the Web works.

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