[Foundation-l] How much of Wikipedia is vandalized? 0.4% of Articles

Robert Rohde rarohde at gmail.com
Thu Aug 20 10:06:06 UTC 2009

I am supposed to be taking a wiki-vacation to finish my PhD thesis and
find a job for next year.  However, this afternoon I decided to take a
break and consider an interesting question recently suggested to me by
someone else:

When one downloads a dump file, what percentage of the pages are
actually in a vandalized state?

This is equivalent to asking, if one chooses a random page from
Wikipedia right now, what is the probability of receiving a vandalized

Understanding what fraction of Wikipedia is vandalized at any given
instant is obviously of both practical and public relations interest.
In addition it bears on the motivation for certain development
projects like flagged revisions.  So, I decided to generate a rough

For the purposes of making an estimate I used the main namespace of
the English Wikipedia and adopted the following operational
approximations:  I considered that "vandalism" is that thing which
gets reverted, and that "reverts" are those edits tagged with "revert,
rv, undo, undid, etc." in the edit summary line.  Obviously, not all
vandalism is cleanly reverted, and not all reverts are cleanly tagged.
 In addition, some things flagged as reverts aren't really addressing
what we would conventionally consider to be vandalism.  Such caveats
notwithstanding, I have had some reasonable success with using a
revert heuristic in the past.  With the right keywords one can easily
catch the standardized comments created by admin rollback, the undo
function, the revert bots, various editing tools, and commonly used
phrases like "rv", "rvv", etc.  It won't be perfect, but it is a quick
way of getting an automated estimate.  I would usually expect the
answer I get in this way to be correct within an order of magnitude,
and perhaps within a factor of a few, though it is still just a crude

I analyzed the edit history up to the mid-June dump for a sample
29,999 main namespace pages (sampling from everything in main
including redirects).  This included 1,333,829 edits, from which I
identified 102,926 episodes of reverted "vandalism".  As a further
approximation, I assumed that whenever a revert occurred, it applied
to the immediately preceding edit and any additional consecutive
changes by the same editor (this is how admin rollback operates, but
is not necessarily true of tools like undo).

With those assumptions, I then used the timestamps on my identified
intervals of vandalism to figure out how much time each page had spent
in a vandalized state.  Over the entire history of Wikipedia, this
sample of pages was vandalized during 0.28% of its existence.  Or,
more relevantly, focusing on just this year vandalism was present
0.21% of the time, which suggests that one should expect 0.21% of
mainspace pages in any recent enwiki dump will be in a vandalized
state (i.e. 1 in 480).

(Note that since redirects represent 55% of the main namespace and are
rarely vandalized, one could argue that 0.37% [1 in 270] would be a
better estimate for the portion of actual articles that are in a
vandalized condition at any given moment.)

I also took a look at the time distribution of vandalism.  Not
surprisingly, it has a very long tail.  The median time to revert over
the entire history is 6.7 minutes, but the mean time to revert is 18.2
hours, and my sample included one revert going back 45 months (though
examples of such very long lags also imply the page had gone years
without any edits, which would imply an obscure topic that was also
almost never visited).  In the recent period these factors becomes 5.2
minutes and 14.4 hours for the median and mean respectively.  The
observation that nearly 50% of reverts are occurring in 5 minutes or
less is a testament to the efficient work of recent changes reviewers
and watchlists.

Unfortunately the 5% of vandalism that persists longer than 35 hours
is responsible for 90% of the actual vandalism a visitor is likely to
encounter at random.  Hence, as one might guess, it is the vandalism
that slips through and persists the longest that has the largest
practical effect.

It is also worth noting that the prevalence figures for February-May
of this year are slightly lower than at any time since 2006.  There is
also a drop in the mean duration of vandalism coupled to a slight
increase in the median duration.  However, these effects mostly
disappear if we limit our considerations to only vandalism events
lasting 1 month or shorter.  Hence those changes may be in significant
part linked to cut-off biasing from longer-term vandalism events that
have yet to be identified.  The ambiguity in the change from earlier
in the year is somewhat surprising as the AbuseFilter was launched in
March and was intended to decrease the burden of vandalism.  One might
speculate that the simple vandalism amenable to the AbuseFilter was
already being addressed quickly in nearly all cases and hence its
impact on the persistence of vandalism may already have been fairly

I've posted some summary data on the wiki at:


Given the nature of the approximations I made in doing this analysis I
suspect it is more likely that I have somewhat underestimated the
vandalism problem rather than overestimated it, but as I said in the
beginning I'd like to believe I am in the right ballpark.  If that's
true, I personally think that having less than 0.5% of Wikipedia be
vandalized at any given instant is actually rather comforting.  It's
not a perfect number, but it would suggest that nearly everyone still
gets to see Wikipedia as intended rather than in a vandalized state.
(Though to be fair I didn't try to figure out if the vandalism
occurred in more frequently visited parts or not.)

Unfortunately, that's it for now as I need to get back to my thesis /
job search.

-Robert Rohde

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