The Pretender part III: Wilding v Wikipedia

There's a wild war waging on Wikipedia

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Hi,

Anna Wilding is one of my favourite people. Her twitter is a constant source of “wtf” and it seems like everyone in film and television in New Zealand has encountered her at some point.

(Please don’t @ her, I want to avoid her lawyer).

Okay.

The best description I can come up with is that she is a pretender — a very good one, who for the last few decades has been building a narrative around her that’s distorted reality to its very core.

Overall, it’s harmless — but it’s her manipulation of the media that’s both fascinating and slightly terrifying. As are the legal threats she sends out via her lawyers. Wilding is a case study of how to game the news media to get what you want. In her case, White House press credentials. You can watch her at a press briefing here.

How did she end up at the White House? It seems like there were two key things: Anna’s role as a “contributor” to the Huffington Post, and as a correspondent for Herald de Paris. Both lend an air of credibility, but her Huffington Post “work” was a part of their unmoderated and unpaid public blog, which had over 100,000 contributors at its peak, and Herald de Paris (the website is gone now; it now links to a Twitter account) was little more than a blog created by her husband James Sved.

(It’s difficult to tell what role Sved plays in her storytelling, but he appears in some of Wilding’s press releases over the years, including this one: Celebrity Wedding Planned for Christchurch. It details the couple’s upcoming wedding, and it reads a little like a royal wedding is about to occur).

With her Huffington Post articles she presented herself as a genuine political correspondent. And her involvement with Herald de Paris provided her with both journalistic bylines and an outlet for self-promotion — and she was frequently interviewed and written about in the “newspaper”.

She then uses these positions and articles as a launching pad to be interviewed by various New Zealand publications, which then leads to TV interviews. From there, she found it easier to get interviewed about other things, as each reference and media appearance made her stories seem more legit. Her presence bigger. When the media doesn’t take the bait, she lashes out: “@nzstuff so you cover a story on a MALE kiwi photographer (who was not even in DC when i was at white house so who even knows if he’s for real) & yet not an accalimed female Presidential Obama photographer with multiple exhibits & published worldwide…

I detailed all this extensively in The Pretender: Part I and The Pretender: Part II.

Now she’s got a new battle on her hands: her Wikipedia page.


Wilding takes on Wikipedia

Wikipedia has been Anna Wilding’s pride and joy — a catalogue of all her stories under the one roof. It legitimises her version of reality. It’s her best self, her history and her fiction.

It looks relatively legit, but behind the scenes — it’s been a war zone. And this week, the pot boiled over. I got a hint something was awry when Anna started tweeting angrily about it.

When the Herald de Paris (remember, it’s not a newspaper — it’s just Anna and her husband) swung into action, I knew things were getting serious.

When I first wrote about Wilding and questioned the authenticity of her claims, she sent me a variety of legal threats. That’s all in The Pretender: Part I.

This week, she decided to do the same to those trying to clean up her Wikipedia page. One of them got in touch with me:

“Turns out Anna has personally contacted another editor and their family, sent them a cease and desist letter, and called the police. This is turning into such a huge mess, but I absolutely saw this coming. I don't want you to become a target of hers…”

The problem is that many of the facts on her Wikipedia page were anecdotal, with no sources. The golden rule of Wikipedia is that any claim needs to be backed up by a reliable independent source.

Now I’m no Wikipedia expert, but was curious about what was happening behind the scenes. So I got in touch with several of the editors, to see what the hell was going on. Two of them agreed to talk, but anonymously. They were both concerned about Wilding’s legal threats.

“As someone with an interest in local documentaries I was surprised I had never heard of her ‘award-winning film’. I tried to watch it but it turned out to be unwatchable. The wildest part [of her Wikipedia page] was her comedy career performing at a fairly well-known comedy venue in California. I cross-referenced the dates and discovered her entire comedy career was at an open-mic night in the venue’s side room.”

(You can watch Anna’s set on one of her YouTube channels.)

But as editors tried to clean up the page, other editors were pushing back. I’ve been told they “all share Wilding’s idiosyncratic writing style” — so you can probably guess what’s going on there.

But the mystery deepens. “There is a Wikipedia administrator named Roger Bamkin who went into bat for her and reverted early attempts fix the misinformation. I’m not sure why exactly,” one editor told me.

But they have a hunch.

Roger and I have both been involved in a project called Women In Red, which is aimed at fixing the gender imbalance in Wikipedia biographies. Some of the imbalance is a reflection of the imbalance in the wider media, and some as a result of the biases of the Wikipedia editors, who are predominantly men. The project has been particularly successful with biographies of female New Zealand artists and professors. Wilding’s complaints were framed with accusations of sexism and erasing women’s work, so he may have taken these at face value.


Battle lines are drawn.

And it turns out this battle over the truth isn’t new: it’s been raging for nearly 15 years.

I got ahold of the “talk page” from her original Wikipedia page from 2007 — a place where the editors discuss the article as they research and edit. Here’s an example from behind-the-scenes of Wilding’s page — you can see one editor trying to figure out if Anna Wilding is a “film actress”.

You can probably guess who the orange text is.

From there, things got increasingly unhinged. One of the editors (in grey) questioned whether Anna should be categorised as an “actor” for appearing in her own documentary, Buddha Wild: Monk in a Hut.

The blue text has some strong opinions on that.

It ended in a lot of CAPSLOCK shouting, which is classic Wilding.

So this current 2021 edit war isn’t new — it’s just the same battle, waged on Anna’s more recent Wikipedia page. New page, same story:

Every time an editor has tried to clean up the article and remove information, or the times it was nominated for deletion, it has also led to the editors (maybe all the same person) then edit warring or issuing legal threats see user Real 77 threat 1 and threat 2, IP 24.189.29.208 threat and the latest threat is from IP 66.75.9.68.

I spoke to one of the current editors caught in the crossfire, to find out what they made of it all.


Wilding vs Wikipedia: 2021

What did you find unusual about Anna Wilding’s page?

At first, nothing! I even voted for the article to be kept at first, which I realise is bad of me — in that I didn’t do my full homework on it. It wasn’t until it was pointed out to me that one of the things I had thought helped her notability, in her having a National Exhibition, wasn’t true.

After that, I went through more and more of the claims and found they either weren’t in the article referenced, they had been embellished, or they were claimed in Anna Wilding’s own words with things like press releases.

One thing I can’t quite get my head around is why it’s been up for so long, just full of the maddest claims. Is it just her doing this, or does she have help?

It’s probably a bit of an indictment on Wikipedia but then there is also (as of right now) 6,237,445 articles on just the English version of Wikipedia. That doesn’t even count all the extra pages that are boards where you report stuff, gain consensus on things, and all the different projects.

So sometimes it takes someone to notice for anything to happen — and in this case it was actually someone vandalising the page that helped it get noticed. You have to see that the article appeared well written, was referenced and from a glance, there was nothing wrong. It took much more to get through the fluff to realise there was something happening here.

I see you noted some editors have been adding a lot of information and either it is completely unsourced, a source is used that is unreliable or is one of Wilding’s own press releases. What stood out to you in particular?

Well for being unsourced, the amazing one was the music videos she’d allegedly done for Rolling Stones, UB40 and Lenny Kravitz.

Like if you had done that, there would be sources somewhere. People even like to claim that because it was long ago, there isn’t anything online — but really a lot of libraries are scanning old newspapers and so forth and putting them online. There are web archives that save pages that go offline. Something like that would have a source. But I couldn’t find anything.

The other one that was interesting was that she played the first battered women on NZ TV, on Shortland Street. That was referenced by her own press release which isn’t allowed really for stuff on Wikipedia. But not only that — when I looked deeper, I couldn’t even find her as being on the show. 

What was also really funny is I came across this article from the NZ Herald. It talks about a family court case she was having in Christchurch, where they had written a little blurb about her where it says “who is said to have appeared in Shortland Street”.

Not only must she have mentioned it to the interviewer, but after the article was published she went out of her way to get a note added to it again making it clear that she was apparently on the show — and was the first to play a battered wife on New Zealand TV. That is some commitment there!

I notice that every time an editor has tried to clean up the article, or it was nominated for deletion, it has also led to legal threats - like with Real77 and an IP 24.189.29.208 - and the latest today is from IP: 66.75.9.68. Is this Wilding? Or a Wilding ally? Any ideas? Is this weird to you?!

Honestly, I don’t know! My guess, which hopefully won’t get me into trouble when she reads this — and I am just guessing here — is that it will be her, or someone related to her.

It’s just the writing is always so similar with each editor that comes along, they are all new editors that only just appear around her article or the discussions.

And what is written appears to match how she seems to write on Twitter when she gets fired up.

But yeah, it could also just be people that really like her and think we are being mean and picking on her, who don’t understand how Wikipedia works but — like myself — are completely unrelated to Anna.

A very noncommittal answer I know. 

Is this common on Wikipedia? Like — how many Wildings are out there?

Yeah, unfortunately it is — and there will always be people that try. There is a market out there of people that ask for money to create articles for people. Then there is a lot of people out there that think having a page is a good thing, that Wikipedia means advertising. What some people don’t realise and like with Anna Wilding, sometime having an article about yourself isn’t necessarily a good thing.

With the Anna Wilding article, not only are some of the people I’m editing against wanting to put their stuff back in, they have been trying to take out my edits where I have put information in regarding some lawsuits she’s been in.

So yeah, if people end up with an article — and something they’ve done is then published in a reliable source — it can go on Wikipedia.

But there will always be people that will try to get an article on themselves, or their business or team. But there is also a whole lot of editors on Wikipedia that try to make sure they don’t, so it will be an ongoing battle.

What is your takeaway from all this. Will this wildness ever end? And does this speak to a bigger issue at Wiki where bullshit can fly — and be supported by other editors — for over a decade now?

Wikipedia is a wonderful source but because it’s managed by people, it’s fallible. As I said before, you can’t get too caught up in it and even sometimes you lose when you still think you are right.

Overall, you have to remember things aren’t normally going to be solved straight away — apart from blatant vandalism — and it can take time to get to the right place. It may be going on 14 years with her article, but it hasn’t been up for 14 years, and hasn’t always made all those claims. Hopefully one day it will get to a balanced state.


In many respects, Anna Wilding provides a cautionary tale about Wikipedia.

The website and the culture that makes it great is also deeply flawed. Its reality is not written in stone, so it can take years to land on the truth. Bad actors make that job a difficult one, with 6,237,445 articles and counting. I mean, who’s to say that anything on my own Wikipedia page is accurate?

For now, Anna Wilding’s Wikipedia war still rages — a war over reality itself. Right now, reality appears to be winning — as other (real) aspects of her life make their way in:

Who will win? Truth or fiction? Like all good battles, it’s a little hard to predict. But Wilding usually has a wildcard up her sleeve — and things are no different here.

This month, she created her own Wikipedia competitor page: annawildingwikipedia.com.

It’s her last fully “positive” Wikipedia iteration, copy-and-pasted onto a website. A truly wild move.

David.

PS I am curious if you’ve ever stumbled on weird disinformation on Wikipedia. Sound off in the comments below if you have…