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Wiki Wars: In battle to define beliefs, Mormons and foes wage battle on Wikipedia

Published: Sunday, Jan. 30 2011 1:37 a.m. MST

Creating a truly neutral site may be difficult, as one editor posted: "(T)here is just not much middle ground between Prophet and Imposter." So the fight wages on. Editors have to stay constantly vigilant to stop edits they don't want, relying on automatic notifications of changes sent to their e-mail and spending hours defending their positions.

Nicholson's nemesis, John Foxe, is the screen name of a professor at Bob Jones University, a Christian college and seminary located in Greenville, South Carolina that has historically been hostile to the LDS Church. In 2000 then-university president Bob Jones III called the Catholic Church and Mormons "cults which call themselves Christian." The quote was taken off the Bob Jones University's official website, but then reposted so that people would not think Jones III backed down.

"I think I first got on (Wikipedia) because the Bob Jones site was just crazy. There was just crazy stuff, non-true things," Foxe said. "And I said 'Oh, I'll fix that.' And it was kind of fun." Foxe spoke with the Deseret News on the condition that his real name wasn't used.

Foxe's personal interest in things Mormon started after he attended a summer history seminar with LDS scholars Richard L. Bushman and Grant Underwood at BYU. The topic was Joseph Smith. "It was a steep learning curve," Foxe said. "I wasn't completely ignorant, but it was limited to what you would expect from a teacher of history at a fundamentalist college. 'What do you know about Mormonism?' Well not all that much."

But that was then. Now John Foxe makes no secret about how he feels about Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the LDS Church. He has written that Joseph Smith was "the father of lies" and "embarrassing."

He sees himself as the lone non-Mormon policing LDS Church-related entries on Wikipeida like "Joseph Smith, Jr." and "Three Witnesses" from Mormon points of view.

Nicholson eventually abandoned his Bochica Wikipedia account, and took up a new screen name, Roger Penumbra. He gave up editing for the most part and became an observer — watching how Foxe and other editors interacted.

"The biggest battle I ever saw occurred on 'First Vision.'" Nicholson said. "It lasted months and months."

The battle took place on the "First Vision" article about Mormon prophet Joseph Smith's initial encounter with God. Foxe fought against Lesley Lovesee, a Mormon who lives in Houston Lake, Mo and who had the screen name 74s181.

Foxe would take phrases like "In addition to their Christian beliefs" and change them to "Although they considered themselves Christians." Other editors reverted Foxe's reversions. Foxe reverted yet again. And so it went, back and forth.

"I edited in good faith," Lovesee complained to Foxe on a discussion page. "You reverted my edits. I restored some but not all of the material you deleted, and edited again in an attempt to satisfy the new objection you stated in your edit comments. You reverted my edits. Repeat. Again. And. Again."

This was all familiar to Nicholson, and disappointing because the Foxe was winning again. He saw Lovesee try to defend his positions by pointing out where he thought Foxe violated Wikipedia rules.

"Frankly, Les," Foxe replied infamously, "every time you start citing Wikipedia rules, I tune them out as Mormon smokescreen."

Lovesee, like Nicholson, gave up.

Nicholson decided to jump ship, but not before one last shot.

One way editors win their points is by getting other editors to back them. Numbers count.

But with anonymous screen names, the temptation is to make up a double or "sock puppet" as they are called on the Internet. This way, one person can look like two editors.

Nicholson suspected that Foxe had created another account to make it look like he had more support. Nicholson confronted the alleged sock puppet, Hi540, by quoting Foxe's real life counterpart, the Bob Jones University professor on civility.

"Basically I told him I knew who he was," Nicholson said.

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