"Anonymous calling": The WikiScanner scandals and anonymity on the Japanese Wikipedia
First Monday

Anonymous calling: The WikiScanner scandals and anonymity on the Japanese Wikipedia by Omri Reis

The Wikiscanner tool, which traced the origin of edits on Wikipedia, stirred media scandals throughout the world. Relying on a “trace ethnography” method, following the discussion on Wikipedia articles, this article deals with the Japanese edition reaction to the scandals. I argue that this reaction represents a unique form of online publicity that facilitates anonymous normative discussion. In addition, by contextualizing the reaction to the historical and cultural conditions of the Japanese Web, the article contends that Wikipedia enables a rare model of anonymous public debate which bridges earlier Japanese conceptions of anonymity and publicity.


Introduction: The Wikiscanner turmoil
Anonymity and Japanese Web culture
Wikipedia and news
Japanese media reaction
Wikipedia ethics and trace ethnography
Wikiscanner articles meta-discussions
Conclusion: A New form of publicity?



Introduction: The Wikiscanner turmoil


“Wikipedia editing“Wikipedia shūsei
A special callingtokumei de
for the anonymous”tokumei”
Public official, (Himiko, Tama) [1]


This senryū (short poem), published anonymously in the Asahi Shimbun morning edition on 11 September 2007 is a sharp, darkly humorous commentary on what has come to be known as the “Wikiscanner turmoil”: a 2007 series of scandals that revealed Wikipedia articles editors’ identities and stirred controversy in the Japanese media. The poem cleverly relies on a simple wordplay: tokumei (特命), indicating a special “mission” or “calling,” is associated in Japanese discourse mainly with public, and specifically government appointments. Conversely, tokumei (匿名), meaning anonymous, is often associated with Web users online privacy and considered an essential feature of Japanese Web culture. Further clues for the author’s motives and intentions are provided in the byline. First, Himiko, the part historical, part mythical shaman queen of ancient Japan, and then Tama — a place name. In the traditional syllable structure of 5–7–5, the poem juxtaposes the ultimate “public” and &dquo;private” cultural representations, all the while contextualizing its commentary to the issue of anonymity in the cultural and historical realm of Japan.

Wikiscanner, the brainchild of Internet and software researcher Virgil Griffith, was a database that enabled users to track the institutional origin of Wikipedia edits. The database contained blocks of IP addresses along with their institutional affiliations. By downloading the full Wikipedia database, Griffith was able to collect the metadata associated with millions of anonymous edits on various language versions of Wikipedia including the English, Japanese, German and French ones. Then, using the publicly available ip2location database, He connected 2,668,095 organizations to their respective IP addresses. Crossing the data, Virgil found that 21,021 Japanese organizations made almost six million “anonymous” edits on the site [2]. Wikiscanner aimed to “free Wikipedia from both propaganda and sabotage” and Griffith also sought entertainment for himself by creating “minor PR disasters for companies [he] disliked” [3].

Wikiscanner wreaked havoc in the U.S. media. Wired encouraged readers to find interesting Wikipedia “spin jobs” and comedian Steven Colbert dedicated a long monologue to Griffith’s revelations. Among the thousands of exposés were New York Times’ vandalism of the article about George W. Bush, or Pepsi’s deletion of a section on the long time health effects of their beverages. Wikipedia anonymity, Colbert sarcastically remarked, should be protected for the sake of democracy, just as the classic, nameless ballot [4]. Preceding the Wikiscanner events, edits by U.S. Congressional staffers of political biographies on the site in 2006, were evaluated in another study as a critical event which facilitated “protracted debates” on the ethics and guidelines of editing articles [5].

On the other hand, Wikiscanner’s impact on the Japanese media landscape was ambivalent. Japan’s printed media dedicated some attention to government ministries reactions and followed up with possible ramifications for Wikipedia’s popularity or Web users’ awareness of privacy. Japan’s Wikipedia community, on the other hand, focused on the edits’ content itself, judging them by the community’s ethical standards, which yielded little controversy. Relying on these different reactions, I argue that the Japanese reaction is largely the product of a Web culture less susceptible to issues of identification or naming. Stemming from socio- historical circumstances, the Japanese reaction to the Wikiscanner incidents can also shed light on the prospects of a “good faith collaboration” (Reagle, 2010) to thrive in the context of Japan’s online communities. Finally, the case also presents a possible solution to the continuous problem of engagement and participation by Japanese news consumers.



Anonymity and Japanese Web culture

Anonymity has had a long tradition in Japanese history. In ancient and medieval Japan, waka poets signed some of their work as yomihitoshirazu (よみ人しらず, literally “unbeknownst to the reader”). In modern Japanese literary tradition, the “I novel” form, popularized by novelists as Dazai Osamu or Mishima Yukiō, featured fictional autobiographies loosely based on the novelists’ experiences. In Japanese journalism, the custom of shomei kiji (by-lined articles) was relatively scarce until recent years, and newspaper articles usually bore only the newspaper’s brand name. According to New York Times Japan Bureau Chief Martin Fackler, journalists in Japan still use anonymous quotes along the lines of “it is believed that ...” or “someone close to the person have stated” without articulating the quote’s source, even in cases where anonymity is not warranted, for safety reasons or otherwise [6]. Supporting these practices are also Japanese grammatical conditions, which enable elaborate ways to obscure sources of information — from pronouns with no name referents to fixed sentence patterns indicating hearsay.

Since the introduction of Internet technology to Japan, anonymity was discussed as an essential feature of Japanese digital culture. Japanese journalist Toshinao Sasaki claims the Japanese online public sphere originated in the late 1990s from anonymous digital billboards such as the infamous nichanneru (2channel). The prevailing atmosphere in these environments was cynical and escapist, with frequent occurrences of Internet “trolling”, copyright infringements and other forms of abuse. According to Sasaki, the resulting “unfortunate” reality of the Japanese Web was that of embedded non-cooperation and suspicion, manifested in heated debates and ill intentioned “mind games”. In the following years, nichanneru culture became predominant and influential, penetrating almost every facet of online activity in Japan [7].

Web critic and entrepreneur Nobuo Kawakami identifies four distinct qualities representing digital culture in Japan: A clear separation of the virtual and actual worlds (riajū リア充 and hiriajū 非リア充), “flaming” mechanisms (enjō 炎上), sharing culture (or “copy”. コピー) and “profit hatred” (kenmō 嫌儲). Kawakami paints a picture of idealized, isolated communities of “netizens” (netto jūmin ネット住民) existing separately from the “actual world” (in itself a community-based constructed notion). In order to lead this type of existence, netizens adopted alternative identities, and fiercely resisted any association with the world outside the Web. While today’s social media promotes identities as extensions, or representations of real-life individuals, early Japanese Web environments fostered a culture of fictional identities — veiled personas bearing nicknames at best [8].

In another study, Nozawa Shunsuke shows how users on the Japanese video sharing Web site NicoNico use elaborate forms of camouflage to hide their face and body in streaming videos creating a distinct, popular genre of masked personas. Similarly, he shows how anonymous billboards such as nichanneru, encourage the use of disposable nicknames (sutehan) as a default choice for the majority of commentators. This “counter-name” tendency, allows users to alternate their identity in each conversation, achieving even more opacity. The purpose of all these material and non-material techniques of camouflage however, is not to conceal the messenger’s identity but to make identity itself completely irrelevant. Echoing Nozawa’s assertion, nichanneru’s creator Nobuyuki Matsumura also claims online anonymity is meant to divert attention to messages’ content, rather then producers’ identity:

“If there is a user ID attached to a user, discussion tends to become a criticizing game. On the other hand, under an anonymous system, even though your opinion/information is criticized, you don’t know with whom to be upset. Also, with a user ID, those who participate in the site for a long time end to have authority, and it becomes difficult for a user to disagree with them. Under a perfectly anonymous system, you can say ‘it’s boring’, if it is actually boring. All information is treated equally; only an accurate argument will work.” [9]

Speaking of the history of the Web in Japan, critic and “net worker” Barubora (who publishes under this pen name) emphasizes the generational and cultural gap between the U.S and Japan regarding the development of Internet technology and its intended social function. Barubora identifies three social movements that facilitated the Web’s development in the U.S.: Hippie culture, the DIY (Do It Yourself) movement and the Hacker movement. These movements, emerging in the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s aimed to topple conservative institutions, create a diverse, tolerant society and improve lifestyles through technology. In contrast, the majority of online activity in recession-struck, 1990s Japan, was driven by jobless, bored youth or NEET (No Employment, Education or Training). Unlike their American counterparts, Japanese youngsters used the Web to vent their frustration and escape a deteriorating economy and disintegrating traditional values or communities. In America, the early 1990s promised a new age of American hegemony and liberalism, while in Japan the same period was associated with a fall from grace, stagnation and decadence [10].

American, or Western digital culture, on the other hand, has been described in quite different terms. Envisioned mainly by entrepreneurs born in the 1960s, the Internet was idealized as a tool that promotes cooperation and intended, in the long run, to advance and better human society. A famous example is Yochai Benkler’s book The wealth of networks, which coined the phrase “peer-based social production”. Since the marginal cost of information reproduction in the digital age was close to zero, Benkler concluded that the Web would usher in a new era of non-profit information production done by the many, for the many (Benkler, 2006). Dan Gillmor applied a similar wisdom to journalism in We the media, claiming journalists should better their reporting by opening it up as much as possible to feedback from readers (Gillmor, 2006). Following on the same notion, the English edition of Wikipedia has been described as nurturing a culture of “good-faith collaboration” (Reagle, 2010), with the site’s basic guideline entitled “assume good faith” (WP:AGF [11]) set as the founding attitude propelling its development (Reagle, 2010).

Japanese online behavior corroborates the assertions of the previously mentioned commentators. Surveys show that Japanese news consumers are the least likely to engage with or comment on mainstream news content [12]. A government study found that over 75 percent of Twitter accounts in Japan use fictional names, far more than the corresponding number in the U.S. (35 percent) or France (45 percent) for example [13]. The Japanese edition of Wikipedia is the second most-viewed in the world, but its ratio of edits by unregistered, anonymous editors is the highest (37 percent overall) in comparison to the English Wikipedia (29 percent), the German edition (19 percent) or the French edition (17 percent) [14].



Wikipedia and news

As many scholars observed, coverage on mainstream media channels usually brings to a surge in traffic to Wikipedia articles related to news (Lih, 2004; Keegan, et al., 2011). The same phenomenon is easily observable in the Japanese version: The article on Economy Minister Amari Akira for example got 202 views on 19 January 2016, but on the next day, with news reports on his resignation, the article enjoyed 7,874 views [15]. The statistic entitled “Zeitgeist”, which follows the most edited articles for each month, similarly exemplifies the same phenomenon. The sinking of the MV Sewol, for example, was the most edited article in April 2014 (the month of the incident), and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) was the most edited article on February 2014, when Japanese journalist Kenji Goto was executed by the group [16]. While accurate statistics for page views prior to December 2007 are not available, the meta-discussion on the articles’ development corresponded with news reports mentioning the same articles.



Japanese media reaction

Treatment of the Wikiscanner scandals in the Japanese media was characterized by fascination with Griffith’s invention mixed with fear and anxiety in relation to the dangers and loss of privacy in Wikipedia editing. On 8 September 2007, Asahi Shimbun first broke the story on its front page. An article detailed the technicalities of editing Wikipedia and even provided an infographic illustrating various functions that Wikipedia offers. According to the report, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (Kōrō-shō) had made about 100 edits, including ones made to the article on Democratic Party parliament member Nagatsuma Akira, also known by his nickname “Mr. Pension”. Other edits were made to articles regarding the imperial mausoleums (tennōryō) by the Imperial Household Agency, and to an article on Japan’s Immigration Bureau. Interviewed by Asahi, Japanese Lawyer Okamura Hisamichi estimated the revelations would deal a significant blow to the illusion of online anonymity [17].

A follow-up story on 3 October dealt with the ministries reactions to the scandals and elaborated again on the danger to users privacy. The article featured a screen shot of Wikipedia’s history of edits to exemplify how every action is recorded and registered. In addition, two experts quoted in the piece commented on the scandal’s possible outcomes: Toshinao Sasaki said that with the emergence of Wikipedia, ministries become equal in speech to individuals, while journalism professor Utada Akihiro believed the scandals will deter people from editing and eventually damage participation on the site [18].

Yomiuri Shimbun published its first Wikiscanner story on 11 September 2007. The short article focused on the ministries’ reaction to Asahi’s revelations detailing that the Imperial Household Agency “reprimanded” the editors and that other ministries set their systems so that access to Wikipedia was no longer possible. Similarly, Mainichi Shimbun published a single story on the same day touching on the same issues [19].



Wikipedia ethics and trace ethnography

What did the “public” of Wikipedia editors make of the Wikiscanner scandals? Did the origin of the edits facilitate a discussion on ethics, or on the meaning of anonymity, and if so, what were the discussion’s outcomes? Geiger and Ribes (2011) suggested a method of “trace ethnography” for studying the Wikipedia community. Trace ethnography utilizes the wealth of data left in Wikipedia’s logs, history of edits and discussion pages in order to construct patterns, practices and other modes of activity on the site. Hence, through the revisions, and the meta-discussion on articles associated with the Wikiscanner scandal, we might also find clues as to how did the revelations affected editors, and the community as a whole. Did the identity of editors matter to the Wikipedia community? And also, how does the perception of anonymity, or the ethics regarding anonymity changed, if at all, as a result?

While Wikipedians do not use their real names in most cases, the term “anonymity” might be misleading, since anonymity is “typified” [20] into categories. Editing articles necessitates providing certain information about the editor in any case. Roughly, Wikipedia editors can be divided into two groups: the IP editors and the pseudonymous editors. When an edit is made to any article in the site, either the editor’s IP address, or his chosen alias is recorded and registered into the specific article history. Thus, editors face an interesting dilemma: providing an IP address would provide clues regarding their actual location or institutional affiliation, while using an alias enables others to view information regarding their editing history, or profile. This, consequently, reflects on their reputation and credibility as editors and promotes their persona within the Wikipedia community.

The first feature to stand out in Wikipedia’s reaction to the scandal was coordination. Following the scandals, the Japanese Wikipedia authored a Wikipedia community page dealing with the tool’s possible effects on the community. The page explains that Wikiscanner is a database that connects contributions from “anonymous”, or “IP users” to their IP location. It states that only information that is published on Wikipedia can be traced and that registered users information is in any case, protected from Wikiscanner. The community page assessed that Wikiscanner might reduce “trolling” activities on the site, deter government personnel from further editing and encourage more editors to register a username [21].

A community page addresses a different “public” (the Wikipedia community). One that is highly aware of the set of ethics and guidelines governing Wikipedia writing. Therefore, unlike the mainstream media or the government ministries, Wikipedians were concerned of issues regarding the site’s development and reliability. As a community, Wikipedians first collaborated on assembling a list of articles that might have been influenced by solicited, or biased editing. Later, discussions in these articles “talk” pages, assessed the “scandalous” contributions and judged whether to include or revise them. Yet, unlike the media, or the government ministries, identity issues had little, or no impact on the decisions. Additionally, the community used the scandals to emphasize its ethical process, and distinguish itself from other anonymous environments.

Online anonymity is discussed mainly in relation to the production and management of online identities that are placed within a specific context [22]. While subjects of Wikipedia articles are in many cases real-life individuals, the labor associated with the creation of online personas is usually derived from a mass of anonymous contributors. Two problems arise in that respect: First, what happens when “real” identities and anonymous ones collide? And second, what community ethics govern the anonymous production of online representations?

First, Wikipedia’s policy regarding “Biographies of Living Persons” (WP:BLP) indicates that “particular care” must be applied when writing of living individuals. This includes adhering to Wikipedia’s core policies as Neutral Point of View (WP:NPOV), No Original Research (WP:NOR) and Verifiability (WP:V).

Technically speaking, editing Wikipedia through the use of multiple accounts and identities is referred to as “sock puppetry” by the community and constitutes a violation of Wikipedia’s conduct policies (WP:SOCK). Also, editing through an “open” or “anonymous” proxy (a tool which masks the editor IP address or produces a fake one), or an anonymous Web browser like Tor is generally prohibited (WP:NOP). These policies are aimed at making sure that any edit is either associated with a clear track record and reputation, or an authentic IP address. Adhering to these policies, any editor cultivates awareness regarding the visibility of his revisions, and the accountability his actions withhold.

Wikipedia policies and guidelines strictly prohibit paid editing or solicited content production. The Behavioral guideline entitled “Conflict of Interest” (WP:COI) states that a conflicts of interest do not necessarily produce bias in writing about “yourself, family, friends, clients or employers”, yet, the action is “strongly discouraged” since it “undermines public confidence in Wikipedia”. Moreover, from the editor’s point of view, an edit involving COI might trigger “public embarrassment” in case the editor’s identity is exposed.

Anonymous quotes or citations are also strictly prohibited. The guideline “avoid weasel words” (WP:AWW) warns of the danger in using ambiguous phrases as “some argue” or “critics say”. The guideline is an elaboration on Wikipedia’s verifiability policy (WP:V), which stresses citing accurate, reliable information and publications when making an argument. A similar tendency (though not a written ethic) can be found in 2channeru custom to open threads (conversations) with an accurate and reliable line to the source. The English “source” (sōsu) actually became an indispensible part of the site’s lingo.



Wikiscanner articles meta-discussions

The Wikiscanner scandals facilitated debate on the talk pages of the ostensibly manipulated articles. Differently from the mainstream media, sensational tabloids or anonymous online billboards however, Wikipedians applied caution and rational debate when discussing the edits. As the following examples illustrate, Wikipedians were unimpressed by issues of editor’s identity or origin, and instead utilized ethical standards and guidelines in their discussion. While Wikipedia is often mentioned in the context of a “wisdom of crowds” type of content production, the notion is usually used from a technical point of view. Aggregation of information, decentralized mechanism, diversity and independence make “crowds” worthy of decision-making (Surowiecki, 2004). Crowds, therefore, need to be controled and regulated carfully to bring about useful, or beneficial information. Furthermore, the “crowd” has a bogus, unstable and pollitically incorrect image. The notion according to which it is quite impossible to predict, or trust crowd dynamics is firmly rooted since Gustave Le Bon first spoke about crowds in the nineteenth century (Mazzarella, 2010). It’s it my intention to at least try and speak of Wikipedians as a normative crowd: a crowd that utilizes anonimity for the sake of relegating idenitity and enhancing an ethical discussion.

Moving to concrete examples, the article on House of Representatives member Ōmura Hideaki, revised from an internal Parliament computer, gathered attention following the scandals. The suspicious edits added praise on Ōmura’s improvement of Japan’s social security system. Consequently, the IP address was blocked, but users wished to include commentary on the attempted edits themselves on Ōmura’s article. An anonymous IP user promptly rejected the suggestions:

“First of all, do you know why was the lower house internal computer used? Please clarify the reason. Second, since we can’t know for sure these edits were made by Ōmura sensei himself, including it in his article is redundant”
(IP user, 13 August 2012) [23]

Another article the media reported in a sensational manner was the article on the imperial burial-mounds of Japan (tennōryō). One reverted edit claimed archeological excavation on the site is prohibited since it might provide evidence on the Korean, or Chinese origin of the imperial family. The revision, coming from an IP traced to the Imperial Household Agency, stated the ban is due to the sacredness of the place, and the claim is an “urban legend”. Here too, Wikipedia editors were supportive of the revision due to its ethical value, and ignored identity or conflict of interest issues. One exemplary comment stated that:

“Editing from a government ministry computer is not a violation of Wikipedia’s guidelines. It might be a ministry guidelines’ violation if it’s done within working hours. Stating that ‘there is a view’ according to which the imperial household is afraid of uprooting the foundations of the system is a ‘weasel’ argument and in violation of the NPOV guideline. Please read Wikipedia’s editing policy again. If there is evidence to this claim — the editor should cite it meticulously. It is fine for an expert to think differently from the Imperial Household agency — but they have to cite evidence. We welcome edits from the Imperial Household Agency but next time, it is better to hide your IP address and do it from a registered account”.
(IP User:, 11 September 2007)

Japanese tabloid Kami no Bakudan (paper bomb) published another story on edits made to the article about Yamatani Eriko, an aide to PM Shinzo Abe at the time. The tabloid calmed that sections on Yamatani’s alleged opposition for a system of separate family name households and funds she received from the Korean Unification Church were deleted from a parliament IP. Anonymous billboards like nichanneru also discussed the tabloid story, but the Wikipedia community refused to include the allegations on Yamatani’s article or the tabloid’s reports. The user RACE, explained:

“More than 20 edits came form an IP address associated with the parliament, and all the sections deleted were inconvenient information for minister Yamatani. However, Yamatani’s assistants said she does not even use a computer. Wikipedia is a community editing an encyclopedia and all of the above does not qualify as reliable information. Citing a credible source does not mean you can write whatever you want. Wikipedia is not a site for publishing original information! ... Besides, the citation relates to J-Cast, a site that resembles 2channeru or mixi and relies on flaming and sensationalism ... Circulation numbers do not mean reliability, and sufficient evidence [for Yamatani’s involvement] was not provided. This is not appropriate information for an encyclopedia.” User: RACE (April 2008)

Perhaps the article that received the most attention however, was the article on PM Nagatsumi Akira. A slanderous edit to the article about Nagatsumi claimed he is making his subordinates work hard in order to make money for himself. The edit was deleted but reports on mainstream media referred to it. Wikipedians had to decide whether it is possible to refer to mainstream media reports about the incident, and eventually decided against adding any related information. Here are exemplary comments:

“These edits were reverted not because they came from a ministry IP, but because of their content, which is not appropriate for an encyclopedia.” User: LOS688 (1 September 2007)

“The descriptions are libelous, abusive and relating to a living person. Any criticism must be accompanied by adequate citation” (User: Sakiyama Nobuo, 4 September 2007)

Of all government ministries, the Japanese Ministry of Welfare is responsible for most edits discovered on Wikiscanner. Of these 820 edits, some related to the adult game Nanatsuiro Drops. The talk page on the article debated whether to include reference to the incident in the article itself, and again, users took a stance against the addition:

“Do not include [this information]. Wikipedia prohibits self-reference in article writing. Besides, many public institutions edit Wikipedia articles — and that, in itself, has no meaning what so ever” User: Los688 (29 August 2007)

“This article is no trivia on knowledge of the game. I’m against publishing such information.” (User: Gumabinga, 29 August 2007)

“What will it mean other than that some public officials, and not the ministry as a whole, are unstable? This has nothing to do with the game. It would be better to think of what’s best for Wikipedia.” (IP User:, 30 August 2007) (Italics mine)

Out of 21,021 institutional edits found by Wikiscanner, Wikipedians assembled list included only 17 articles of public interest from the Japanese editing. Discussion pages on these articles did not grant much importance to the Wikiscanner revelations. Eventually, not even a single article from the list referred to the involvement of institutions in the edits made, and the talk pages dismissed any attempt to include issue of editor’s identity in the finished articles.



Conclusion: A new form of publicity?

The Wikipedia community reaction to the scandal shows how the Web site’s distinct perception of anonymity enables new modes of publicity in Japan. As Michael Warner claims, publics are imagined and intertextual; summoning a variety of images in accordance to the ideal strangers they bring to the fore. By virtue of being addressed on talk pages and other forums on the site, Wikipedians see themselves as a public, or community, but this online public is different then previous notions of anonymous publics in Japan. Wikipedia can better be described by the post-liberal notion of “multitude” (Hardt and Negri, 2004), where a collective is self-determined and collaborative — producing a body of knowledge according to its own terms.

Speaking about “The Public” in Japan, Kaori Hayashi shows how the term has been associated historically with the higher echelons of society. “The Public”, Hayashi claims, meant “the master”, and instead of resembling the European, plebian public, was associated with divine, all encompassing anonymity associated with the rulers. Hayashi cites thinkers as Maruyama Masao, Hanada Tetsuro and Mizubayashi Tekeshi — all in accord about the structural problem Japanese socio-historical conditions set for the emergence of a liberal public sphere. This sort of early-modern public relates to elitist public official or aristocracy, and is determined by appointment more than active participation. In our starting poem, this public would be imagined as the first tokumei (特命) rather than the second one [24].

The age of “crowds” and mass culture brought in a different type of anonymity. The pictures of the 1960s mass demonstrations, or enthusiastic shoppers symbolized a new, affluent democratic Japan boasting a liberal market and saturated mass media. Takaaki Yoshimoto called these imagined crowds “pseudo-publics” (giji taishū). Similarly to Walter Lippman’s “phantom-publics”, Yoshimoto claimed “publics” are not enabled by actual participation but by journalists’ “self-writing” (mizukara kaku). He lamented the limited access citizens had to information production at the time, and corporate control of mass media, which brought about a distorted image of publics [25]. At an epoch of broadcast media, press clubs and giant newspapers fueled by corporate money, Japanese sociologist Kazuko Tsurumi started her own seikatsu tsuzuru undō (life writing movement), which encouraged marginalized communities to document their own life, and produce records to better represent their own “publics” [26].

As mentioned earlier, Japanese Web culture, which emerged from anonymous online sites, did not seek a solution to the problem of false representation or mass media access and instead conceived of the Web as an escape or as a space of sui generis reality, irreducible to their own, imagined, “actual reality”. Hence, online anonymity, as tokumei (匿名) became synonymous with the alienated, abusive atmosphere of the Web. In contrast, Wikipedia, an American Web site with multiple language versions, propagates a culture of collaboration with core policies such as “neutral point of view”, “assume good faith” and “write for the enemy”. Japanese Wikipedians’ reactions to the Wikiscanner scandals shows that tokumei, in both senses, were indeed judged as one and the same.

In his book The birth of blog criticism, Toshinao Sasaki asserts the Wikiscanner scandals were a watershed event in the history of Japanese media because of their “flattening” effect. Evaluating government ministry edits as equal to pseudonymous users and IP users, Wikipedians were able to judge edits considered “Information manipulation” (jōhō sōsa) from “fair posting” (kōhei kakikomi) according to their origin. The involvement of government, corporations and other institutions in media manipulation became equal in magnitude to the crowds of Internet users [27].

Contrary to Utada Akihiro’s concern, Wikipedia’s popularity was not damaged at the scandals’ aftermath. The Japanese edition statistics show Wikipedia grew from 19,856 users in August 2008, to 92,665 in November 2015 [28]. Articles, users and edits on the site have steadily increased and at the time of writing this article, the Japanese edition has surpassed the million-article mark.

The Wikiscanner scandal and the reaction to it on the Japanese Wikipedia shows that anonymity, embedded in Japanese Web culture; can achieve its original intention articulated by nichanneru founder Nishimura Hiroyuki. Initially, users in Japan sought anonymity in order to lead an alternative, separate existence. As a result, virtual space in Japan featured abusive atmosphere facilitating the spread of ungrounded information, flaming dynamics and emotional debate. On the other hand, public officials and institutions enjoyed opacity by appointment: virtuous anonymity representing warranted state power. Discussions on Wikipedia regarding the scandals show that both images fail to describe Wikipedians’ perceptions of anonymity. The community rejected both abusive, ungrounded arguments of the nichanneru type, and appeals to authority by appointment from the opposite side. Instead, Wikipedians promoted a normative, ethical discourse, drawing attention only to the edits content and ignoring editors’ identity. For Wikipedians, this “anonymous calling” meant abolishing the early double standard applied to virtual and “real world” subjects and showing both can collaborate to produce reliable information. End of article


About the author

Omri Reis is a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies at the University of Tokyo. His fields of research include Japanese social media, advertising and online participation.
E-mail: omri [dot] reis [at] gmail [dot] com



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11. Citations of Wikipedia guidelines are used in this paper in their abbreviated form. For example: Disruptive Editing is WP:DE. These abbreviated guidelines and ethics are searchable on Wikipedia’s Web site.

12. Reuters Institute. “Digital news report 2015,” p. 82, at http://tinyurl.com/qbmtl8s, accessed 21 January 2016.

13. Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication. “Study into the impact on the society made by the progress of the ICT” (March 2014), at http://preview.tinyurl.com/gwzsfkk, accessed 20 January 2016.

14. See Alexa, “How popular is Wikipedia.org,” at http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/wikipedia.org, accessed 21 January 2016. For anonymous edits statistics see Wikimedia Statistics. “Wikipedia edit history,“ at http://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/PlotsPngEditHistoryTop.htm, accessed 21 January 2016.

15. Statistics obtained using the Wikimedia Foundation. “Wikipedia article traffic statistics,” at http://stats.grok.se/ja/201601/甘利明, accessed 30 January 2016.

16. Japanese Wikipedia statistics. “Zeitgeist,” at http://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/TablesWikipediaJA.htm#mostedited, accessed 30 January 2016.

17. Shintaro Kaji and Hitoshi Tanohata. “Wikipedia shōchō kara shūsei: kensaku sofuto de hansei (Ministries Wikipedia editing revealed by search software),” Asahi Shimbun (8 September 2007), morning edition, page 1.

18. Shintaro Kaji and Hitoshi Tanohata. “Wikipedia kansei no shūsei: kakikomi kinshi no shōchō ga aitsugu (Wikipedia ‘government manufactured’ editing: Ministries continue to ban editing),” Asahi Shimbun (3 October 2007), morning edition, p. 29.

19. Yomiuri Shimbun. “Kunaichō shokuin Wikipedia henshū shokuba pankon shiyō genjūchūi (Imperial Household Agency staff reprimanded for using workplace computers for Wikipedia editing),” (11 September 2007), morning edition, p. 37. And Ōkubo Kazuo and Kyomizu Kenji. “netto hyakka jiten shokuin ga kanchō shikyo pasokon de kakikomi (Workers used Imperial Houshold computers to contribute to an online encyclopedia),” Mainichi Shimbun (11 September 2007).

20. “Typified anonymity” is one type of anonymity according to Alfred Schutz, see: Hiroshi Ogawa, “Anonymity and genesis of society: An analysis of Alfred Schutz’s concept of anonymity,” Japanese Sociological Review, volume 31 (1980), pp. 17–30. Article in Japanese with an English summary on p. 114.

21. Wikipedia. “Wikiscanner” (community page), at http://tinyurl.com/heyhk97, accessed 21 January 2016.

22. Christina Allen. “Internet anonymity in contexts,” Information Society, volume 15, number 2 (1999), pp. 145–146.

23. All the comments in this section are taken from the relevant articles’ talk pages (“note” or ノート in the Japanese version).

24. Kaori Hayashi. “‘The Public’ in Japan,” Theory, Culture & Society, volume 23, numbers 2–3 (2006), pp. 615–616.

25. Takaaki Yoshimoto. “Nihon no Nashonarizumu (Japan’s nationalism),” In: Jiritsu no Shisōteki Kyoten (Ideological basis of independence). Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 1966.

26. Kazoku Tsurumi. The adventure of ideas: A collection of essays on patterns of creativity & a theory of endogenous development. Tokyo: Japanime (Ebook), p. 18, at http://www.japanime.com/tsurumi/, accessed 30 January 2016.

27. Toshinao Sasaki. Burogu Rondanno Tanjō (The birth of blog criticism). Tokyo: Bunshun Shinsho, 2008, pp. 44–55.

28. Wikimedia Foundation. “Wikipedia statistics Japanese,” at http://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/TablesWikipediaJA.htm, accessed 19 January 2016.



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Toshinao Sasaki, 2008. Burogu Rondanno Tanjō (The birth of blog criticism). Tokyo: Bunshun Shinsho.

Kazoku Tsurumi, 2014. The adventure of ideas: A collection of essays on patterns of creativity & a theory of endogenous development. Tokyo: Japanime (Ebook), at http://www.japanime.com/tsurumi/, accessed 30 January 2016.

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Takaaki Yoshimoto, 1966. “Nihon no Nashonarizumu (Japan’s nationalism),” In: Jiritsu no Shisōteki Kyoten (Ideological basis of independence). Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten.


Editorial history

Received 28 May 2018; accepted 28 November 2018.

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This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

“Anonymous calling”: The WikiScanner scandals and anonymity on the Japanese Wikipedia
by Omri Reis.
First Monday, Volume 23, Number 12 - 3 December 2018
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v23i12.9184

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